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Today, I learned something new. Apparently it's impossible to be German and Jewish at the same time. One must choose. So sayeth some idiots at work, in any case.

This came up because someone asked if a particular coworker was Jewish. He does look a bit like the stereotype, and while I don't know for sure, there are a few things that make me suspect he is. This got turned around to the curiosity question of whether I was, because even though I don't particularly look it I don't think, I do have some personality traits apparently associated with Judaism. Book-smarts, snark, work ethic, fastidiousness, that kind of thing.

In point of fact I am Jewish. Sort of. Halakhically and ethnically I am - mum's mum's mum's mum, though that side of the family has been Roman Catholic since at least the 1700s, as far as my great-aunt who's into genealogy has traced it. I certainly think of myself as Christian (specifically Protestant, more specifically Wesleyan of the UMC Methodist variety), though I do seem to have a soft spot for Judaica and have been known to study Pirkei Avot, Maimonides and Martin Buber in an interfaith book club I was a part of as a grad student. I also kept kosher (sort of) for a while in high school and undergrad, and grew up on Sabbath-keeping and Kol Nidre prayer services as much as Christmas Eve mass and Ash Wednesday. My second mum was the descendant of camp survivors, and though I'm pretty sure she was an atheist herself, the observances were always very important to me.

The thing is, though, this doesn't negate me being German, or more specifically German-American. Part of that is, there's no such thing as a single Jewish experience, Jews are simply too far-flung and have too many different histories. It's not all Fiddle on the Roof, or even European. And my being German (which includes Nazis and victims + survivors, as well as one notable great-uncle and a Catholic priest who provided false baptism papers and was involved in the resistance, as well as people without strong alignments of course) colors how I understand Judaism, and vice versa. It's not so simple as being a part of the subset of Germans who are also Jews, or Jews who are also German.

That's what I found so flabbergasting about this comment. I suppose I should be a bit insulting that people thought they had the right to tell me I couldn't be both at the same time. Or that the two were incompatible (as if Juadaism has no part in what it means to be German) - my being Jewish (to the extent I am) isn't incompatible with my being German (again, to the extent that I am). I think I'm genuinely confused by the idea that ethnicity and culture is so straightforward. I mean, I'm Southern and American and Christian, but I'm not just a Southern girl primarily and an American secondly, or a Christian who happens to practice that Christian through a vaguely Bible Beltish model. I'm all these things at once, and the thought that I'd have to choose is just ... stupid. Pitifully stupid, actually, and I mean that literally. How worthy of pity, that some people think of who they are in such straightforward, uninteresting terms.

It's giving me thinky thoughts, though, which is almost never a bad thing. :-)

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
dreamflower02
Aug. 6th, 2015 03:27 am (UTC)
People who put other people in a box also tend to put God there as well.

And after all, God can be at least three things at once. But that might blow their little minds.

I'm guessing this person doesn't understand history very well. Hitler was German. Hitler did not like Jews. Therefore Jews cannot be German.

Very peculiar logic. ;)
phyloxena
Aug. 6th, 2015 05:11 am (UTC)
Oh, we Jews are much confused. Honestly, I don't feel very warm towards things German, but being Jewish from Russia (great grandma the only one of her many siblings surviving a pogrom; I am very invested in Russian poetry, which best 20th century authors are Jewish no exception), I have to agree.
cairistiona7
Aug. 6th, 2015 12:27 pm (UTC)
It seems more and more these days people try to stuff people into an easily identifiable (and thus easily dismissible) box. Oh, you're from the Bible Belt? You must be an extremist Westboro-style right winger. You're gay? You must be a pedophile. You're a liberal? You must be an extreme left winger who hates the military. You're a man? You must be a misogynist. You're a woman? You must hate sports and read only romance novels/obscure women's literature.... and on and on.

Drives me nuts.

Edited at 2015-08-06 12:27 pm (UTC)
shirebound
Aug. 6th, 2015 02:40 pm (UTC)
people thought they had the right to tell me I couldn't be both at the same time. Or that the two were incompatible

How truly bizarre! I appreciate your thoughts on this subject.
karri_kln1671
Aug. 6th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
My brother in law of German Jewish descent would disagree about it not being possible, but I suppose Hitler would agree.

None of us fit just one label, and none of our various labels negates our other labels. Nor do our labels define who we are; they simply list what we are, which is why I prefer just being human rather than breaking it down into all my potential labels.
lindahoyland
Aug. 6th, 2015 11:36 pm (UTC)
That doesn't make any sense to me. My friend's son in law is of German Jewish ancestry for a start and there are Jewish people who live in Germany nowadays.
engarian
Aug. 7th, 2015 08:37 pm (UTC)
Hmph! Well, I'm a German Jew, even though I prefer being a Practicing Pagan. My family was Ashkenaz and most of them lost their lives in Auschwitz or fighting with the resistance. Of course, I don't live in Germany although I was born there, but I'm quite sure there are Jews who moved back after the War and whose families still live there. After all, it's been more than 50 years and hope springs eternal that history won't repeat itself.

- Erulisse (one L)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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