Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ethnicity Crisis Part 2: Make Me a Matchless Match

(read Part 1 here)

So, when we left off, my burgeoning, two-decades-in-the-making- Jewish identity was languishing in the back of my mental dresser drawer as that one piece of clothing that you never wear but can't get rid of for fear of hurting the people who gave it to you, because you know what went in to making it and just casting it away turns the guilt up to eleven, because you may want to wear it someday, but just not now, the colors are all wrong, it doesn't fit your style, what it means to wear it is a fact that you aren't ready to face.

I backlashed against this rising awareness of where I came from and what that meant in relation to my place in the global hierarchy by diving head first into pro-Palestine and anti-occupation political stances. I dove so deeply, so quickly, that for a long time, all I could do was criticize Israel. I did so relentlessly, zealously, and very, very harshly. I still do in many ways, in the same way that I criticize my own government for actions they take in my name that I don't support, though I think I was and am tougher on Israel in general. This is not to say that my criticism does not have value on its own merits. I was careful to be very academic about my critique, the problem was how I tied that critique to my own identity and my own self-worth. The critique was personal as well as political. I desperately buried my sweater under a pile of slogan bearing t-shirts and hoped no one would notice it.

I spent years doing this. Years getting into fights with family members about the occupation, years insulting Israeli politicians and arguing in university classrooms about Israeli military actions, years rejecting Israel as a part of me, as I wanted no part in the subjugation of others. Somewhere in this process, I began seeing more Antisemitism, and I stepped up my rejection and criticism of Israel as a shield from receiving that same bigotry, while quietly rankling at it. Every once in a while I would mention my sweater, the fact that I had one at least, just to keep the conversation on track. The more I mentioned it, the more it grew on me. Just its presence in my mental wardrobe (yes, I will be beating the crap out of this analogy) made aspects of this part of myself harder to ignore in the world around me. Others noticed it too. I kept encountering random people who wanted to talk about my Jewishness.

I started toying with the idea of learning Hebrew, and edging towards wanting to get to know that part of me. I had been really attracted to Islam when I first started studying the Middle East, and had come to the conclusion that conversion was not for me. I wasn't interested in the whole "God" thing...what I wanted was the community. The concept of "ummah" appealed to the part of me that fell in love with the musical "Hair" at 16 and realized that what was missing from my life was a sense of responsibility and support both to and from a community of my choosing. Even with that felt wrong. Like I was romanticizing this concept from a position of privilege. This all came down around the same time that I started helping to moderate an anti-racism livejournal community, and snapped together in a discussion of appropriation and spirituality. I had my own ethnic traditions to draw on for these things. Did I really need to co-opt someone else's? Especially if it was not the precepts of faith that I was interested in?

In this same space of time, I got married. It was a non-denominational event seeing as I'm fairly agnostic, and my spouse is fairly atheist. It was also a sudden elopement that my parents happened to be around for. My mother, upon being informed of what we were about to do, whipped off her tye-dye shawl and conscripted my family and the friends that were there, along with random passers-by (we were at a folk festival) to hold it above us as we said our vows and then gave it to us as our khuppa (canopy designed to represent that we will always have a home/roof with God...I think...I could be wrong about that interpretation.) My spouse loved it. I understood what the gesture meant to my mother, and appreciated it in my own way.

My spouse has since been drawn in fairly close to the Jewish side of my family, and has even expressed an interest in raising any children we may have with Jewish traditions.

So, basically all I'm getting to in this entirely-too-long-and-navel-related post is attempting to bring across the tension around this for me.

Eventually, something had to give.

To Be Continued...

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