"I'm Jewish"

Updated: Mar 19

"I'm Jewish!”

I announced,

like a conductor,

train pulling into the station,

people yelling,

Frenetic footsteps

stained floors,

tattered with newspaper pieces.


I announce it to their ears,

plundered by years of screaming babies,

by concerts that left heads ringing,

by husbands, by book clubs,

by midlife crises, by moving trucks,

by funerals of friends,

by the listless cacophony of life


Their ears half clogged in that wide,

yet cramped room of the retirement home

And in it persisted

a smell of death

dwelling darkly with the unknown of

Dying,

like a coat you cannot shrug off


“What?”

They questioned back at me,

faces finely creased

like a sculptor enfolding secrets into his clay.

I repeated myself louder.

I felt like the person standing with the knife

over the body,

guilty of being loud in the quiet,

guilty of my youth, and their wisdom.

My cheeks turned into apples,

polished precariously perched wax red apples.

Was I yelling? Why was I yelling?


“No. You’re not Jewish,” they concluded

without my input,

gesturing at me vaguely.

At once,

two older ladies,

giants of the community,

the elders, the wise,

told me I did not belong to my religion,

to my culture

To my people.


They told me,

that with my hair, with my eyes,

there was no way I was Jewish.

And I knew why they thought that.

I knew why they were skeptical of

blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jews.

I knew I was not the same Jew who would have been gassed in the darkness,

fingers clambering at doors that would not open,

chest straining for a breath that would not come.

Passing as the picture perfect Aryan girl Hitler always wanted.

I knew this,

they knew this.


“But I am?”

My answer was weak,

fit like a baby bird enclosed in gentle, calloused hands.

It was fragile.

It could be broken.

Could I just pretend that it didn’t matter,

that maybe it was easier for them,

generation of the Holocaust,

Generation of swastikas, gas chambers, persecution,

to pretend that I’m not 100% Ashkenazi Jewish,

that when my first grade teacher came up to me

asking why I was writing right to left,

it was because, at that point, I knew how to write Hebrew better than English,

that my family, too, fled Europe because of anti-semitism,

that I was proudly bat mitzvah’d,

or that I celebrate Shabbat every week,

that I look Aryan despite this.


I pulled at the Star of David necklace around my neck,

desperate to prove something,

this,

this is me.

But their eyes could not see what I was holding.


“My last name’s Goldberg!” I told them,

my last straw,

my last stand.


Their faces turned,

smiles growing,

flickering fast motion flowers,

“Oh!”

They turned to each other.

“You’re definitely Jewish.”


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