Thursday, March 6, 2014

Who Are You

My experiences with antisemitism have been slight. Living in the second Jewish capital of the world, New York, I would venture that most of the snide comments aimed my way originated from irreligious Jews, not racist gentiles. 

Take this pleasant exchange by the elevators. 

"How was your Christmas?" 

Hesitant pause. "I don't observe." Apologetic smile.

"Oh. You're Jewish?" 


"Ah! Have a happy Hanukkah, then!" 

During this civilized chat I had stiffened in concern that this cheerful-faced chap might suddenly morph into a neo-Nazi. Perhaps it is due to my inherited paranoia as a grandchild of survivors (a professor from college would have merrily agreed, to prove his thesis), but I always assume the worst. Yet America, that ever-bubbling melting pot, has always been tolerant and interested in the many diverse cultures that were spat onto its shore. 

Yascha Mounk describes a vastly different experience in "German, Jewish, and Neither." When Jews are not a ubiquitous presence in a small town's population, comments can get ugly. Despite the fact that Mounk's parents gave him a secular upbringing, his surroundings imprinted "Jew" on his forehead. But what eventually drove him away from Deutschland was not antisemitism, but Germany's eagerness to repent for the Holocaust. 

Conversation had to be edited around him. He was treated considerately, tenderly. Not as a comrade, but as a revered endangered species. But even this seeming overdose of good-will proved to be not innate, but a newly acquired "cloak." It wouldn't take much alcohol to reveal how his fellow countrymen really felt about his race. 

He moved to New York, and was delighted how his Jewish status was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. 

Which led to his no longer identifying as either Jewish or German. Since he was raised with no belief and still knows little, if at all, of Judaism, he finds the label unnecessary.

Why must it always be that in acceptance, there is loss of identity? 

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