Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

I see Jewish people

I can’t talk to children below the age of 14. (I was a high school teacher after all.) For me, talking to people under the age of 14 always leads to awkward, strange conversations. My husband shares this same fatal flaw, a group of 10-year-olds once revoked his talking privileges at the Shabbos table. 

But of course, avoiding children is unavoidable since every other Orthodox couple my age has about two or three kids under the age of 10. One of these little girls, lately, has taken to inform me on different occasions that my hair makes me look like a dog or a monkey. 

I have explained that these are not nice comparisons and asked her not to make comments about my hair. (In my head, I thought this is why Dominicans keep a warm chancleta–slipper-on hand. If I had ever talked that way to an adult as a child, I would not be with you here today.)

But this little girl can’t seem to help herself, she’s obsessed with how different my hair looks wet, dry, covered, uncovered. The adult versions of her questions are usually, “Did you cut your hair? Why does your hair look different every day?” even though I’ve explained the answers to these questions more than once before. 
This little girl went as far as to buy herself a bandana to wear so she could look more like me. It made me recall how annoyed I was when my sister, who is three years younger, became my copycat as children. But somehow, it’s rather amusing to see this little blond-haired imp trying to be my doppelganger. 

Recently, she has decided that she can “tell” when people are Jewish.

“How can you tell?” I ask her cautiously.

“By looking at them,” she says shyly. I already don’t like where this is going but I quickly decide to let her do most of the talking. “They look Jewish.”

“What makes them look Jewish?” I ask nervously. Why does it always come back to this “Funny, you don’t look Jewish” conversation?

She points out a woman in a kosher restaurant. “I can tell she’s Jewish because she has her hair covered. And she’s wearing a skirt. Like you.”

“Hmm,” I say. “But what about your Mom? She doesn’t cover her hair and she’s wearing pants.”

“Well, I can tell she’s Jewish by her face,” she says full of the certainty only a seven-year-old has. She looks into my eyes and leans in. “You look Jewish.”

“How?” I push but she can’t elaborate so I tell her. I’m thinking about how her cousin last week assured me that I did not look Jewish. “I don’t think you can tell if someone’s Jewish from their face. Sometimes, you can tell by their clothes. But everyone looks Jewish.”

“Everyone in here is Jewish,” she says looking around the kosher restaurant again. “But you know, it’s a lot easier to tell if boys are Jewish because they wear kippahs.”

I nod in agreement, waiting for her to continue but thankfully she’s silent and I’m terribly glad when the conversation is over.

“I Love Jewish Faces” by Debra Darvick, which debuts in September, will certainly find its way onto this kid’s bookshelf. You can buy it at URJ Books & Music. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again in September.  

In the meantime, check out 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Read”.

10 thoughts on “I see Jewish people

  1. Loved your article! This girl is something else. Two days ago, I asked a 8 year old if she's seen persian jews before and she said no and replied what is a persian jew? and I was rather shocked that she has never seen or known of these jews. She gave me the impression that you have to look or be Ashkenaz in order to be a real Jew. I remember her asking her father whether a dark skinned guy who was holding a Torah scroll on TV was Jewish and the father replied “He must be a convert or is somebody who will become a ger” I could not believe my ears. Maybe that guy who I did not get to see well because I was far from the TV was born Jewish and was not a convert. (I think he looked bucharian but was not black only dark skin )How can you possibly asssume that people who do not look like you is a convert or is going to convert? I do not blame children but parents for not educating their children and for spoiling them in every single way. That's why these children have no respect for others and get away with whatever they want.


  2. Wonderful post, Aliza and thank you for the advance notice. We're not yet set up for pre-orders but by the fall, for sure. If you love the outside, you'll love the inside even more!

    Children are curious, always trying to organize their world. The earlier kids are exposed to the broadest of “templates” the better. There are indeed those Eastern European faces that people zero in on as being Jewish and then there's the larger Jewish reality that spans the globe. This is the truth that
    I Love Jewish Faces celebrates and validates.


  3. PERFECT example of a family of whom you may want to consider seeing less!! I assume that pulling the parent(s) aside and saying, “listen, help me out here” won't work. Don't even start me on the way many (not all) frum children behave.

    One line I've used with some success when little kids (old enough to know better) (in the company of their parents) stare rudely at my various malformities is, “you know, it doesn't bother _me_ if you stare, but someone else, it might hurt their feelings. That's why _my_ mom always taught me not to stare, even though it's OK to be curious.”


  4. I'm dealing with this now where I teach on Sunday mornings in suburban Chicago. The School Director actually told me that our students can only relate to Jews basically being “lilly white Ashkenazim.” I did forward Rabbi Sandy Sasso's piece so I'm hoping we can have some “growth” here.


  5. They were. So I sat them down and told them about it. As usual, I ended up in another conversation about being “too sensitive.” I can't wait for the book, “I Love Jewish Faces” to come out so I can go through it with the little girl and follow up on this conversation.


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