I really wish that I always felt safe to be loud and expressive about my Jewish heritage and religion. Being Jewish has been a blessing in my life and I am so happy to be a part of a tradition that is ancient, diverse, and constantly evolving.
But this past year has been really difficult for me and has made me question how I appear as a Jewish person to the general public. After two shootings, one of which occurred less than 3 miles away from my home at the time in Pittsburgh, countless instances of lesser hate crimes, and the inescapable controversy of what it means to be Jewish right now, I find myself unconsciously tucking my Star of David necklace under my shirt. I wish I felt guilty about it, but I find myself becoming increasingly desensitized and pessimistically waiting for things to get worse before they get better.
But something interesting happened as I came up with new ways to portray my Jewishness in a more covert, subtle style that goes unnoticed by anyone who isn’t also Jewish. They work as a sort of signal to my fellow Jews, a quiet nod of recognition that we’re in this together. Honestly, I really enjoy the insider treatment when Jewish strangers notice my seemingly non-Jewish laptop stickers and tell me about their Jewish sleepaway camp or what BBYO region they were in. So here are four ways I enjoy being covertly Jewish:
My go-to “Jewish, but not necessarily” symbol is the pomegranate. The fruit is a motif in Jewish tradition, found throughout Israel, and referenced in the Torah and other Jewish literature. A fun fact: Pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds, corresponding to the 613 mitzvot derived from the Bible. I have a sticker of one on my laptop and non-Jews constantly ask me if I’m a fan of Greek mythology, particularly that of Persephone. (I mean, I’m a fan of Hadestown: the Musical so I guess I am.)
Hamsas and evil eyes are other Jewish symbols that can be found on my things and throughout my home. I’m not too thrilled “trendy” they’ve become in mainstream culture, but at least this means I can enjoy mine and not be seen automatically as a Jew when I don’t want to.
Many cultures attribute special meanings to certain colors. Usually, when we think of colors in Judaism, we think of that perfect shade of dark, but not too dark, blue. I lovingly refer to this hue as “Jew blue” and I wear it on my nails sometimes.
While I respect this seemingly age-old association, I also think red is the color of Jewish femininity. My mom and I each got a tallit with red accents instead of blue ahead of my bat mitzvah as a nod to Rachel, her red thread, and other Jewish matriarchs. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, a book quintessential to my Jewish identity, describes the red-dyed tent of ancient Jewish tradition as a refuge for women in a patriarchal biblical society where they could make their own rules and enjoy the biological and spiritual experiences of being a female surrounded by one another. As a daughter raised by a single mom who had her bat mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh, these connections are essential to me.
My favorite thing about being a history major is perpetually learning. Every day I am able to make historical and ideological connections between the peoples and cultures I study. I love how it makes me feel like I am fulfilling a time-honored tradition of Jews who read, write, and discuss those who came before them.
Just recently, I completed a project about Jewish and Muslim scientists who cooperated in Medieval Spain and made humongous contributions to every single branch of STEM that exists today. I also took the opportunity to further proliferate a positive and accurate portrayal of my people.
On the rare occasion I’m at the gym (am I relatable yet?), I always have headphones in. I listen to a variety of things, most of which have covert Jewish connections. If I’m listening to a podcast, it’s probably Bad with Money, hosted by Gaby Dunn, a passionate, queer Jewess, or My Favorite Murder, cohosted by Jewess Georgia Hardstark. These podcasts reaffirm my confidence to walk around this world as a Jewish queer woman as little voices in my ears say, “The world is f’ed up, but you got this!”
And when it comes to music, my summer soundtrack has been filled with Vampire Weekend and their Jewish flavored eccentric lyrics.
This all is not to say that the environment that makes me scared to be loudly Jewish is minimized by these small comforts, because it’s not. The rise in anti-Semitism in our society is not something to be brushed aside or excused by the ways I can kind of be Jewish. But these are the coping mechanisms that I find most helpful as I regress further and further into survival mode.
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