Hispanics/Latinos · Israel · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · Shabbos/Shabbat

One more stupid comment, one more stupid question and I’m slapping someone!

THAT’S IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This Shabbos:
I was minding my own business at the synagogue meal introducing myself to a new friendly face I had never seen before when a lady who has seen me at shul quite often before came over and interrupted our conversation to ask…if I’d been born Jewish.
I was seething. I spat back, “I don’t answer questions like that.” She nodded, satisfied, as if she already knew the answer.
I wanted to say was GET THE F$%* out of my face. Instead, she stood there for 15 minutes and went on and on asking me questions about whether there were Jews in the Dominican Republic and rambling and rambling. With total condescension she explained about how the Spanish Inquisition had sent Jews running towards Latin America and she supposed there were many Jews there.
The same lady had earlier commented that she had seen me walking around the neighborhood right before Shabbos. I said I was probably on my way from the library which I always go to before Shabbos. So my husband and I have something to read.
She made a face and said, “It must be nice not having kids.”
Earlier in the week, I was thinking of developing a three strikes and you’re out rule for, people. Sometimes people who have hurt me with unbelievably careless comments have turned into friends. So maybe three strikes? But I decided this Shabbat it’s two. My limit is two. It’s two and during the third stupid comment or question a white Jew makes, I will not be responsible for my actions.
At the shul dinner, everyone went around introducing themselves and the question of the night was, “What’s a fear you’ve overcome?” The close friend sitting next to me, who is white and Jewish, said, “You should say white Jews!” We started giggle and shared this with our other white Jewish friends nearby. Eventually I whispered back, “But I haven’t overcome that fear.”
Because lately, I’ve realized that I don’t even want to go to places where there will be other white Jews because of the constant interrogations, the questions, the comments. I have learned that this is what is called “racial fatigue.”
Another friend invited us back to her place after dinner and we showed up to find she was hosting a singles event. Lots of singles from the Upper West Side. I sat down and struck up a conversation trying to be friendly but the whole time they stared at me like I was an alien from outer space. I ignored it. But in the midst of asking them what they do for a living and where they live, it happened. I knew it was coming. I could smell it in the air.
“I’m sorry, where are you from?”
“Oh, wait you said Washington Heights earlier? Didn’t you? Washington Heights, right?”
But I could tell from their faces they didn’t really believe I was FROM there.
“But you were born in Washington Heights?”
“What’s your name again?”
“No, your last name?”
“Oh but that’s your married name? What’s your maiden name?”
The whole time they are staring at me like I could sprout three heads at any moment. The tension was palatable. I wanted to scream. I wanted to smack them. I want to leave the table. I felt violated and instantly UNSAFE in my best friend’s apartment no less, in my neighborhood, in my synagogue, in my terrority.
I should have said: “What’s your maiden name? Is that a Jewish name? Are you Jewish? Were you born Jewish?” Sarcasm, sarcasm, sarcasm.
But I decided to toy with them. You see, I changed my name after I converted. I changed it legally, including my last name. So I tell them that name I chose.
As soon as they heard it, all the tension left the room, like air from a deflating balloon. They nodded and suddenly, they gave me big smiles. They are satisfied with my response. I had passed the test. Because of the Israeli last name I chose when I wanted to cement my connection to the Jewish people after converting, I had passed the test.
And once they were satifised with my answer, they turned away, they were done with me but every other time I looked up, I could see them staring at me with their heads cocked to the side.
Maybe it was all in my head. Maybe I’m just being “too sensitive.” Maybe it’s just me. Later, I would go home and cry in my sister’s arms and wish that all of these things had been true.
But the friend who had made the joke earlier about my fear of white Jews had been watching all along. And when I finally came to take a seat next to her and away from the others, she said, “My G-d! What was that? The freakin’ Spanish Inquisition?”
Yeah, it could be worse. I could be my black Jewish friend who went to West Side Judaica to pick out a menorah and was asked if she was the maid picking up something for her employers. I could be my Japanese Jewish friend being mistaken for her white-looking son’s nanny. But I know if I wait long enough, these things could indeed happen to me. And I don’t know if I can deal with that.
I don’t know if I can do this for the rest of my life. If I can be treated like this over and over and over again in the Jewish community without saying, “Here, take my Jewish card and rip it up.” Because every time you ask me a stupid question, every time you make a stupid comment, every time you stare at me like I’m a leper, it’s as if you already have.

18 thoughts on “One more stupid comment, one more stupid question and I’m slapping someone!

  1. The best response to any question or comment about why you don't have kids yet is to burst into tears, and run to the ladies room.

    It leaves everyone looking at the Idiot.

    (and NO i don't feel any guilt about the times I've done that. )


  2. Maybe something honest and rude: “I CONVERTED BUT I DON'T ENJOY TELLING MY LIFE STORY TO TOTAL STRANGERS.” If they press, repeat in the same tone with no variation until they go away.

    A variation worked for me when I was single–I am visibly but only slightly disabled (prosthetic leg, missing fingers, cleft lip) and people would, within five minutes of meeting me, immediately try to set me up with, you know, men with life-altering terrible problems, men that they had NEVER MET but whose problems they had only heard about. “I WILL GO OUT WITH ANYONE WHO IS SMART, BUT THERE _ARE_ SMART GUYS WHO ARE INTERESTED IN ME EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM,” I would say. “Oh, really, dear? How nice.” But then they'd stop. Fortunately I had only started being openly rude for 6 mos. or so when I met my fiance.

    As my born-Jewish (born-Syrian) friend from college says (about himself), “I didn't become an antisemite until I moved to New York.”


  3. Have you ever tried being a smartass back? You may come off as a bit abrasive, but at least they'll get off your ass.

    It works for me – considering my welsh last name and blonde hair I get retarded questions.

    Also, you're in New York. New Yorkers, in my experience, just want the straight up facts, right now and not later, so they'll be more blunt and impolite about things.

    You'll find a way, pretty-haired-lady! 🙂


  4. glad I left east coast for New Mexico, where it is normal in my shul for mixed marriages to Mexicans, Native Americans and every other variety of human. Sad to hear about, and I'm embarrassed by the idiocy that passes for normal- some people need to take a long look in the mirror and try to remember what community means to the Jewish community


  5. I get a bitch-in-the-face confrontation, from time to time, about my German-Jewish identity with the accusation that the Jews of Germany are responsible for the Holocaust. These accusers are schmucks for sure, but regrettably lack the ability to see their fault. One of them, an Israeli son of concentration camp survivors, gave me a headache about my family's escape and our German-Jewish identity, despite the fact that he sent his son to Germany to attend a Master's degree program. Go figure.


  6. But now, n.b., I have other things about which to be just shy of openly rude. From my comment one might read that my problem was “solved” after I got engaged. Ha.

    Yes, obviously, racism is different from discrimination based on visible disabilities. But a nearly-nasty one-liner, consistently and smilingly delivered, is a strategy that worked for me and may be worth a try.


  7. A Jew traveling to Japan on Business stops into the Local shul in Tokyo for Shacharis. The friendly congregants seeing a new face rush up to him and ask him where he is from. Brooklyn is his reply. One of the congregants ask him if he is Jewish. The business man replies “Yes, all 4 of my grandparents were Jewish, why do you ask?”. No problem says another Japanese congregant, we just didn't think you looked Jewish


  8. I also want to tell you that I do not answer questions anymore related to “How am I Jewish?” or “was I born Jewish?” or even “When did I convert?” to to people I just met. Again thanks for posting


  9. Interesting note about the Spanish Inquisition that played out at the Shabbos table this past weekend. I was the only person who wasn't white. I was the only person who was interrogated like this. But actually, two of my friends, who are white and were there, were actually born in foreign countries but because they're white and don't have accents, they didn't get the same treatment.


  10. You are Jewish – end of story. And questioning that in any way, even just by implying that you 'don't fit' is an affront to Judaism as a whole which since Rabbinic times has asserted that the convert stood at Sinai.

    This also sounds like your friends and community need to work a little harder on being anti-racist, pro JOC allies.

    It's an issue we are addressing somewhat at our shul – this year's YK drash was about how we need deal with our own racism, particularly around the many JOC's in our community.


  11. Hey, Stefan, my husband and I hope to be speaking in our community about racism and JOCs but these kinds of things happen frequently when new people come into the community or when I visit new communities. Hopefully my blog is educating some people. Hopefully, things will change across the Jewish community.


  12. This is beyond rude and beyond annoying. I seriously cannot believe that people have the chutzpah to think that they can ask these sorts of questions and give “commentary”. I am a white Muslim, and I often get the “no, where are you REALLY from?” question when I tell people I'm from New York. I've been assumed to be Turkish, Syrian, Albanian, Bosnian, any “typical” Muslim background, but never the Italian/Irish/German American that I am. As soon as people find out that I'm a convert, there is the inevitable “what made you want to convert?” question. Although these questions (usually) don't bother me, I hope there comes a time where people will realize that Muslims (and Jews and Christians and Baha'is and every other religion) come in all different colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, Alhamdulillah (praise be to G-D)!


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