This is not about Israel But it’s only as not-about-Israel as anything Jewish could ever truly be, if we’re being real here.
I am sorry-not-sorry for the space I occupy. My skin could rupture from the Jewish soul that bursts and palpitates underneath it. It does sometimes,
and heals back over with the durability of destiny. It’s certainly not every moment, but sometimes, I catch a shiver-inducing draft, or a whiff of sentiment, the ink that smudges onto my thumbs from holding onto old photographs for too long… When you ask me why I stick around, understand that I could no more easily stop being Jewish than I could stop breathing.
I never asked for your permission to define myself. I’m only sorry for giving you that impression.
Sister, how the hell could you turn to me and tell me condescendingly, “Jussoyaknow, Judaism and Zionism are different things,” proceeding to explain to me my own skin? As though I’ve lived twenty-two years with no attention to this outfit I can’t un-wear, though my twenty-two years pale in comparison to the centuries of my People- this skin is heavy, man. Thick from the layers of text, triumph, tenacity grafted on by those before me. Protective, it explains why my internal temperature is always boiling. As though your words were an act of mercy, benevolent to the Jewess who doesn’t know how to ask, or how to be. This skin is not yours to name.
You call me a “Zio” and pronounce publicly the pleasure you get from witnessing “Zio tears” I cry Zio Tears a lot these days, but not for your twisted gratification.
In the least “kumbaya” way possible, (Of course I must qualify this invitation to join me at the bonfire of Semitic resilience- though you spew the word “resistance” with no consideration of its implications) I want you to know that I have had recurring anxious dreams about my friends’ weddings, but more about having a screaming match with you, until we both become wordless, mouthing our would-be assaults against each other in silence,
only to feel ridiculous and sit cross-legged on the sidewalk, or side by side on a numberless concrete stoop, only to settle things, only to roll up a fat one with the Balfour Declaration, only to pass back and forth between us the object of your contempt, neutralized, now a vessel for communion.
In this dream, we do not love each other. But the anger dissipates to a degree, rising and fading like the smoke the NYPD will ignore because of my pale skin. And as we shake away the ashes, I want to tell you there is more to me than what you see.
I get a kick out of pissing off my doctors – Silverstein, Brickman, Klein- by writing Ashkenazi Jew (though my Semitic identity is part of a legacy that precedes the superficial, arbitrary categories of “race”) on my medical forms when they ask me to sign dotted lines ————————————— as though I must educate anyone.
I occupy white space, and I don’t expect anyone to see into my head and heart and know the truth- that I am more Jewish than I will ever be anything else,
that my privilege, enormous as it is, is hella recent and conditional,
that my People still think to consider if their career choice is portable enough. Think about that.
But still. Just as #notallmen are rapists, but #yesallwomen walk cautiously down evening streets (hell, daylight streets), it wouldn’t be fair to expect people to see past my white presentation. I am hyper-aware of my power. But And, I am more. Let’s not be short-sighted.
You know what galut is? Galut is when I’ve become convinced that my voice is unwelcome because there is no way for me to ever talk about Israel or the Jewish People like an arbitrary country or nation. It will never be like that to me. So I abstain because I am simply too Jewish, too Zionist, too invested in the matter to be objective. I abstain because of my inability to academize my own family.
It’s my internal self-consciousness upon telling someone I’ve returned from spending winter break in [whisper] Israel, Or that I spent a gap year…there.
It’s the way this sentiment has been welling up in my bones, manifesting in words now that barely suffice, my hesitation to publish what may well be dismissed as yet another poor-me Jewish victim manifesto. This is not victimhood or a pity plea. This is me choosing to grasp the chain of connection to that thing that is larger than my personal experience, over the chains they’ve tried to impose on us time and time and time again, the ones they’ve convinced us are a figment of our own collective delusion. Suffering is the product of misperception, out of sync with the nature of reality.
Galut is when we sooner believe them over ourselves in reading the truths of our own skin, in deciphering the lifelines of our own palms.
So I’m done apologizing for my subjectivity, defending my pride, blushing sheepishly at my own sentimentality, aiming for impartiality and jadedness. I’m through with the explanations and caveats. I would rather speak to my people directly – Jews, please stop apologizing. We know things are more complicated
than cell phones and cherry tomatoes and Star of David necklaces and free vacations, but still. You are more than your immediate daled amot, your vision must expand past your periphery.
Read your own skin, and memorize it So that no one can tell you how to interpret the life embossed in your pores.