Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I am Jewish

This is from a homework assignment in my writing class and based on the principals and techniques of my writing program Releasing The Writer Within.

“Write from the Throat”: Straight-forward and filled with purpose and intention. No flowery or figurative language. Not narrative. Emotive, in a simple and direct way.

I am a Jew. That’s what society calls me. That’s what my parents raised me as. That’s what I call my self. I am a human being who has a belief in a higher power. I do not feel Jewish in terms of fundamental beliefs. I am Jewish culturally and I know that it is a label that is put on me and I know that if I had been alive and in Germany in WW 2 I would have been slaughtered because I was a Jew. I know that if given the chance let’s say I was alive back then if given the chance to conceal that part of my identity I would have because I don’t feel that I am a Jew in terms of beliefs because I don’t really believe in all the Jewish laws and tenants but more importantly because my life living is more important to me than a belief in anything. I would only die for my child not for a set of ideas. I know that I feel a rage at the anti-Semitism that Jews go through but I feel that rage as I do for gay people, black people, and any other so-called minority. I am a Jew in that I believe in one G-d and not a messiah or even that a messiah in the Judeo-Christian sense exists but that could be non-Jewish because they are waiting for the messiah to come. I am Jewish in terms of belief in charity and supporting those in need—the concept of a mitzvah. I am not Jewish in terms of temple and worship. I don’t like going to organized religious services. I prefer to meditate and pray alone or in a small group.

But I am a Jew largely because I am not a Christian and don’t celebrate any Christian holidays. I like the idea of Jewish rituals but I don’t feel a connection to any of them. My own rituals are not Jewish but more spiritual.

But yet I am a Jew.

I am Jew because of history and heritage. But I wouldn’t die for religion any religion. I would die for freedom though and I wonder if that’s what the story of Hanukkah is really about. I wonder if the label Jew is just a label like gay or black.

I am free. I am free to believe whatever I want.

I call myself a Jew and I allow others to call me a Jew. I do this because I am a Jew in a symbolic sense that I am not a follower of a crowd but walk to the beat of my own inner rhythm and that’s what Jews have done throughout time and history. Jewish values are my values–charity, education, family, study, WORDS. Think about this: “ and G-d said…”

“Write from the Heart”: Emotional with figurative language not narrative.

Being Jewish is like carrying around suitcases filled with bricks. That’s what being Jewish feels like to me sometimes. Other times it’s like wearing a diamond ring that’s not too big or sparkly–although that’s funny in a way because the stereotype of a Jewish mother or woman is akin to a way-too-large diamond dangling from a perfectly manicured finger. But I feel Jewish carries with it not only the stereotypes of loud and pushy but there’s another side to it the more religious part is like my engagement ring which is a simple small round diamond that fits my hand perfectly. It has just the right amount of sparkle to be beautiful yet understated.

“Jewish baggage” goes like this: burden of never forgetting the holocaust which connects to make sure our people don’t die out so be sure to maintain bloodlines or at least the faith by marrying a Jew and raising your kids Jewish, albatross of sometimes accurate stereotypes that Jews are pushy, greedy, cheap, know-it-alls who look out only for their own kind, weight of fear that someone will tell a Jewish joke or make a prejudice comment in front of you and not know you’re Jewish so then you’re faced with the uncomfortable pin-prick of a question, “Do I say anything?”, and finally the one I struggle with as if it were a spider-web I can’t find my way out of– the heavy wet blanket feeling of another kind of fear–fear of death that maybe the holocaust could happen again–to you. The proverbial knock on the front door and the coming to get you scariness of being part of the legacy of a people who have always had to hide who they are.

“Write from the Gut”: I plus action verb. Narrative in a way, locates the “I”. Grounds the “I”. Must be in first person.

I sit in Starbuck’s and think about how to write from the gut about being Jewish and what comes to me is the piece I wrote and posted on my blog. Being Jewish to me involves well I fear there’s the gut, I fear that being Jewish is a high price to pay for peace in a way. Being Jewish is not like having dark skin or a birthmark everyone can see. It truly is a choice. No one can tell you’re Jewish per say unless you tell them unless you own it and I own it in words all the time. I tell people. I remind people. I insist on people remembering and acknowledging it. I struggle with it with the being of it but I own it at the same time. The struggle is internal and acceptance is external. I wrestle with the identity of it and that wrestling match looks like this:

I place the words, like they’re on a sticker, a large bumper sticker, across my chest or maybe my forehead, somewhere that everyone can see. Someone makes a disparaging remark about Jews as a people and I point to the sticker and say, “Nope. Can’t do that in front of me. Now you’re the jerk.” Yet, I walk into a temple, I talk with my Rabbi or other congregants about anything the weather the news and find myself shrinking into a tiny, tiny dot of guilt. Guilt is a large feeling but makes you feels small.

I feel guilty because I don’t do any Jewish things. I don’t belong to Jewish groups or send my daughter to Jewish activities. I realize right now that I don’t do that because I don’t like the idea of doing something because it’s a Jewish thing or an Italian thing or a white thing or a (insert label) thing.

I lift my head and look into the mirror and I see the brown-haired girl whose hazel eyes teared-up at her bat mitzvah, whose slender neck felt a tingle at her daughter’s baby naming ceremony, whose thin, long-limbed body is zapped with energy when hearing the Shama or Mourners Kiddish.

I am Jewish. (throat) I struggle with the identity (gut). It feels like heavy baggage sometimes and others like a small precious gem (heart).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i found your article while searching for a reason to pray today as this yom kippur approaches. you exoressed very well much of the same feelings i share about my jewish backgroung and beliefs. i was born to a jewsih father and converted mother, raise as jew and bar-mitzvah'd. i attend family events and participate as a jew, yet i do not feel akin to israel in any sense. i only long to belong to my family as a jew but have no real desire to be a jew. i am content with being an free american. i feel that organized religion will be the death of us all. thank you for so eloquently stating the feelings of this true american, a composite of mixed cultures believing only in freedom and the love for family.