Friday, August 17, 2007

Native Dress Redux

The Pedant's post from this morning reminded me of a thought-process I had on the subway this morning.

I don't dress Jewy (that is, traditionally or with tzneis) and I look Jewish if you know I'm Jewish, but I've as often been asked if I'm Irish (dyed red hair), Russian (I am), Polish (that, too), British (I have no idea), and French (that was in Israel, actually; apparently I have a French Hebrew accent). All of those are nationalities, I realize, and you can be Jewish and those, too, but you get my point (I hope).

This morning, I saw a man in a velvet kippah and I thought to myself: I wonder if he knows I'm Jewish. Not that it matters, but I often think that around people who are wearing overt cultural markers of our shared identity: do they know I'm Jewish, too, and that I've read that tractate of Talmud, and that I went to seminary, and that I share the same rituals with them? Would they consider me part of their community, if I did? I'm Jewish, but I worry they would consider me Jewish and not Jewish, if you know what I mean.

Maybe that's just my insecurity speaking, but it's something I felt deeply in college, where there was a very large, very active, very accepting Orthodox community, if you knew all the right things to say, wear, and do. To say the least, I didn't. I didn't fit there. I could never pass. I had friends who could pass, who successfully integrated themselves into the community, even without the right yichus, but I always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb, the same feeling I got when I attended my high school boyfriend's country club (he was WASPy enough to have a III at the end of his name).

That said, I was in a cab the other day and, after hanging up the phone with Prettyboy (don't worry: I asked the cab driver if he minded if I used my cell phone first, since I know that loud cell phone talking in an enclosed space can be annoying), the cab driver said: "You're Jewish, right?" I kind of froze there for a second, wondering if I should tell the truth or not. Who knew why he was asking. I'm not paranoid, but I'm less than willing to depart with personal information to someone who currently has several tons of steel at his disposal. I'm compulsively honest, though, so I said, "Yeah, why?"

He explained that I spoke just like his ex-girlfriend, who was also Jewish. He's Afghani and we spoke at length about anti-Semitism (of all Semites) and what it would be like to live under a world dominated by the PRC. I then explained, at length, the difference between Chinese, Soviet, and Marxist communism and the historical progression of socialism as a theory of government. Some days, I love living in this city. All right, ever day.

So what's my point? (I find that I ask myself that a lot, recently, but enough about my existential crisis.) I yearn to be part of a community and to be included, but I've made choices that have set me apart from a specific subset of my community. That saddens me, but it's a choice that I embrace because it truly represents who I am and accurately reflects my Judaism, my Jewish (Jewish) identity. I've spoken here before about sacrifices. Sometimes, proudly stating who you are and in what you believe closes doors and that's got to be okay if its honest.


montana urban legend said...

Oh! At first I thought he asked because he might have assumed that only a nice Jewish girl like Harley would think to ask if it was ok to use her cell phone in an enclosed space before possibly distracting from someone else's concentration.

The Pedant said...

I once ended up trying to present a meticulously even-handed view of the Arab-Israeli conflict to my Balkan Muslim cabdriver (in Arlington) because he had no idea what the fuss was about; this was after we shared our views on divine intervention and gambling.