Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Trying” To Take Off The Mask: The One About Being Jewish

I am still contemplating the question of why I have been afraid to own up to being Jewish. I don’t believe I have ever been discriminated against because of it. Only once have I even been the victim of name calling. When I was about seven or eight a little neighbor girl called me a “dirty Jew.” My mother’s response was to not allow me to play with her older sister who was my best friend for about a week. That was the end of it – on both sides of the issue -- as far as I know.

Yet I have for decades been adamant that “I am not a Jew!” End of subject. Of course, I knew I was being defiant in the face of reality. (Obviously there was something I was trying "not to see.") Still I refused to acknowledge what, even the simplest logic, held to be true. If your mother was Jewish (and both my parents decidedly were), you are Jewish. Another – end of subject. I am rarely of such a strong mindset as to defy reality. Thus, my refusal to accept the obvious became a subject for jokes among my non-Jewish friends.

Among the few who are Jewish, I skimmed over the issue to avoid discourse. I simply had no way to legitimately account for my stance. To myself, let alone to them. In fact, until I rather "accidentally" became the local president of a national Jewish women's organization -- and -- found myself right in the center of a local Jewish/Muslim controversy, I really hadn't given much thought, at all, to why I had for decades avoided owning my Jewish identity.

Yesterday, however, Sue, a New Horizons board member and my “right arm,” and I visited a friend of her’s. In the course of conversation I mentioned the local Jewish/Muslim controversy that the New Horizons’ Small “Zones Of Peace” Project had guided into reconciliation. Of course, the subject of my position on various issues related to all things Jewish couldn’t help but come into the conversation, particularly where I stand on Israel and the “real” Middle East crisis. For me, that part of our conversation was a challenging one. Of course, I fessed up to my Jewish heritage.

But I left the discussion pondering why I had felt uncomfortable about owning this part of my identity. And, why I felt so challenged on the subject of whether or not I am a zionist. The conversation, also, brought me to wonder, again, why I have so carefully guarded this part of who I am.

Today I still don’t know. Maybe I am in some ways still working out my identity in the world. It didn't have much chance to grow while I was blind. So maybe I'm a little bit behind. And, being Jewish can be a particularly volatile identity to have, especially around well-informed non-Jews these days.

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