Hey, I thought I was Jewish…or The Day “23 and Me” Moved My Ethnic Cheese

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As an only child, I always wanted to know more about my ancestry and heritage, especially since my own circle of close blood relations was small and easily identifiable. Surrounded by cousins in my youth, I found it difficult to relate since they were all connected to a sibling and had a “family” identity. In my case, not only was I an only child, but my mother was as well, closing the circle tightly on the maternal side. Over the years, I would troll through Ancestry.com to see if anyone was looking for me or my bloodline, but no one ever did. I once fell upon a family tree through a Google search with members on my mother’s branch listed prominently and completely, right down to my own children, which disturbed me on some level. Somehow, someone was able to track my own tiny branch without my input or knowledge. Yet, despite my discomfort, I persisted in my need for ancestral awakening.

On the day that I received my first (and what I thought would be only) “23 and Me” results, the revelation shocked me to my Apennine core. After a lifetime of telling people that I was 100% Italian, I wasn’t – to a large extent. Yes, while confirming that I could claim 84% Italian heritage, the rest of me was a big, old, ethnic mishmash! Apparently, my DNA revealed a Balkan connection (5.5%) and another 3% Middle Eastern. Suddenly, visions of me, dancing with scarves, on a sandy floor of a clay hewn house, popped into my head, and then, an image of my deceased father, always the realist and the speaker of truth, saying, “Ah, they’re full of shit!”  He always had a way of summing up things!

But most interestingly, I had a very (very) distant grandfather who was an Ashkenazi Jew.  I was dead chuffed… and a collective cheer arose from my Jewish friends, one of whom declared, “I always knew you were one of the Tribe!”  The idea made sense. The Askenazi, the Jews of the Diaspora, set off into Europe and one of their entry points was the port of Bari, which was very close to where my mother’s father and my father’s mother originated. I imagined what interfaith marriage was like back then, in the 1600’s, and I was intrigued. Known for their collective intellect, I embraced the urge to claim  my connection to the Ashkenazi and their tremendous contributions to the politics, arts, and literature.  I like politics, enjoy going to a museum, and read a lot, after all.

Then, last week, an unexpected day of reckoning arrived – a revised report dissolving my newly formed Jewish roots. The profile, adjusted just enough to confirm the 84% of Italianness that I had known all along, now deleted my Ashkenazi DNA and replaced it with Western Asian and Northern African blood to the tune of 3.3%. In a huge cultural and political shift, I became an Arab and a Russian in one fell swoop! Interestingly, I revisited this report repeatedly in the past few days, clicking on every pulldown on the multiple reports, looking to unearth some mistake or re-formed connection to my ‘people”. But, alas, to no avail, I am an Italian, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Armenian, Cyprian, Libyan, Jordanian, Moroccan, non-Jewish mongrel.

This shift in my DNA profile leads me to believe that this whole ancestry biz may be a bit of a sham. And now, I am tempted like many of my friends to buy another product and conduct some half-assed comparison study. In the meantime, I may for once give my father’s cynical commentary some credence and perhaps, they are “full of shit”.  Nonetheless, I am intrigued and still 84% of whom I thought I was at the start. I do like pizza, after all.

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