Identity is a Fickle Thing

Written by Anastasia Maier

August 2021 | Elul 5781



My cultural identity has always felt amorphous. I come from too many people. I could never grab onto one of the threads and feel complete. I was either this or that but not both. By identifying with one culture, I thought I was inherently rejecting the others. My maternal line is a line of diaspora. Her mother was born of Ukrainian and Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father descended from people that came from all four corners of the Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent. Life tends to further complicate our relationship with our people and sense of belonging. I remember going to a neighbor's Rosh Hashanah party and falling in love with the ceremony, the food and the deep sense of kinship I felt to be in community. It was then that my mom shared with me that "technically" I was Jewish. I became curious, what did “technically” Jewish mean? I begged to do more Jewish things and the next year, we did a Passover Seder at my grandparent’s house. However, it was my Catholic grandfather that seemed to be more attuned to the ritual than my grandmother. He relished in the custom and song (and wine). But along with his zealous joy, I could simultaneously taste my grandmother's discomfort, the fidgeting and desire to give voice to things that lied latent in her memory wellspring. My grandmother left Judaism in 1958 at age 18, the same year she married my grandfather. In the wake of their marriage, her family criticized and ostracized her for marrying outside her faith. She calls this time her orphaning and (rightly or wrongly) blames Judaism for it. The bitter memory of her past remained, informing my mother’s relationship with the faith and subsequently mine as well as my sisters - intuitively close to our hearts but no outlet to express it. About 20 years after that Rosh Hashanah party, I had my first miscarriage. Filled with grief, I couldn't suppress the call of my ancestors any longer. I felt compelled to hold all of them just as they held me through that sacred sadness that follows life leaving life. I scoured histories, traditions and ancient texts for ways to create unity within myself. I was dizzy trying to uncover all the stories of my DNA. It wasn't till I read this book that I was struck by how simple it actually was to honor my lineages in a way that was extremely appropriate for me - tending the seeds of my many people. The plants have always called me into their worlds and I have always escaped into them willingly. The humble act of saving the seeds and stories felt remarkable and important to my grieving process - the loss of my child, the muddiness of my identity - as well as creating new pathways to accessing and honoring my ancestors. It was from story and seed that I started to see the throughlines of intersection and find that integration of being that I was unable to find through logic or ritual invocation. My heart opened and I learned how much my cultural identity was reflected in the seeds. It was comforting to know the seeds had passed through all these different hands. I started to journal their stories down as medicine, recording not only my ancestors’ relationship to the plants but my own for my descendants to maybe savor one day.



Image: Example of Anastasia’s seed journal from her maternal line


A friend once shared that culture “is always in a state of influencing, being influenced, molding and being molded.” It is a privilege to share in culture making guided by story and seed. My prayer for the Jewish Seed Exchange is that we can continue to open the portals that have been dormant while finding our own holy connection to the seeds.

Footnotes:

1. Wikipedia: Buckwheat.

2. The Contribution of Buckwheat Genetic Resources to Health and Dietary Diversity. Curr Genomics (2016).

3. The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic by Martín Prechtel

4. Origin, Geographical Distribution and Phylogenic Relationship of Common Buckwheat.

5. Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States by Brian K. Obach.

6. Evaluation of physical, chemical and sensory properties of Turkish flat breads (bazlama and yufka) supplemented with lupin, buckwheat and oat flours. Int J Food Sci Nutr Eng, 2 (2012), pp. 89-95

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