jewin' the fat


Jew… Ish
June 23, 2009, 2:38 PM
Filed under: Identity, Jewish Community, Zionism | Tags: , , ,

When I was younger, I had this little niggle in the back of my mind. Whenever the subject of ethnicity, religious or self-classification came up, the strangest little word would somehow tack itself onto my identity. It didn’t change the meaning, but there was a little

“ish”

that somehow weaseled itself in every time. “I’m Jewish”, I would say, and wonder why it sounded so strange in comparison to suffix my friends with the same little syllable. Muslimish. Christianish. Hinduish. Jewish. Jew-ish. And I slowly realised that the little “ish” was actually distorting my identity. It was a little seed of doubt within me.  A tiny spec of white lint on an expensive black suit, and no matter how I tried to pick it off, it didn’t budge.

At some point in History, being a Jew became shameful. Maybe it was Shylock, maybe it was the Blood Libel, the Spanish Inquisition or even Nazi Germany – at one point or any other, someone was asked to define themselves, and out came “I am …Jew …ish.”

It stuck. Just a little sound, that changed forever the way I define my identity. But just as the dreaded “Nigger” or “Negro” is being reclaimed in the US, so too, I have decided to reclaim my Jew status.

And I’ll be the first to admit it – so many years of “Don’t Jew me”, and “Bloody Jew”, using the word leaves a strange feeling in my mouth. In fact, seeing it in print, or simply saying it aloud make me want to run back to the shtetl, less the rampaging pogrom returns. I know it’s a crazy thing to feel, especially considering  that neither I nor my family have ever been directly influenced or affected by anti-Semitism or racism.

But maybe that is thewhere the little seed of doubt begins to bear fruit. The idea of intergenerational trauma with regards to Holocaust trauma was discussed by JJ Sigal and M Weinfeld in their text “Trauma and Rebirth: Intergenerational Trauma and the Holocaust”. The idea that one suffers the consequences of a past trauma, even if one is remove geographically or generationally, is something that is very much a part of Jewish culture. The Exodus from Egypt, the Story of Purim – the running joke is that every holiday is based around the same theme:

“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”

It’s a sad reality, but even our ability to define ourselves has been manipulated by this sense of trauma. And not by anyone else – but by ourselves.

So in the interests of cultural preservation, and the preservation of my sanity, I will no longer be known as Jewish. I am a Jew – loud, sometimes offensively so, but always proud of my heritage and empowered to pronounce it publicly.

(Post Script: Even spellcheck disagrees with the word “Jewish” … a sign perhaps …?)

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