Let Me Tell You
I can’t remember the exact moment when I realized I look “Jewish” or the moment when I became embarrassed by that or the moment when that embarrassment of my appearance became embarrassment of my faith, the feeling seeping into my skin, clutching at my veins and writing with black ink on my insides “shame”. It must have happened somewhere in between Lisa Frank stickers and sneaking out on Saturday nights, because all of a sudden instead of learning to ride a bike I was learning how to sit in my desk so the boy I liked in Spanish class wouldn’t see my nose. Even now the word, nose, it trips off my tongue like a drunken insult. It’s all the times someone told me you would look so pretty, if only…All the times I looked in the mirror and divided myself into fractions of a person, tossing out the parts I did not like and plugging in plastic where humanity once was.
I do remember, though, the first time I pretended not to see a penny on the ground, heads up, because even at 12 years old I was acutely aware that the only luck this penny could give me was the opportunity to fulfill a stereotype my middle school peers made jokes about. I remember the first time I laughed at those jokes, the first time I beat them to the punch line, the punch line, the punch line. I wonder if they call it that because it feels like someone has put their fist through your throat and crushed your vocal chords down so you can never speak up.
And in between their poking and prodding and pitying glances they ask me with their fingers and eyes what it’s like to be wrong.
And I say let me tell you. Let me tell you what it’s like to stem from trees that never had the chance to grow up, only sideways, pushed down because they did not worship the same sky. Let me tell you what it’s like to wear a yellow star underneath my clothes every day, and how long it took me to realize that the yellow does not mean cowardice but instead the thousands of candle flames my brothers and sisters hold in their hands as they stand vigil outside the ruins of our religion, yellow means the funeral parade marching underneath the morning son mourning sons and daughters and sitting shiva for so long we’ve forgotten how to stand. Let me tell you what it’s like to be fading from this world, to have your anchor charred by ovens and kicked at by shiny black boots so small that they must have been made for a child. Let me tell you what it feels like to be slapped aside for the new and improved edition, to have the holy text that millions of your people died for referred to as the Old Testament, the Outdated Testament, the Prototype for a Better Version Testament.
Let me tell you what it’s like to belong to a diaspora of ashes, a legacy of hurt and broken glass. Let me tell you what it’s like to be the enemy when you ask for a simple “Happy Holidays”, and if that’s a War on Christmas then consider me enlisted. Let me tell you what it’s like to be reminded by every calendar, every grace-before-a-meal, every politician earning votes, every cute button nose, every wise ass comment about lawyers and bankers, every “good Christian Values” that your faith is inferior.
Let me tell you, and please, listen.