Once a Jew Always a Jew – Jewish Self-Hate
Ryan Bellerose, Meti Canadian, put on a kippa for a week and saw what it is like to walk around town as if he was an easily identifiable Jew. In contrast, I left Toronto in 1970 to go to university in Ottawa, leaving my Jewish neighbourhood behind and seeing myself as a citizen of the world first, and Jew second or third or last. Suddenly, as I read Ryan’s article in counterpoint to my experience upon leaving home, I was struck with an idea about one factor that may contribute toward the making of the self-hating Jew. Of course, I have not cracked the phenomenon, but I would like to add my thoughts to the general attempt to understand it.
Ryan wrote about the deep Jew-hatred he experienced among many of those he encountered during that week. He was careful to behave himself (and restraint is not one of his natural qualities) because he recognized that with a kippa on his head he was representing all of us Jews.
I did not feel myself to be representing anybody but myself. I had divested myself of my Jewishness as something inconsequential. I did not deny or try to hide my ethnic origin but I was not interested in it.
With no Star of David around my neck, no Jewish first or last name to give me away, I was, in any case, known to be a Jew by those who interacted with me for any length of time and yet unidentified in chance encounters. In the latter instances I was sometimes sideswiped by unexpected snide remarks about Jews. The resulting scratches in my skin quickly faded away at first. After all, it was not personal. But after sufficient repetitions, the scratches gradually grew deep enough to leave a lasting impression.
After several months, some of those I had considered friends could apparently no longer contain their antisemitism. I was the target of deliberate condemnation specifically because I was a Jew; here are two examples of things said to me in group situations where the entire group remained silent: “You Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems”; and “I’ll type your essays for free; I’m not a Jew!” (I guess they assumed my parents were paying my way through university as theirs apparently were).
An Arab “friend”, deciding it was time for me to be educated, invited me to attend a lecture with him. The speaker, a British somebody or other, talked about Palestine and the illegality of the entire State of Israel. He said the Jews had no right to live there and, while I am not sure he actually said it this way, I felt like he was looking at me when he made it clear that the place for us Jews was at the bottom of the Mediterranean. When I sought my friend’s eyes, my shock and incredulity most certainly evident, he smiled at me like a Cheshire Cat.
I realized that I had been, all along, an unwitting and unintentional ambassador for the Jews. Like it or not, other people see me as Jew first and human being second or third or last. So if I cannot escape my Jewishness, I need to define the kind of Jew I want to be. That includes mulling over the impact of the very fact that I cannot escape being a Jew any more than a Black can escape being Black or an Asian Asian and that, as such, I am a representative of my people in the outside world. I think this can be a heavy load to carry.
It is a heavy load to carry if one has not clarified the nature of one’s identity as a Jew and sense of belonging to the tribe. Far easier to put the sack down and just try to blend into the majority around. Then again, isn’t that what I had essentially done until others showed me that once a Jew always a Jew? Ryan took off his kippa and went back to being non-Jew. The Jew knows no such relief, even if he or she converts to another religion.
That leaves three options: (1) fully embrace one’s Jewishness, in any of a myriad of available ways; (2) fully reject one’s Jewishness, something that finds expression in the various forms and degrees of self-hate; or (3) continue to work at assimilating into the general population around you. Regardless of which option one chooses, he or she will always represent The Jewish People in the eyes of those outside our community. (Don’t you just hate that fact?)
I think the self-hating Jew is the Jew whose identity is partly, “I’m not like the other Jews.”
Here in India I am “sometimes sideswiped by unexpected snide remarks about Jews.” Just as you described.
I tend to agree with you, Michelle. I am just beginning to explore this painful topic. Sorry to hear you experience the unexpected snide remarks in India too.
None of asks to be born. We come into existence as a member any one of a number of countries, tribes, nations, cultural milieu, etc, etc. I see people as humans first. At Sinai, the Jews were told there is only the one God, and this God made moral demands not just on the Jews but on the whole of mankind. Mankind seeks to be free from the bonds of conscience and morality. They can’t kill the message so they have tried for millenia to kill the messenger. We are all bound by the same moral demands but as you point out, the Jews have a heavy load to bear. The nearer we come to the end of all things the heavier this load becomes.
I like how you put it – can’t kill the message so kill the messenger.
I guess I never thought of this point. But now that you mention it, it really makes me question myself. Have I ever envisioned people as their religion? Looking deep into my heart and mind I’d have to answer “probably,” and that bothers me. Sheri, my friend, I hope that I have never made you uncomfortable by anything I’ve said. If I have, I apologize and ask your forgiveness for my ignorance. I admire your writing, and thank you for sharing.
You have never ever made me uncomfortable Nancy. I have always enjoyed and felt supported reading your comments to various things I post. Just a btw – Judaism is not a religion, it is a people and we have a religion. I think that is what makes it hard for some Christians to understand how some people can call themselves Jews and yet not believe in God. Does that make sense?
Sheri, I think that is where a lot of people get confused when you say Judaism is a people. With reference to my earlier point about Sinai, that was the beginning of Monotheism and it was given to the ancient Israelites. It is evident fron reading the Tanach that people often chose to reject that and run after the same idols they always had. They even did it at Sinai with the Golden calf. I get that you can be a Jew and not believe in God because that is ethnicity. The confusion for the average Joe Bloggs like me is, how can someone who is ethnically not a Jew become one by adopting the religion of the Jews – Judaism? In my view as a Christian, I believe in the same God who revealed Himself at Sinai. Does that make me a Jew? In my experience I have met with some Jews who acknowledge that I have a connection to Sinai, and they have expressed it as, ..”perhaps you were also standing at the foot of the mountain?”