I think it was because I’d mentioned that I come from Israel, and he assumed (rightly, as it happens) that I’m Jewish – and then assumed something more… Not that I’m surprised – it’s a very common assumption, and perfectly understandable, as the term Jewish is used for more than one thing.
When I say I’m Jewish, what I’m talking about is first and foremost my ethnic identity – an identity I got at birth, through my parents. But there’s also my cultural heritage, which I absorbed in my childhood – stuff like food, history, customs, jokes, Yiddish phrases, and… oh yes, some smattering of religion, of the laid-back non-strict Orthodox kind. Or what is sometimes referred to as: traditional. My mum kept some of the religious customs – she’d light the Sabbath candles, refrain from doing certain things on the Sabbath but still do lots of things that the strictly Orthodox don’t, she kept Kosher to a certain level but turned a blind eye when I accidentally made non-Kosher onion soup once, she’d fast on Yom Kippur and keep the festivals, but didn’t go to synagogue and, combined with my dad’s fanatic atheism, this meant I grew up non-religious.
I grew up following some of the customs just because my mum did, and rejecting all of them as soon as I was free to. What I absorbed from my dad, and from much of society around me, was a disregard for religion and an assumption that it’s just stuff people made up. When I came to England as a young adult, I was a completely secular agnostic with no respect for religion and no compunction about enjoying bacon sandwiches.
So my answer to “did you keep your religion” is, at the simplest level: I didn’t have a religion, so there was nothing to keep. What I told the guy who asked me was: I grew up non-religious, and then I met God in a church in London; in terms of religion I’m a Christian. But that’s because I had to give him a short answer – here on my blog I can say more…
Here on my blog I can say: but I believe that my faith is actually the original Jewish faith, so while I didn’t keep my religion (because I didn’t have one), nor did I keep the religion that my mother had tried to bring me up on (which I know is what this guy really meant to ask), the faith I embraced is, in fact, the religion of my forefathers. And that’s why I’m happy to describe myself as a Jewish Christian or as a Messianic Jew – I haven’t stopped being Jewish, I’ve actually found much more meaning in my Jewishness through worshipping Jesus, the Jewish Messiah – who is not just Messiah but the God of Israel!