San Francisco, California

Gayle Geary on Discovering Family Secrets about Religion

First Recorded

April 1, 2013

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Gayle Geary remembers that her mother never took Communion at church, but for her entire childhood, she didn't know why. In this conversation, Geary discusses learning that her mother was secretly Jewish but had decided to raise her children as Protestants, as well as the difficulties of coming to perceive herself as Jewish after making this discovery.

This story was produced by StoryCorps.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity‚Äôs stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. 

Gayle Geary on Discovering Family Secrets about Religion

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Transcript

Gayle Geary: We sometimes would go to churches with family, and my mother never took communion. We would be in church and you'd go up and take communion on Sundays and she just wouldn't do it. She'd stay there in the pew and that was it. And I was so curious, and I asked her every single question under the sun. Was she Russian Orthodox? Was she an atheist? What was she? And I didn't find out until I was about 18. Everybody was at our house for dinner, and we were sitting around the dining room table, and I told an anti-Semitic joke and everyone stopped breathing. They were just sitting there with this shocked look on their face. And I looked around and I said, "Are we Jewish?" And somebody told the truth. My mother was Jewish, but decided she wanted to bring us up as Protestants, because of the sadness for her of growing up Jewish and not being accepted.

And also in my father's business, his biggest client was tremendously anti-Semitic. And so they decided together that they would just keep it a secret that my mother was Jewish. Once I knew, I actually felt liberated. I felt as though I knew something that I was meant to know, and I felt badly that she had given up so much of her own being to fit in, to assimilate. So, I totally forgave my parents for keeping this from me, but it's only recently, like in the last 10 years, that I feel like I'm 100% Jewish, and I couldn't be happier. I feel as though my mother and father are looking down on me and they're really happy for me. I'm who I'm meant to be, andI didn't know it growing up.

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