One of These Jews is Not Like the Other
"All men are Jews," Bernard Malamud once said. According to French philosopher and novelist Maurice Blanchot, "Judaism is an essential modality of all that is human." The latter, I take to heart, literally and figuratively. The former, I find interesting … Read More
"All men are Jews," Bernard Malamud once said.
According to French philosopher and novelist Maurice Blanchot, "Judaism is an essential modality of all that is human."
The latter, I take to heart, literally and figuratively. The former, I find interesting if provocative.
Last night, I was out to dinner with about twenty-five other scholars of Jewish and Jewish American literature. As we waited for a table large enough to accommodate us at the Cheesecake Factory, one male scholar approached me and a friend of mine who is also attending the conference.
He was very nice — formally introduced himself, and began chatting with us. But it suddenly took an ugly turn.
"I'm always amazed to see non-Jewish people attending this symposium, and I'm always interested in why people who aren't Jewish would want to study Jewish literature," he said, looking at both my friend and me.
I was speechless. I couldn't believe he would make such a terrible assumption knowing nothing about me. And, in all honesty, as someone who has chosen Jewishness as her "mode of being" and has essentially devoted her life to all things Jewish, I was completely insulted.
Surprisingly, I guess, this has never happened to me before. It doesn't usually enter people's minds, and if it does, they usually ask timidly, or with a sincere curiousity, whether I am "actually" Jewish. So I was floored, and offended because, if truth be told, I probably know more Talmud than him and I bet he ate bread during Pesach. Not that these things make one Jewish, but you know what I mean . . .
My friend, who was seated next to me, is actually in a conversion process now, and she later said to me: "I wonder if this is always how it will be for me." And, then, perhaps it's not much better to be labeled a convert, as opposed to a full-blown Jew, if such a thing exists. I wonder if it's ever possible to get beyond these kinds of assumptions.
I wasn't able to respond to this man's ignorant assumption because we were called to our table as soon as it came out of his mouth. But I suppose I don't know what I would've said if I'd had the chance. I mean, I could throw a bit of Rashi out there, maybe a bit of Maimonidies — not sure if that would've helped. I'm not sure that I had a Jewish identity card that he would've accepted. And, what good would it have done anyway?