My energy level is dropping quickly but I hate to finish the day without remarking on my talks at Brooklyn College today. A really cool professor there had me come in to speak to his students, another professor’s students and the broader Brooklyn College audience. Incredibly, I was representing the Judaic Studies, Latino Studies and Women’s Studies department in a talk labeled “Memoirs of a Jewminicana: Blending American, Dominican, Jewish, and Gender Identities. I was somehow also representing for the Honors Society! Had they somehow realized that a true Dominican ghetto nerd was in their midst? I guess they had.
I felt like I had only just left Brooklyn since I had just recently spoken at the Hillel. But this was quite a different crowd. Easily the crowd was just as diverse, if not more, with plenty of non-Jews in the mix as it would seem my identity issues didn’t just speak to Jews but also to a wider audience. While many of my jokes fell flat (or splat as the case maybe), some ran across cultures. I think what was great about giving these speeches was that some people really seemed to take to my out of the box thinking, my idea that people don’t fix into the tiny boxes we try to force them in, that people are more than boxes. It’s not an innovative thought but it’s a thought I’m chewing over aloud.
And as usual, there were some killer questions that made me fantasize about returning to teaching just so I could answer them from that little throne I called a classroom. Among the questions asked:
“Will you support your children if they decided to go a different way? Perhaps, if they decide to become Christian?”
I think I surprised the student when I said, “Well, no. I think that most parents like to think they’re creating children in their own image, imbuing them with their own cultural values. We want to hope that they pick what we have chosen because we believe it’s the best way but that is not always the case.” Later on, I clarified that while my grandmother, for instance, is not SUPPORTIVE of the fact that I’m Jewish, because she would much rather that I be “a baby Jesus lover,” she does still accept me, that I’m still the same me that I have always been and that I will always be her grandchild despite issues that would threaten to divide us.
Another fun question because I had been pondering it myself was:
“Where would I choose to live if for some reason, in some alternative universe, the Dominican Republic, Israel and America all went to war?”
The guy asking the question was pretty adamant that he felt the most spiritual in Israel and I think many Jews, including myself, would agree. But would I leave my blu-ray DVD player behind for the possibility of losing electricity constantly in DR or for roughing it in those sparse apartments in Jerusalem? I told them that I think as Jews we always have to be wary, history has seen fit to document that almost every country in the world has screwed us at some place in time but there will always be Jews who feel more comfortable in the diaspora as well as Jews who feel more comfortable in our homeland, Israel.
And the last question that sticks out was about the way I cover my hair!!! I thought this kind of question was reserved for weddings or for when my husband becomes rabbi of some congregation that wants to mold me in their image. The black-kippah-wearing professor who posed the question said that I presented a dichotomy by saying that I loved and followed Orthodoxy but then did not cover my hair. My latest fashionable poka dot headband was not cutting it for him. And was it my imagination or did I hear him telling some student that it didn’t matter what I called myself, if I wasn’t following things to the letter of the law I wasn’t Orthodox? The fact that fibromyalgia and head coverings often do not mix and that I strive to always have a little something in my hair (despite the fact hats and sheitels do not often fit on my head) was an excuse according to him.
Heavy, right? It’s an interesting position I put myself in. I let it all hang out (or so it seems) and that leaves room for people to judge, question and remark on the way I love with my life. I’m still not sure if I’m following G-d’s plan, if living my life in this kind of spotlight is what’s in the cards for me. But for now, I am happy sharing parts of my life with all these different people, even the ones who would rather I wasn’t sharing at all.