Content Warning: Eating disorder
Jewish was the first label I ever took on that I truly understood. I was calling my parents אמא—mother—-and אבא—father—-long before I understood that multiple languages existed. Not everyone held the same traditions or ate challah every Friday night at the dinner table. I cycled through public school and private, Jewish Sunday classes, my GPA defined by an understanding of ancient writing. Soon I began to learn that being loud and vehemently proud of my culture–of our debates and traditions—or being strong in my voice in any capacity was “too much.” I’d see the eye rolls, the discomfort on friends’ faces when I spoke with passion, especially about my heritage. I turned inward, not trusting my voice, my thoughts, and eventually even my body. That, too, I felt took up too much space in a room, and I began to limit my meals. What started as skipping snacks turned into days without true nutrients, hiding full food containers from my parents until they started asking questions.
I am not saying in any way that my Judaism worked to further my disordered eating, nor do I blame anyone for the habits I developed. However, in the years since I received treatment, one particular thing keeps coming back to me…the panic on my mother’s face when she felt (or feels, as this fear still continues) I did not eat enough. Now, Jewish women are known for cooking large portion sizes, but this fear of not having enough food for children to be fed stems directly from Jewish panic. The generations of being forced to move, to relocate, to fight for survival, have created a culture where parents constantly worry, even subconsciously, that their children are not safe. This manifests in many settings, especially by shoving food into children’s mouths. I never knew what was a realistic portion of food as I looked at the nutrients, always laced with worry.
I am learning to trust my body and my mind. I am learning to integrate my identities. I am learning to moderate the panic and to love and accept being too much, not enough, and just right.