A common flaw in Christian and Jewish culture I can’t seem to escape from is the debate about who “qualifies” as a Christian or a Jew. To be fair, the “Who is a Jew” question is prioritized more among conservative groups than liberal ones, especially when applications for Israeli citizenship are concerned. Still, the idea that one’s identity can be scrutinized by people not familiar with the intricacies of the journey behind it is troubling.
Sometimes definitions can be obvious. Who is a Democrat or a Republican? Someone registered to vote as a Democrat or Republican (technically speaking). Who is a vegetarian? A person who abstains from meat. But what if you consume meat only once a week? Once a year? Are you no longer a vegetarian?
What if you’re a Christian who curses? What if you’re a Jew who was born from a Jewish mother, but believes Jesus is the Messiah? Or believes in no god(s) at all?
I was wearing that teardrop star pendant when I went to get my glasses adjusted. I thought I had reached a place of contentedness about it: it represented my heritage, and I was comfortable wearing it for that purpose. But as she cleaned off my lenses, the woman behind the counter at LensCrafters said, “I like your necklace. I’m Jewish, too.”
All I said in response was “Thanks.” I wondered if I should say more, explain myself, because leaving that comment alone made me feel like I was lying to her. I left the store thinking, Lady, if you knew the truth, you’d probably hate me.
Why do I do this? Why do I continue making decisions based on how I will appear to other people? Why do I constantly seek to validate myself in others’ eyes? What would have happened if I explained my reasons to that perfect stranger, as if I were seeking her permission: Do you think this is okay? It’s not offensive because I really do have Jewish heritage, right?
Oh, enough already. This is a miserable trajectory I am on, constantly molding myself to others’ expectations so I can be accepted. Religion has become like high school again: I’m finding myself studying the ways of the kids I perceive as cool so I know what I can and cannot say. What I can and cannot admit to.
I am reaching a point of exhaustion, and I have no other choice: screw it, I’m just going to be myself.
I’ll encounter Jews who will deny my Judaism, regardless of how I was raised. I’ll meet Christians who might judge me if a curse word slips out of my mouth. I will run into legalism in many forms, wearing all kinds of masks, and will learn to not feel threatened by it. Rejection has added a layer of toughness on my skin, thick as grime, and just as difficult to scrub away.