Not Jewish, but what?

Jude-StarDon't call it a comeback ... But after a month-long sabbatical, during which I completed my first semester of law school, I am, indeed, back. So where do we pick up? Let's try Dallas.

Usually when I think of Big D, I think of the Cowboys and a lot of drama. But talk about trauma. You know, a lot a lot of American Jews survived the Holocaust, but I've never heard of anyone as afraid that 1939 could come in the United States any day as Denise Brown.

Two years ago, Denise Brown faced a defining moment. It required giving up a lifetime of fear, of relinquishing forever her deepest secret and proclaiming to the world her true self.

The 84-year-old woman, who 60 years ago founded the renowned City Ballet, teaching generations of Dallas children how to dance, would announce to the world what she had hidden all those years from her dancers and their families – that she is Jewish.

"My oldest daughter was becoming a bat mitzvah," says Denise's youngest of four children, Evelyn Brown Johnson, 52, who learned at 16 that her mother is Jewish, a secret she, too, agreed to keep.

Denise wanted to present to her granddaughter Madison the tallit, or prayer shawl, that her father had worn at his bar mitzvah, years before being killed at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1942. The circumstances of her father's death were among the many things that Denise had kept private. ...

Before revealing her secret at Madison's bat mitzvah, Denise called her best friend, a Belgian war bride she had known for half a century, to tell her that she's Jewish.

"You called me for that?" Evelyn quotes the woman as saying. "In my mother's mind, this all got built up and built up to the point where she thought people would have reacted the way they would have ... in 1939!"

Brown's is a moving story, and Dallas Morning News reporter Michael Granberry did a good job getting out of the way and letting her tell it. I was skeptical, but Granberry explains why Brown hid her Jewishness -- paranoia and an anti-Semitic husband and in-laws.

Having said that, Granberry leaves a big question or two unanswered: If Brown insisted on not letting anyone know she was Jewish, did she, in the alternative, practice another religion? And did she believe in it? And, because Judaism is a matrilineal religion, did anyone begin to suspect that Brown was Jewish when her kids began to identify as Jewish?

It seems unlikely that, before moving from a small Texas town to Dallas, that Brown could pass as just not religious. She must have identified as something, right? And if she didn't, and her husband's family didn't either, I'd like to know that too.

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