March 27, 2015

Being Jewish & Speaking Out

I'm Jewish. If you happened to see this post or my tweets last night, that shouldn't surprise you. Making my nationality (and religion) a part of the conversation was something I had intended to avoid, because I didn't want my work as a writer to be judged based on that. And though it shouldn't be, any more than it should be judged based on my being 5'6, I know it will be. 

After the despicable article by Lena Dunham (not linking intentionally, but I'm sure you can find it), comparing her Jewish boyfriend to a dog, and because of some strong reactions to said article by many Jews, and by Jewish authors (including Dahlia Adler), I don't believe I (or any of us) have the luxury of staying silent, of keeping that part of my identity private. Because the stereotypes continually perpetuated in the media are harmful, to individuals and through the rising tide of antisemitism throughout the world — including on U.S. college campuses. Did you know a Jewish student at UCLA was questioned about her religion during her confirmation process to the UC's judicial board? Can you even imagine that happening with any other religion? 

Or can you imagine the New Yorker publishing a supposedly humorous article comparing a black boyfriend to a dog? Or a Mexican girlfriend? Or any combination that didn't include the word "Jewish"? 

And yet Jews are repeatedly ignored in discussions of minority profiling, racism, etc. And we're similarly often ignored in the discussion of diversity in literature. "Faith-based" books almost invariable mean some sect of the Christian faith, ignoring every other type of religion. Judaism is more than a religion, it's a cultural identity, but a book about a Catholic family would be mainstream, whereas one about a Jewish family would be pigeonholed.

I was worried initially about being typecast as a Jewish author — i.e. not one who is Jewish, but one who (supposedly) only writes for Jewish readers, even though I wouldn't market my work as "Jewish" books. I'm still worried, that being Jewish, and unabashedly reminding the public of that, will mean losing readers, or someday, if my work is ever at some critical point of success, a slew of virtual threats in addition to the pervasive messaging all around us that this is, really, a country focused on Christian-based faiths.

I'm more worried about the erasure that hiding our culture, keeping it within segregated communities, creates — and which we help create. It makes sense, really. If no one remembers you're there, you're less likely to be attacked, right? Self preservation. 

It's terrifying going against that instinct, which has been honed through so many generations. I'm doing it anyway. There's more to me than my culture, but of course, without my culture, I'm not me. And in the face of thousands of micro-aggressions against Jews, not to mention a growing global tide of antisemitism, keeping that part of myself hidden, out of the conversation, isn't an option.

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