I woke up this morning and I thought, maybe it’s time to break up with the Jewish community.
My Jewish community is a charming, suave young fellow. He has been told for his entire life that his sex makes him a member of the blessed half of the world. Jewish men used to pray, ‘thank god I was born male.’ Now they simply say that with their actions. It would be gauche to say it out loud.
My Jewish community shifted in response to World War Two, and then again as antisemitism has reared its head in recent years. We celebrate whiteness now. If you are Jewish and did not have the fortune to be born a boy, hopefully you at least had the decency to be born physically tiny, and very white, and ideally also blonde.
In the Jewish community, we worship these women. These women have made entire careers out of being cute, bubbly, unassuming, and unthreatening. They are often weak, physically and mentally, because they can be. They are often overly indulged, though not to the extent men are.
If I look at my community like an anthropologist, I can see there is no place for me. I can see the disappointment, the tragedy on the faces of those of us who will simply never fit in. I can see the outliers, the ones still hopeful that someday something they do will work. Mother Culture is as cruel as my mother ever was. She loves those she sees fit to love. The rest of us just fade.
If I were to write a book today about the Jewish community, it would be a book about the politics of likeability. About the ways that the cultural narratives of this ethnic enclave have been subsumed beneath the narratives of the larger Western cultural ethos. Until the right way to be a Jewish woman is to be self-effacing and weak-willed and silent, like women in any paternalistic and patriarchal cultural tradition. But the right way to be a Jewish woman today is to be all that and more, but also white-passing, wearing a string bikini in the colors of the Israeli flag.
If I were to write a book today..but I am not going to write a book today. Because I am sick, for the sixth month this year. I am sick because my parents convinced me I was not worthy of my basic needs being met. I am sick because my parents bullied me and my white-passing blonde sister bullied me and both cultures I had a foot in told me I deserved it. And so I walked around an easy target, and Jews like easy targets just as much as white* people do.
- I am distinguishing between Jews and white people here more for expediency than because I want to make a statement about whether Ashkenazi Jews are white. That is an entire conversation and in my experience it goes nowhere.
I believe that ‘the personal is political,’ but more than that, I believe that I possibly do not have much time. There is an article somewhere about how many spoons we have inside of us, how much energy we have. I think those spoons are put there by all the people who have loved or invested in us. I am running out of spoons.
I have done many things this year that I would not have done if I had more spoons. Most of them are incontrovertibly good, and have made my life infinitely better. Some of them were bold and passionate but belonged on another planet, somewhere far away.
Sometimes I hope that when I die, I will be reborn on that planet. Sandra Cisneros wrote in The House on Mango Street, “all she wanted was to love and to love and to love,” about a girl who was a teenage prostitute. Prostitute as opposed to sex worker, as she didn’t have much of a choice. And the thing is, we all want to love. We all want to believe our love is worth something. But we have to be loved back.
And so I am thinking of all of the Jewish men I have ever loved, or tried to love. I am thinking about their contempt, and their casual cruelty. I am thinking about how they have cried or been vulnerable in front of me, then hated me afterwards for seeing their vulnerability. I am thinking about how it never occurred to them that their relationships fail because they are not someone it is safe for women to cry with. Not about sexual violence, at least. Not about anything which threatens their macho pride. Not if it means suggesting their entire self-concept rooted in their superiority to women is based on a lie.
I am thinking that someday maybe I will be reborn on a planet where men are not like that. Where men actually seem to like women. Where condescension and flashes of misogynistic violence are not the norm. Where men’s jokes are not rooted in the idea that anything is better than being born a girl.
I can’t take being on this planet any more. I am sure antisemitism is a strain for men too. I am sure Jewish men are bullied by white men but they go home and bully Jewish women. I am sure being privileged is a strain all its own.
I am sure no individual Jewish person ever set out to hurt people like me. I am sure no Jewish leader ever set out to hate people like me. And yet.
And yet, my life is about protecting myself. My life has become one long effort to protect myself from my own community. I tried to love them, I really did. But they don’t know how to love me. Or want to.
I have been exhausted my entire life, here. Sometimes what looks like depression is just not having enough spoons to get through the day. Or being sick again and again, which is somehow also funny, because disability is not okay in the brave new world of misogynistic warriors for colonialism that the Jewish community is trying to build.
I am not supposed to write this way about my own community. I am supposed to love them. Doing otherwise is crazy. Talking like this, meaning, honestly, makes an awful lot of people call me crazy. Maybe they’re right. But I have been sick for a long time. I have to say what I have to say while I can say it.
Even if I am talking to nobody. Everybody has the right to write their own testament. Even crazy people. Everybody.
I hope there is another planet out there somewhere. And I hope we go there when we die. I think I was a good kid. I think I am a good woman, now. I think I might have had a very good life, except I did not have enough spoons to fight for it. And people need other people. We can’t pluck self-worth out of thin air or treat yourself spa days or affirmations or therapy.
I’m pretty sure your community is supposed to give you a sense of identity and of worth. I am not supposed to struggle to frame my story of self, but I do. Because my community instead taught me that I am worthless.
My community is a Jewish boy who I cannot bring myself to refer to as a man. Because as a boy, he is sweet, and kind, and sensitive, and loving. As a man, he is the biggest disappointment I have ever encountered. Incapable of standing up for himself except against people far weaker or less powerful. Incapable, always, of standing up for me. Ready always to protect himself against the she-demon of my lust and the werewolf of my rage. Happy to believe I am crazy, because he does not want my love, or anyone else’. He does not want to be loved. He wants to be saved, from the man who he has made himself into. And he expects a woman worth her salt to be able to do it.
Maybe I could, if I tried. But I have sampled what he has to give in return. Right now, that tradeoff just does not seem worth it. Because he hates me, every bit as much as he needs me. Every ounce of hate and anger he runs from and cannot face, it all comes out against the women who try to love him.
I know, I know. I’ve just described patriarchy.
I have started doing the same thing. Pushing people away when they get too close to real emotional intimacy. Punishing people for loving me.
I do it, because it was done to me. By everybody in my life, so I need new people. People who believe they are worthy of love, and do whatever it takes to retain that esteem in their own minds. People who love themselves well enough they can love me.
I need new people, so I hope I die. In whatever way/s I need to die, so that they can find me.
I hope that I die, and am reborn on another planet. One where I make sense to the people around me. One where the people I want to give my affection to, don’t hate me for getting close enough to them to see.
And I sincerely hope that one day, the Jewish community will change and I won’t have to leave. I hope the community I love will learn how to love itself. I hope it will learn that respect and love can and must exist in the same place. I hope it will stop looking at women hoping for an excuse not to respect us so it has an excuse to unleash all of that repressed hate. I hope all the ways he has taught me to hate him will simply fade away.
I hope that happens one day. But I know better than to think that maybe if I stay very still and try very hard to be cute and unintimidating and virginal and chaste and never get angry and never express a unique feeling or thought, then maybe that will be today.
Someday I hope I die and am reborn on a planet of people less like that. And more like me.