I’m Not Your Jewish Party Trick
I’m Not Your Jewish Party Trick
[Image] A classroom with a teacher at the front holding a pointer. Children sit in desks facing her.
[Caption] For the most part, I was like everybody else in school.
[Image] The teacher, smiling, gesturing toward a student.
[Caption] But every year…
Teacher: Why don’t you explain Chanukkah for us!
[Image] Closeup of a young girl, looking nervous and unhappy. She has short brown hair.
Girl [Thought Bubble}: Why is this my job?
[Image] A cartoon monkey, atop a unicycle, juggling a dreidel, menorah, and Star of David.
[Caption] I felt like a monkey doing tricks.
[Image] The girl, standing with one arm raised expressively. Her other hand is holding a large book. Around her are thought bubbles filled only with “?”.
[Caption] Or their personal encyclopedia.
[Image] A crowd of children, all looking at the reader. A boy in the centre is pointing.
[Caption] Or their Hebrew clown.
Boy: Make her say this in Hebrew!
[Image] The dark-haired girl looking at another girl, who is blonde. The blonde girl is smiling, and holding her hand over her chest. The dark-haired girl looks sad.
[Caption] Sometimes… They thought it was cool playing Jewish dress up.
Blonde Girl: I TOTALLY love your food. I’m like, practically Jewish!
[Image] Students in desks, arranged in rows, looking straight ahead. Most of the room is dim, but the dark-haired girl’s desk is highlighted, her sitting in it and looking sad.
[Caption] My culture was “funny”, “weird”, a party trick, foreign enough to make me different, but familiar enough to steal from. I was disrespected and alone.
[Image] The dark-haired girl alone on a sidewalk, walking. She is covering her face with her hands. It looks like she is crying.
[Caption] I love being Jewish, but even so, sometimes I wish I wasn’t.
I am 15 and Canadian. I am also Jewish, and I love being Jewish; it makes me feel like I have a community to fall back on. It gives me a sense of belonging. I’m very grateful for my place in that community.
But I’ve also spent a lot of my life being “the Other”. I was the only Jew in my school for 8 years. For the most part I was like everybody else, but sometimes I would be reminded – strongly – that I wasn’t. Every year, my teacher would ask me to explain what Channukah is, and I really felt like I couldn’t say no, since everyone had their eyes on me. I’d stand in front of the class with everyone looking at me like I was this stranger. No one ever had to explain Christmas to the class. Why did I have to explain Channukah? Why was it my job to tell people about a holiday they didn’t even celebrate? I didn’t want to be their personal Jewish encyclopaedia. I felt like a monkey doing a trick. I was the one with the “foreign” traditions explaining this strange holiday no one else celebrated. I felt like a foreigner in a country my family had lived in for generations. Everyone pretended to be fascinated by what I was saying, but they were just weirded out and confused. I felt like the odd one out.
My friends always ask me to say things in Hebrew, even though I don’t speak it very well. They have tried to say they are Jewish because they had shabbos dinner with me a few times, even though they knew nothing of the culture and religion or what it meant to be a Jew. They though it was cool playing Jewish dress up.
When people ask me why I get offended or brush me off, all I think is, “how can you say ‘it’s not a big deal’ when it’s not even something you have to deal with? You aren’t singled out as the other. You don’t have to deal with people thinking your culture is ‘so funny’ or ‘so ethnic’. You are the norm.” It makes me feel even more alone.
I was the only “different one” for 8 years. However, I did have the Jewish community to fall back on. When my friends didn’t get it, my family did. But at the end of the day, outside the Jewish community, the people who I thought were my friends would ignore my problems, and even make them worse. I love being Jewish, but even so, sometimes I wish I wasn’t.