Ear­li­er this week, Julia Dahl wrote about when inspi­ra­tion finds you in unex­pect­ed places and explained why she writes about crime. Her debut nov­el, Invis­i­ble City (Mino­taur Books), is now avail­able. She has been blog­ging here for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing all week.

Yes. But it’s complicated.

My moth­er is Jew­ish, which, as my grand­moth­er used to tell me, means that the Nazis would have come for me, too. My dad, on the oth­er hand, is Chris­t­ian. And not just a Christ­mas Chris­t­ian, he is a church-going Chris­t­ian; a Chris­t­ian who left his career as a lawyer to be ordained when he was 55. A Chris­t­ian who wears a cross around his neck. My sis­ter and I grew up both.”

Let me explain.

My moth­er is a proud Jew, from a fam­i­ly of South­ern Jews for whom Judaism was their pri­ma­ry iden­ti­ty. My grand­par­ents went to tem­ple almost every Fri­day night of their lives. My grand­moth­er used to tell me that that’s what their group would do as teens in the 1930s in Nashville: tem­ple, then out for a movie. My great-grand­fa­ther was a promi­nent Zion­ist. He ate with Gol­da Meir and gave jobs to hun­dreds of Euro­pean refugees at his hosiery mill dur­ing World War II.

Then, in 1972, my mom mar­ried my dad, and my great-grand­fa­ther sat shi­va for her. She had grown up in his home and she nev­er saw him again. The wed­ding was small; imme­di­ate fam­i­ly were the only ones on either side who showed up. Every­one else was too angry and anx­ious. Nei­ther is con­vert­ing? What will the kids be? Confused!

But guess what? We weren’t con­fused. The mes­sage my par­ents sent my sis­ter and I was about faith in God, about love and kind­ness and about the pow­er of tra­di­tion. Although the rest was impor­tant to them – my dad takes com­mu­nion every week, and my moth­er nev­er miss­es her par­ents’ yahrzeits – the dif­fer­ences, from a child’s per­spec­tive at least, were basi­cal­ly unim­por­tant. Was Jesus the mes­si­ah? That was the diver­gence as I saw it. But why focus on that one thing when pret­ty much every­thing else seemed essen­tial­ly the same? Love God, love your fel­low man. Seek jus­tice, be hon­est, do good.

As a child and ado­les­cent, it was rel­a­tive­ly easy to move between the two faiths, and I found myself tak­ing on the role of con­trar­i­an. I nev­er felt more Jew­ish than with Chris­t­ian friends. When peo­ple asked me what reli­gion I was I’d say both, although the idea was always for me to choose once I grew up.” For my 13th birth­day, my par­ents gave me a gold neck­lace with two pen­dants on it: a Star of David and a sim­ple cross. They said I could wear them how­ev­er I want­ed to and I chose to wear them togeth­er, but it didn’t sit well with peo­ple. Every­one seemed offend­ed, or con­fused. I stopped wear­ing the neck­lace at all after a few months. 

As the years went by, I came to under­stand that I didn’t need to mark myself. I went to Hebrew sum­mer school as a child and Sun­day school at my dad’s church as an ado­les­cent. My sis­ter had a bat mitz­vah, but I did not. Some­times we accom­pa­nied my grand­par­ents to Fri­day ser­vices. The whole fam­i­ly cel­e­brat­ed the High Holy Days, Passover, East­er, Christ­mas and Hanukkah. 

As an adult, I have always iden­ti­fied as Jew­ish. As my grand­moth­er said, We need more good Jews.” And, how can I say it, I feel Jew­ish. You can choose Chris­tian­i­ty, but Judaism choos­es you, and that means some­thing to me. 

Being a Jew, for me, now, is about claim­ing the joys and bur­dens of a tribe of peo­ple I respect. Even grow­ing up in the 1980s, the Holo­caust was very present in my home. My grand­moth­er told me sto­ries about her cousins, Euro­pean Jews who were bare­ly obser­vant, who con­sid­ered them­selves French­men or Ger­mans, but who were forced to announce them­selves as Jews and be killed for it. Would you stand up and announce your­self? was the implic­it ques­tion. And the answer, for me, was always yes. 

Julia Dahl writes about crime and crim­i­nal jus­tice for CBSNews​.com. She was born and raised in Fres­no, Calif. and now lives in Brook­lyn, NY. Read more about her here.

Relat­ed Content:

Julia Dahl is a jour­nal­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in crime and crim­i­nal jus­tice. She has worked as a reporter for CBSNews​.com and the New York Post, and her fea­ture arti­cles have appeared in Men­tal Floss, Salon, the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review, and many oth­ers. She was born in Fres­no, Cal­i­for­nia to a Luther­an father and Jew­ish moth­er and now lives in Brooklyn.