A friend, who is herself a hyphenated American, recently asked me: Do you think of yourself as Jewish, Russian or French and which comes first? As I think about it, I am tempted to reply: The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. Actually, I do have those three strata below the American identity, and I am glad for the opportunity to unearth and untangle them.
Being Jewish is the foundation. It comes from long ago and far away and is actually part of a person’s DNA. It is a way of experiencing and viewing the world. It means being tolerant and self-deprecating, appreciating justice, respecting fairness, and seeing the funny aspects of life. It can be expressed in a shrug or a hand gesture which is immediately recognizable. It also means appreciating the richness of the Yiddish language even if you can’t speak it yourself. A character in a Woody Allen film is asked about his religion. He replies: “I was born into the Jewish persuasion but I converted to narcissism.”
My parents were not observant Jews, so in my case Jewishness was stripped of synagogue attendance and of the archaic and obsolete dietary laws and of the nonsensical interdictions about doing any work on the Sabbath: No writing, driving, cooking, shopping etc. I am glad that no one forced those ridiculous concepts on me because it has left me free to evolve my own philosophy and conduct of life.
But Judaism is much more than a religious practice. It is an identity and membership in a tribe, and being Jewish has always been an important part of me.
Next time: The Russian layer
Enjoyed reading your blog and hope the Russian and French aspects are in the plan.
Such good defining of Jewishness.
My husband landed at the University of Chicago, where a Jewish professor really looked after him. To him, everything Jewish was right and good. We were in our late 20s. So once sarcastically I told him: I will bury you in a Jewish Cemetry if they let me.
We both have so much respect for and fondness of the Jewish people we have associated with.
So well said, Simone. I, too, look forward to the Russian and French parts of your identity. You are so special!
I agree entirely, Jewish to me is a part of who I am more than it’s a religion. I have a difficult time describing it sometimes, but you have done so beautiful!
My own ideas on Jews have been restricted with stories that I read (such as from book EXODUS and similar) and subsequently of their progress to a small but powerful, modern and progressive state that survived extraordinary hardships after WW II. Now, more recently, I have a Jewish relative living in US and from brief interactions that I have had, my definitions of being a Jew agree by a great extent to as Simone has so simply yet beautifully described.
Thank you Simone for such an enlightening piece.
I’m sure you are outraged by our current president who has fueled anti-Semitism of the alt-right with his messages and methods and are anticipating a very heated election year. Let’s hope this country comes to its senses and removes Trump and all of his cronies from the government and that they get what they deserve.
AMEN to that!