You are in a dilemma with no easy answer. I can offer you only my sympathy and the knowledge that you are not alone. I faced not only a frightful punishment if I attempted to live openly as myself, but was offered the ability to save many lives if I stayed in hiding. I can tell you what it was to like, both to live in shadow and to finally embrace my community.
When the Portuguese king ruled that all Jews must either convert to Christianity or leave Portugal without their children, my parents chose to feign conversion. They amassed wealth in the hopes it would keep them safe. When I married my mother’s rich kinsman, I received the ketubah in secret before only the necessary witnesses, then proclaimed my vows before a priest in Lisbon’s great cathedral.
If Portugal’s edicts made our faith perilous, its ships made our business prosperous. My husband and his brother were so successful in creating the market for the new spices that were coming from Asia that they were able to open a second center in Antwerp. But we were dancing upon quicksand. In the same year that my husband died suddenly, the Inquisition brought fire and horror to Portugal. I fled to Antwerp with my daughter and sister, where I discovered I had a choice to make.
There was a tiny Jewish community in Antwerp, mostly people like us who’d fled burning in Spain or Portugal. The community lived on a knife’s point. The Holy Roman Emperor continued to hold sway in the Netherlands and could easily reach out to crush them for faith or profit. They stayed quiet and safe. My family could join them. We could openly practice the faith our fathers suffered for, the faith that sustained our mothers in exile. But we would need to attract attention in neither deed nor possessions.
My brother-in-law and I continued to show a Christian face to the outside world and amass extraordinary wealth. Some of it was for the safety of our family, of course, but it was also for the safety of our people. We used our money and our business networks to get Jews out of Portugal and the Spanish Kingdoms. We smuggled them over the Alps, up European rivers, and through the harbors of the Mediterranean. We got them to the cities of Italy and the Low Countries and to the villages of the Ottoman Empire.
It was disorienting, to present myself every day as something I did not believe and to know that my family suffered with me. I don’t think my sister ever understood. When my brother-in-law died, she was enraged that he left the business to me, even though only I could keep our hidden network running. My sister didn’t even realize the danger we were in and almost ruined our escape from the Holy Roman Empire into the Venetian Republic. Her envy turned so bitter that she denounced me as a Jew, hoping the Venetian court would give her control of my fortune.
I escaped to Ferrara, where I finally got to live with my people. I should have been furious, but I felt like my sister set me free. Finally, I could observe Seder and Sabbath. I could wrap myself in the rituals and words that had been denied to me for so long. I even commissioned a translation of the Tanakh and a history of our people’s exile. It was as if I’d spent my life breathing through lace and now I took in pure and unencumbered air. Had I known this feeling, I don’t know if I could’ve lived so long as I had. I knew I could never go back. The Ottoman Empire offered protection and I moved one final time, to join the people I’d smuggled from Spain.
So what does my story tell you? It is a terrible thing to live in hiding, but it can lead to a greater good. You should begin by dismissing the thought of what you owe your parents. They have made it clear that they will use their support as a weapon against who you are. There is a reckoning in the future for all of you, but you need not have it while you are still dependent on them.
You live in a time where the need for journalists is great, and the need for voices like yours is even greater. Can this need sustain you through a year of dissembling? Will the cost to your spirit of hiding who you are for a year be greater than the cost of skipping or delaying college? Can you find a way to protect yourself from your parents’ scorn, or is your relationship with them worth whatever they may inflict? Only you can answer these questions, but I urge you to be cautious and thorough in answering them. Look at the situation that presents itself to you, not the world as you wish it to be.
Whatever you chose, protect your own truth and sustain yourself in the knowledge that you will eventually find a place of safety.
Gracia Mendes Nasi, once known as Beatriz de Luna