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  • Linda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #56

Updated: Jan 3


[After talking with new friend Emily Blair, twelve-year-old Kate Bloomfield initiates a conversation with her father, asking if she is Jewish.  (He is; her mother is not.)  He asks her to look up the words gentile and Jew in the dictionary.]       Suddenly he leaned forward and looked at her intently, as though he had something of special importance to tell her.  Kate sat and listened with her whole being.       "Kate, I can't answer the question you're really asking."  He weighed each word.  "Being Jewish is so many things to so many people.  For some, it is an entire way of life -- an ethic, a form of worship, different food, or food prepared in a special way, a distinctive language sometimes.  It is a world where only other Jews sharing that life belong.  I was brought up in that world -- and I came away and left it."  He paused.       He looks sad, Kate thought.  She did not move.       "When I broke with my family, I parted with much that was good and meaningful.  I am still often lonely for the life I knew as a boy.  I didn't have to ask the question you ask now.  My identity was made plain to me at every turn."      "But -- " Kate started.  She was silent again, seeing he had halted simply to clarify what he sought to tell her.       "I'm lonely, but I wouldn't go back," he said.  "Your mother and I care deeply for each other.  We have made our own life -- and for us it is good.  We can't tell you the answers to the big questions, Katharine.  'Who are we?'  'Why are we here?'  'Is there a God?'  'Is He concerned about us?'  But that is the exciting thing about being a human being.  Or one of the exciting things.  The questions are always there."      "But the answers!" Kate protested, wanting something to hold onto.      "The answers -- ah!"  Mr. Bloomfield sat back.  His eyes twinkled at her, but he was still serious, Kate knew.  "Those are what life is all about.  You find part of an answer -- and it leads to another question.  Never does the wonder, the asking, end."      "I still don't know whether I'm Jewish or not," Kate broke in.      Her voice sounded hard and stubborn, but her father had reached for his book.  She wanted help.  If only he would make everything plain, simple.      "That is something you'll spend your whole life finding out, Katharine," he told her gently.  "Orthodox Jews will tell you No.  Gentiles -- and Emily is a gentile, to answer your earlier query -- will tell you Yes.  You can be proud to be Jewish.  I am.  But you are your mother's daughter too."      He fanned through the book, found the page where he had ceased reading, scanned a sentence.  Kate, confused, a little angry, and deeply pleased with what had happened between them, rose to go.  He lowered the book once more then, and looked up at her, this child of his with her mixed heritage.       "You're lucky, Kate," he said.  "You already know you don't know who you are.  Many people don't discover that till they're middle-aged."      "Emily -- a heathen!  I must tell her," Kate grinned, closing the dictionary.       "Emily is Emily," Mr. Bloomfield said sternly.  "You keep that fact firmly in mind.  Prejudice works in all of us, and it's a subtle, cruel thing.  Stupid too.  I wouldn't want you stupid -- especially if you're Jewish."      "Don't worry," Kate shot back.  She felt lighter than air as she left him there, reading.  She had so many other things she wanted to talk to him about.  There would be time.  Now she had started, there would be time.       Not that he's much help, she said to herself.       She walked proudly, though, knowing he was hers.   -Jean Little, Look Through My Window (1970), pp. 191-194)


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