22 September 2006

The Rosh haShanah Post

I love being a Jew.

I know, I know, I say that a lot, but it bears repeating because it's true, and because it's something every Jew should feel and say more often.

You know, one of the hardest parts about being a Jew is that you're constantly under pressure to lead two different lives. You have your secular life, with your job, your coworkers, your friends you have dinner with, your activities, and all the associated things you'd put on a resume if you were looking for employment. Then, you have your Jewish life, with your family, your congregation, your Hebrew and Yiddish slang, your friends you can really talk to, and the things you do that really matter to you-- you know, all the things you wouldn't dare put on a resume if your life depended on it.

"Now, Sis, don't take this the wrong way. I'm saying this as one sibling to another, here. It won't change who you are-- but don't put anything Jewish on your resume, you know what I'm sayin'? Some people just take that the wrong way, you know? You know what I'm saying? Are we cool?" That was the advice my brother had to give me when I began job hunting a month ago. I knew why he was saying it; those thoughts were ones that had crossed my mind more than once before I started sending resumes out. Still, to hear it out loud... it gives you a very bad feeling in the pit of your stomach to know that there's a very good chance you won't be considered because you're a Jew.

But there's more to it than that. You can be a Jew and still get a job-- this ain't Hamburg in 1933 ...yet. You can be a successful Jew in America...but can you be a successful proud Jew? That's apparently a different story. You can be Jewish, just don't draw too much attention to it. You wrote something about Jews? Don't put that credit on your resume. Suddenly, a thesis about Jews turns into a thesis about "cultural assimilation." Someone once raked on a Jewish mother in front of me. A friend gasped. "Oh, it's all right, Shanah's not one of those Jewy-Jews," the raker explained. Jewy-Jews. Don't put anything Jewish on your resume, because you don't want to seem like one of those Jewy-Jews.

I finally got called for an interview this week. We drove into the city. The traffic was horrible. People were EVERYWHERE. I'd forgotten exactly how chaotic the city could be. The office where I interviewed felt strange, foreign. It was a perfectly fine office, with perfectly fine people, and the job I interviewed for was a perfectly fine job. Should I receive an offer, I'd be a moron to turn it down.

But it felt strange.

We made one more stop in the city, at an Israeli jewellry store we make a point to shop at when we're in town. Gorgeous, gorgeous things, and a manager who could talk to you for hours. I picked up a few CDs, one of which I'm listening to now: Sarit Hadad's "Miss Music." I'm not sure what a hardcore Israeli would think of it, considering she basically looks and sounds like the Israeli Kylie Minogue, but I like it. I like anything that's in Hebrew, even though I can't understand half of it. Call it starry-eyed naievtae if you want; I chalk it up to my love for being a Jew. I can't hardly speak it, or read it, but Hebrew is part of who I am, who I choose to be. (And listening Israeli music is a great way to learn more Hebrew, btw.) It felt normal to be in that shop. In my harried existence, it was a blessed break and a great reminder of the fact that we're in the season of Rosh haShanah. To employ some common American slang, going to that one shop and picking up a few Israeli CDs helped "keep it real" for me yesterday, in the midst of the zaniness of city traffic and the stress of interviewing for a new job.

Last night, as I thought over the interview, I kept coming back to the one quagmire that any opportunity of this nature is bound to create: no matter how good the job, I still wouldn't be able to be myself in that environment. My mother's answer is that I'd just have to continue, for all intents and purposes, being two people-- the public--secular me, and the private--Jewish me. But, can life really work like that? It can't. Eventually, you're going to be faced with choices--potentially life-changing choices, and those choices are going to be informed by the person you truly are, not the person you pretend to be in order to function as a member of this world. The key, then, is to either be one person or the other, or to meld the two in such a way that you can function in the world and, yet, rise above it. In either case, if you choose to be a Jew, you choose to be an enigma. Even if there are those in the secular world who do like you, they will never fully understand you, not unless they, too, choose to join your Jewish world.

It seems as if I'm not the only Jew who's going through this identity crisis right now. Israpundit just posted a bunch of Israeli poll stats, two of which really caught my eye:

Is Israel struggling for its survival today?
Yes 75% No 23%

Is Israel the best country to live in in the world?
Best 45% As good as others 16% Worse 27%

Israelis are still proud, but they know that they've got to fight to survive. If anything, this war in Lebanon acted as a wake-up call to Israeli Jews. They are having to face the truth: Israel, as a nation, faces the same identity crisis that each individual Jew faces when they try to function as a part of the world today. In the end, no matter how much we try to fit in, we just don't. Until we learn to love ourselves, and fight for our right to exist in-turn, we will always be under threat of destruction. For Israel, negotiating her identity hasn't worked; now she's got to choose one way or the other-- complete submission to the world body, acceptance through secularization, and complete destruction of Jewish identity, or standing up for herself, defending her rights, and triggering the spiritual rebirth of the physical nation of Israel. I already know what Ezekiel said will happen-- but when it happens is up to the Israeli people.

May this be the year when Israel acts. May this be the year when Jewish Israelis look at themselves and each other and say, “I love being a Jew.” That is my New Year's wish.


Blogger Jerusalem Joe said...

what a beautiful post, so true what you say - being a jew is being in constant identity crisis.
with feelings like these, why aren't you in Israel?
wouldn't it be much easier for you to live here?

3:12 PM  
Blogger Shanah said...

Todah. It probably would be easier in some ways, harder in others... right now, it's a family issue more than anything else. Ah, duties and responsibilities...but I do firmly plan on making aliyah one day, hopefully sooner than later!

L'Shana Tova!

8:11 PM  

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