I’ll admit, I am terrified to learn loshn koydesh.
perhaps it is the idea of being literate that terrifies me– of trying to erase the very perturbance that has also been my escape hatch.
In my Jewish journey of the past 5 years, I have countless times bemoaned the fact that my upbringing left me Jewishly illiterate. I have complained about mainstream reform Judaism. I have blamed my parents for not caring. I have blamed myself for not understanding how much I cared at an earlier age. One thing is for sure, I haven’t spent enough time feeling grateful for what I do have.
As a secular Jewish American, I have felt like I belong.
I haven’t had to explain, apologize for, or hide my identity. Mostly because on the surface, my identity just doesn’t make me all that different. My grandpa deracinated our family name by lobbing off its ending, and my nose, in a parallel act of removal, was medically straightening in my 16th year.
And through these removals, perhaps I’ve been better able to understand what was lost. I never had to try to assimilate, I inherited my family’s assimilation. But I also inherited their difference. And perhaps more profoundly, I’ve inherited the difference of the group that I’ve been told I belong to.
Because I was taught that Jews belong with other Jews. That we are Jews first, and Americans second. But while I was being taught this otherness verbally, it was profoundly dissonant with my experience of belonging, to America.
I value that I had the privilege of feeling the safety and security of belonging. Even more-so, I value that having experienced belonging, I have also been able to recognize the erasures that were requisite to my ability to belong.
And the past 5 years have been the beginnings of my attempts to repair these erasures. To reclaim my culture and my otherness in a way that my parents (and arguably, my grandparents) actively sought to remove.
But as I’ve been learning and talking and thinking about being more of a Jew, and particularly as I was confronted with my first opportunity to learn hebrew through mishna (a thoroughly Jewish undertaking) I felt myself recoil. I felt myself cry out in fear– in fear of becoming irrevocably other.
And what of the children I will raise with a Jewish identity? Will they be able to develop the understanding of universalism I find so essential to my worldview? Or will they feel like they belong, but only to one group, to a Jewish group.
I LIKE that my identity is a composite of many identities. I like that I am constantly in struggle with my identity. AND, I know that so much of what I yearn for is stability and clarity.
But for the first time, I’m beginning to understand that I don’t want a stable and clear identity at the expense of a complex one. And I certainly don’t want to flatten and package my identity for some future generation to consume.
So what do I want? I’m still not sure.