I’m not going to argue with you. I’m going to sit as quietly as I can in the backseat, hoping that the traffic isn’t too bad and I will make it home quickly. But I don’t know how to respond when you put me on the spot about Jesus. I don’t want to have to tell you I’m Jewish and unwittingly provoke anti-Semitism. This hasn’t always been a fear of mine, yet here we are.
“Your car smells nice,” I told you, which was probably a mistake (definitely a mistake), because after a long day I was not in the mood for conversation. But of course, it quickly turned into conversation.
“Do you live in New York?” you asked.
“Ah, like Chelsea in London. Have you ever been to London?”
“There are gentlemen in London. Did you meet gentlemen?”
This is when I learned you were a “gentleman,” never littered, always treated women with respect. You kept asking me questions, which I tried to answer as little as possible — “Are you married?” (no) “Can you cook?” (badly) “Do you love life?” (sure). You learned I have a boyfriend, who I don’t cook for (even though you told me “a man will love you more if you cook”). You learned I preferred living in New York to London. You tried to learn more, but I was not (am not) ready to share details with strangers.
You talked way more than I did; I kept my responses short as you launched into your life story. I learned about your 7-year-old daughter (a small portrait of her dangled from the rearview mirror), your wife, your mother, your family that lives in France. I learned you are a Berber from Algeria. I learned that you speak four languages, that you are trying to learn English. I learned you fought with your parents as a teenager (you couldn’t remember the word for teenager), but respect and love them now. I learned you hate people who don’t respect their parents. I learned you are a proud Christian.
I don’t mind when you talk, it’s just when we veer into Jesus territory. Please stay out of Jesus territory. I am fine listening, Uber driver! I know it’s powerful to share with a stranger, and sometimes, you just need to talk with the knowledge that someone is listening.
But when you ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” while making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror, and we still have 12 blocks left to go before I get to my apartment, I do not want to unwittingly provoke anything. I didn’t (I don’t!) want to be kidnapped. All I want to do is get home, eat mac and cheese, and watch Mikaela Schiffrin ski.
Uber driver, please understand, I can’t bring myself to say I believe in Jesus (I am Jewish!!!). But I worry how you’ll respond if I say “no.”
That’s why I looked away, stared at my phone, and said, “Um, that’s a personal question.”
“Okay, I understand. But do you believe in God?” Oh sure: way less personal of a question!
Again, not wanting to provoke any negative reaction, I simply respond, “Yes.”
How would you have responded if I said “I’m Jewish”? Maybe you would’ve been fine. But I was scared. It’s not that I’m scared to be Jewish (well, maybe I am a little scared). I am proud I am Jewish. But it was not like I could just hop out of the car, Lady Bird-style, if you responded negatively. I was stuck.
Maybe I should have just said it. Maybe nothing would’ve happened. But I think back to the other time when an Uber driver asked me about Jewishness, and the lecture on Satan I got.
It was two years ago — when America felt a lot different — and I was in an Uber from Washington D.C. to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland to do research for my undergraduate thesis. My mom called me to tell me my great-uncle had passed away. I asked about the funeral, about logistics, and hung up the phone, thinking about my Uncle Roy. After I hung up, the driver looked back in the rear-view mirror and says, “I’m sorry for your loss. Who died?”
“My uncle.” I respond, not really wanting to talk.
“Well, he is with God now,” this driver told me. “Was your Uncle a believing man?”
Not thinking, I responded, “Well we’re Jewish.” In my defense, Mom: It was a different time! Anti-Semitism did not pop into my mind.
“Ahh, Jewish! You are the Chosen ones.”
This is when he launched into a whole story about the battle between Satan and the Believing and how Jews all need to return to Israel and something about the Messiah and a lot I have blocked from my memory. He sounded like a street preacher you cross to the other side of the street to avoid. But I was in his car, and we still had about 20 minutes to go.
Still, I wonder, should I have told him I was Jewish?
Because I do not want to talk about the Messiah with you, dear Uber drivers. I do not want to field your questions about Jesus. I do not want to be afraid to talk about my religion with strangers. But I am. So please, can we stick to the weather?