I used to argue with my mother about my identity. Her: "You're Jewish!" Me: "No I'm not." Her: "It's not something that you can choose not to be. You just are."
I was confused because I look white. My family looks white. As in, I can pass for a descendent of the U.K. In the neighbourhood where I grew up, almost everyone with white skin had British ancestry. The way I saw it, the only difference between me and the other kids was that my family had weird, different holidays. I figured that if I wasn't a believer in the Jewish religion, I could opt out of being a Jew.
I understand now that Ashkenazi Jews are a true ethnic group, with an identifiable genetic signature. I am 100% descended from this group (to the best of my knowledge), therefore my mother was correct: I can't escape my Jewish ethnicity. And yet I still don't fully embrace it. If anything, I'd say I feel like I'm half-Jewish.
I recently read (apologies - I can't recall the source) that a child's peer group socializes them as much as, if not more than, their family. When immigrants move to a new country and then have children, the next generation does not adopt their parents' accent. They speak like their friends. My mother chose to raise me in a white-bread W.A.S.P. neighbourhood. She didn't send me to Hebrew school. I couldn't have put it into words back then, but I was aware that I didn't really belong to the culture I was being raised in. I had one foot in each culture and wasn't fully comfortable in either of them.
Some people tell me that I look Jewish, others exclaim that I don't at all and they never would have guessed. I wasn't aware of looking particularly Jewish until one day when I got on the Bathurst bus just when one of the private Hebrew schools let out for the day. A dozen uniformed little girls got on the bus, and they all looked like variations on the theme of me. It was super-weird. It was only when I observed the whole group of them at once, with their milky-pale skin; light blue, green, or grey eyes; and thick, wavy/frizzy brown "Jewish hair" (as my younger cousin hatefully refers to her own hair); that it hit me. Of course there are dozens of different types of Jews in every shape, size and colour, but indeed there is a sub-type under which I can be readily identified.
I still have trouble getting my mind around the concept that "ethnic" is not a synonym for "brown". And that it defines me.