Is it challenging to live overseas, away from one's home congregation as a Jew by choice?
Binah was raised Catholic. Her first language is Chinese, "more so Cantonese, but I can speak Mandarin." In the USA she became attracted to Judaism. She chose to have a Conservative conversion. She remains involved with her US congregation when she is in the country, but her international work takes her to Italy for months at a time. Here are her thoughts on the topic.
Living half of the time in Europe does have bearing on my Jewish practice. In the whole of Italy, there are only about 40,000 Jews. When I first heard this statistic, I thought it was a mistake on the person's part -- Maybe he meant 400,000?!
[Note: There are between 40 and 45,000 Jews in Italy today]
Honestly, it is difficult to keep up with Jewish practice. But I think the difficulties also reaffirm my Jewish identity. I remember my rabbi and teacher emphasized that Kashrut is a daily reminder of holiness. I fully agree with that. So, with the challenge of international traveling, I have to find other ways to reminder myself of the connection and the daily holiness.
There are Holocaust survivors at my synagogue in California. Once I heard an elder member commented to young women wearing Star of David necklaces. She said it is fine to wear it in the USA, but she wouldn't recommend that anyone traveling internationally wear any identification marks on them, especially Europe and the Middle East. She has a point! I usually am a little more careful about revealing my Jewish identity in Europe. But if asked directly, I never have any reservation announcing proudly "Yes, I am a Jew." Even if that may bring me certain negative prejudice (and knock on wood it hasn't happened as I spend most of my time in urban Milan). And for this, I am glad the international travel served to reaffirm my identity!!!
The conversion process opened me up to a more free-thinking relationship between God and myself. I have had a free-thinking tendency since I was born, but certainly the conversion brought about the expression of it. I feel special to have had such an experience. This is one of the reasons that I feel a sense of belonging even though I am away from my home community most of the time. Global-trotting actually reinforces my Jewish identity in my heart and soul!