I recently DNA-tested my ancestry, and the result was exactly what I expected: predominantly Eastern European Jewish. More precisely, 84 percent Eastern European Jewish, 10 percent Italy Greece (Sephardic maybe), 2 percent Finland or Northwest Russia, less than 1 percent western or Eastern Europe or north Africa, and zeroes everywhere else included the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Iberia. My DNA was consistent with what my parents and grandparents told me about my origins. So what does it mean to me?
I first thought about Ancestry Canada’s advertising that contrasts individuals’ expectations with their results, for example the guy who thought he was German but turned out Scots, and so swapped his lederhosen for a kilt. In guess in my case it would be a black-hatter with payot, tzitzis, and a long curl, replaced by a clean-shaven man in a suit, with a discreet kippah and a tallit. But, regardless of how we dress, my DNA score is indicative of the tendency of Eastern European Jews to stay together and, until recently, not intermarry.
The notion of Eastern European Jewish ancestry cannot help but raise questions of genocide and racism. A DNA score like this, had such a thing existed under Nazi rule, would have sealed my fate. Hearing the neo-Nazis of today chanting “blood and soil” reminds me that they and I share not a single drop of blood.
The test also made me think about my life in Canada. When I was growing up, people referred to two founding peoples, English and French. Now references to three, including indigenous Canadians, are more common. Whether it is two or three peoples, I share no blood with any of them. When I was growing up, Jews were tolerated, but victims of anti-Semitism and discrimination that led us to change our names (Borinsky to Borins) to fit in. We have become an incredibly diverse society, with religion, race, or ethnicity conferring no special status. There are many people with whom I share no blood, but with whom I share a strong feeling of nationhood. In my view, this makes Canada great.
I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s famous line: We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
I am just beginning this aspect of exploration.