What does it mean to have a Jewish identity? How may we accurately represent our Jewishness and be the very best ambassadors we can be to our fellow students?
I am a proud member of the tribe. I do my part daily in advertising my Jewish identity by sporting a Magen David necklace, a Hadaya bracelet, and what seems like a stockpile of chamsa everything. I have taken on an active Jewish student leadership role on campus. I hold Israel incredibly near to my heart and I am prepared to support the country in a heartbeat. Partaking in Jewish traditions and culture is amongst my top priorities. I am a regular speaker of Henglish, incorporating any and all Hebrew words that I can in my daily vocabulary. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in the Jewish day school system and spent summers at Jewish camps. Judaism has always played a central role in my identity, and I have no intention of discontinuing that in any aspect of my future endeavours.
When I began my university experience in Ottawa, I became aware of the lack of cultural understanding on campus. Having grown up in Canada’s multicultural mosaic, it was surprising to come across the reactions I did. I have received quite the array of responses to my being Jewish.
“You’re Jewish? You don’t seem Jewish.”
Is that supposed to be a compliment? I always thought my being Jewish was blatantly obvious.
“Wow, I’ve never met a Jew before!”
Glad I can be your first?
“How long have you been Jewish?”
It’s no secret there are many stereotypes out there involving Jewish people. These stereotypes, some negative, others positive, are essentially the expectations of sheltered non-Jews who have never met one of us before. They have a sort of “Jewish standard” they apply, embedding deep sets of expectations within us. And, let me be clear, they set higher expectations than some of your relatives might. So let’s all do our part in making us look good.
The late Joan Rivers had it right. She said what was on her mind, and, if anyone had a problem with that, it was their problem and definitely not hers. She was honest, but she was not mean – a very important distinction. Her bluntness was something I have come to admire greatly.
My aim is to encourage Jewish students on campus to feel comfortable enough to do just that. Let out your inner Joan Rivers and don’t shy away from speaking your mind.
Your neighbour in res doesn’t understand the concept of keeping kosher? Tell them about it, and speak about it with a sense of pride. If that fails, just use the term “flexitarian.”
Your new friends don’t get why you’re going out to a “Jewish dinner” every single Friday? Tell them about it, even invite them! Everyone deserves the Shabbat experience at least once.
You’re judged by some for eating (and obsessing over) gefilte fish? It’s a delicious food, and they probably have never tried it, so their opinions shouldn’t affect you.
We will always come across people, students and professionals alike, who are less knowledgeable about Judaism and Jewish culture than others. There will always be those who possess senseless ignorance. If they can’t respect you for who you are then they’ll miss out on a really great friend – so, yallah, onto the next one.
You’re Jewish. Own it.
I dedicate this column to the memory of Joan Rivers, a great entertainer and a proud Jew.