13 December 2008

I am not a Jew

Well, not quite.

Sometime after I became a Christian, at the end of 1969, I began talking (probably haranguing, but I don't recall definitely) my great-aunt Anna about Christ. It was then that I first learned, to my amazement, that my father's mother's family had all been Jewish.

That I first learned it then indicates that their Judaism had not been a matter of practice. Hans - my father's father - had presumably been in at least a nominal sense a Lutheran. Porter Turner - my grandmother Lena's husband when I knew her - was some sort of Christian - Congregationalist or Methodist, I think. So marrying a goy was clearly not out of the question. Anna was not married.

But my father's mother's family were all Jewish by descent. One Jewish friend tells me that she believes that your 'Jewishness' is inherited in some sense through the maternal line. She thinks that this means my father would be considered Jewish -at least I think it means that if he had wanted to immigrate to Israel, he would have had the right to demand citizenship - but that I am 'half Jewish' - whatever that is supposed to mean.

I once had a photograph in my possession - now my brother Peter has it, I think - of John Weiser, his wife Sophie, his mother Miriam Kurtz, and including one or two of his daughters. John Weiser appears to have emigrated from the fairly famous Jewish shtetl of Brody in, perhaps, the 1880s - at the time a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire - to the United States. I think the photo was taken in San Francisco around about 1890. I don't recall and don't have it with me now. I believe I remember being told that my grandmother Lena was born in Texas, but it is certain that they soon moved to California.

John Weiser was, therefore, my father's maternal grandfather. It is his surname - in other words, Lena's maiden name - that is preserved in my father's middle name (his full name is John Weiser Jensen), and in Eddie's (Edwin Weiser Jensen). He certainly had four children: Lena, Anna, Claire (sp?), and Maurice; may, for what I know, have had more.

In 2002, when I visited my parents, I talked with my Dad about his mother's family's Jewishness. He himself was not very clear about things, but said that he thought his grandfather had come to the United States, and had said - more or less - that in the Old Country we were Jews, some people were Catholics, others were Orthodox - nothing but trouble. Here we are in the New Country, we are Americans!

It was speculation on his part, but so far as I know none of my Jewish relatives considered themselves particularly Jewish. It was only when I began to talk with them about Christianity that they suddenly became ... Jewish :-) I always wish I knew more about this, and have had a deep emotional attachment to things Jewish since then.

There has been at least one (probable) consequence of my Jewish ancestry, in any case. When our younger daughter Adele became pregnant with her daughter Thea - and Luke, Adele's husband, is Jewish - Adele was tested for Tay-Sachs disease. Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease. If a person is heterozygous for the gene - that is, the person is a 'carrier' - the person has no symptoms. If a person is homozygous, the condition is fatal. The incidence of the gene in the general population is 1 in 300. In two groups of European descent, the incidence is about ten times as much. Those two groups are Ashkenazi Jews and French Canadians. My paternal grandmother is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent; my mother's mother was French Canadian.

Adele was tested and is a carrier.

Fortunately Luke's parents had been tested years ago and are not carriers. A heterozygous child whose symptoms appear in infancy (almost always the case) rarely lives past the age of five.

Of course it is not certain that Adele has inherited this gene from me. It is much more likely, certainly, but it could have come through Susan. I could be tested to find out but have not done been.

Suppose that I am the carrier. In that case each of my children - including my daughter, Kathleen, child of me and my first wife Edna - has a 50% chance of being a carrier. And for each of those children who is a carrier, each of their children has a 50% chance of being a carrier. (All this is assuming, of course, that neither Susan nor the spouses of my children is a carrier). Naturally, a carrier must marry another carrier in order for the two to give birth to a child with the disease. Each of their children would have 1 chance in 4 of having the disease.

Perhaps that is what my friend meant by my being 'half Jewish.'


Triple J said...

So does that mean that I should get tested for this disease? And yes your not Jewish. My friend who is very much Jewish has been taught ever since he can remember to marry a good Jewish girl because that was the only way he could produce good Jewish kids.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Johnny asks:

So does that mean that I should get tested for this disease?

You could. Your wife has no more than the ordinary general population's chance of being a carrier - about 1/300 according to Wikipedia - so the likelihood of your children having the disease is very small. You would both have to be carriers. Of course if you are a carrier, each of your children has a 50-50 chance of being a carrier.

I don't personally think the need for testing is very great - I suppose I should get tested but it's a hassle and I doubt it's very important.

Just interesting :-)


Edgy said...

Well I personally will now claim to be 1/4 Jewish!

see how interesting this is??? and you haven't even started talking about YOURSELF yet!!! We're still going through the grandparents, which is fine.

I'm glad to see your warming to the subject :)

Edgy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.