Home » Chaya Lucas, Community Life

Afraid to Admit we’re Jewish?

October 12, 2012 – 8:57 am11 Comments
David Greene (Brendan Fraser) meets his new roommate Chris Reece (Chris O'Donnell)

David Greene (Brendan Fraser) becomes uneasy about admitting he’s Jewish in the 1992 film, School Ties.

By Chaya Lucas
On a particular night at a particular bar in Bondi, my Israeli friends and I were having drinks. A rather drunk man decided to hug and kiss one of my Israeli friends (let’s call him Tzahal), weird in itself but not entirely unexpected. This prompted the obligatory “Hi, how are you?” from my friend. Tzahal has a very thick accent that he’s never lost or even diminished it since he left Israel, which makes me proud. Upon hearing his accent, the drunken man then asked the question that all of my Israeli friends hate: “Where are you from?” I noticed Tzahal take a step back before simply responding “Israel.” That one word that has so much meaning – “Israel”. You could hear a sense of fear and pride intertwined with his response. In follow up to this, the drunk man then said the second question that both myself and most of my friends fear, “Are you Jewish?” Another step back, then the response of “Yes.”

This whole encounter brought into sharp view the fear that I see on my friends’ faces, and more importantly, on mine. Just last week, in the middle of the CBD, I was spat on for being Jewish by a crazy man screaming about Israeli apartheid and oppression. This fear makes me wear my Judaism on my sleeve and I not so intelligently, take a step forward to answer that question. Maybe I’m an adrenalin junkie, but I embrace my fear, and this makes me step forward. I refuse to let my fear control me; I wear my Magen David with pride and I will always be the person waving the Israeli flag so high whenever I get the chance.

Fear is something that we live with on a daily basis. Fear of being too Jewish, fear of being a proud Jew, fear of being recognised as different. So does this mean the most anti-Semitic people are in fact ourselves? Most of us have seen John Safran drunk in drag on TV screaming “F**k you Yeshiva”, and we recognised a level of fear for ourselves. We’ve all wanted to scream and shout and prove that we’re the same as others but deep down most of the times, it’s only ourselves we’re trying to prove it to.

One of the most beautiful things about being Jewish is recognising that while we are different, growing to embrace that which makes us different is one of the greatest struggles of all. It seems that as Jews we are hiding that piece of us that we dare not show the world. Many of my friends work in secular businesses, and when it comes to eating out with the team, they simply say they are vegetarian to avoid having to eat treif meat. Same with Shabbat; every Monday the question is asked; “What did you do on the weekend?” The standard response is usually “Not much, just dinner with friends and family.” The piece of ourselves that has Shabbat dinner or keeps kosher gets hidden from the world because of fear, fear that people wont understand, or worse, fear that they don’t like us simply because we’re Jews.

Many Jews out there will say they’re not religious simply because they fear themselves. Maybe sometimes it’s easier to say you’re not religious, but most of the people I know who say that also scream out the Sh’ma on yomtov and daven their hardest on Yom Kippur. It’s fear that leads us to hide ourselves from the light and say we’re not religious. It’s fear that leads us to accept compromise on our values, and it’s fear that leads us to take a step back before answering that question… “Are You Jewish”

We all wear scars from the past and we’ve all felt a touch, even a slight one, of anti-Semitism in our lives. The question we need to ask is whether we accept it and let it fuel our fear, or do we stand proud and say “I am Jewish.”

Chaya Lucas is a 28 year old dare to be proud Jew. She grew up all over Australia and loves to study Israeli politics. She likes to write articles on Jewish observance, community issues and anti-Semitism.

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11 Comments »

  • frosh says:

    Very interesting topic, and more relevant today than a lot of people would realise or care to admit.
     
    I personally have to confess that while I’m fairly comfortable with making people aware of my Jewish identity in the ethnic sense, I’m a little less so in the religious sense.
     
    On one hand, I’m happy to answer questions from colleagues about Jewish religion – recent examples have included, whether Jews can get tattoos, what the various kosher symbols mean (for the benefit of a colleagues vegan partner), and even once “What’s the deal with those men who dance or the corner of Hotham St and …” from a colleague living in Caulfield.
     
    On the other hand, I don’t like to advertise too much about my own religious practice unless it’s a response to direct question. For me, this is more about religion in general having a bad name. I feel that when the average educated liberal-minded person thinks about religion as it is today, the following comes to mind – paedophilia scandals, creationist fundamentalism, religious violence and intolerance, and homophobia.
     
    This used to be things one might have associated with other religions (but not Judaism). Unfortunately, our own religious leadership has let us down and all of the above have today infected Judaism in some way.

  • Chaya says:

    Hey Frosh,

    I understand what you mean about religion in general having a bad name, however maybe we should be outspoken about our own religious observance in order to change peoples perspective.

    With all the negativity and stigma that is attached to observance it wouldnt hurt to be a light to the masses so to speak and show people that just because you’re a religious observant Jew, it doesnt mean that we are the same as the people that give religion as a whole a bad name.

  • letters in the age says:

    I know of some Jews that have denounced their whole heritage.

    Jews of convenience… and that’s their choice…

    The more mainstream they become, the more uneasy they feel about their religion.

    Kudos to Leslie Cannold and Louise Adler et al for being “Nice” jewish people…

    Interesting forum with Louise Adler on being Jewish at The Melbourne Writers Festival

    very funny!!

    .http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2012/09/24/3595372.htm

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Chaya

    Thank G-D for the Jews like you.Yes, post holocaust there is that sense of fear. Post European pograms and any number of incidents in Jewish history, there is a sense among most Jews that I feel like I like/love my Jewish heritage, BUT who are you stranger, friend, foe or neutral?

    I am just a nutty convert. I love being Jewish. I love the holidays and I love Shabbat. I never knew what was wrong with me until I finally decided to convert after years of procrastination. I found there were other foolish people too, who just did not feel complete until they did their Orthodox conversion, the tough way, I have got to admit, but GEE, it felt so right. I felt like my path -my spiritual path was going right despite the hardship and I would rather not be, than not be a Jew. Yes, there was heartache involved but it is worth it.

    I loved it when you said that you take a step forward proclaim your Jewishness. So do I and it makes me proud to see what is Israel is, was and will be. So much good has come from Israel and I love Israelis as the majority have such a forthrightness and blunt honesty that is refreshing after the corruptness and falseness of some people in this world.

    The problem is Israel has to believe in itself and not take on the anti semitic propaganda. Look at what Israel does for others and its own. There you have a nation that is great.

    I make no apologies to people for being Jewish. I have had anger from some secular Jews who resent the fact that I am a religious convert and did not convert to marry anyone. I have had goyim refuse to recognise my conversion because they will say ‘You don’t look Jewish. What were you before you converted? Perhaps you need to go back to that religion.’ I was sent to an anglican all girls school for a period of two years at 11 and a half. It was not enough to make me Church of England or whatever. In fact, half naked men hanging on crosses with crowns of thorns and pierced sides with red paint running down to their thighs repulsed me. I was never keen on the idea of pretending wine was the blood of someone as I drank it either. So I can truthfully say, I was never a Christian. I was a person who believed in a G-d who created the world. Becoming Jewish defined who I am. We had no signs of religion in the house probably because there are quite a few Jews on both sides of my ancestral tree.

    Israel and Jews have to be proud to be Jewish and own themselves. If we are self conscious, then people think there is something wrong with being Jewish. To someone who abused me for supporting Israel and calling me a bloody pretend Jew, I said to him, that is your problem, not mine. I am proud of who I am and sleep at night. Can you?

    Shabbat Shalom Chaya.

    Be proud of who you are. You have a long, humane and elegant history of emotional and social refinement to stand you in good stead. Be proud of yourself and your parents, your grand parents and who you are descended from. I am. You are are really special and strong young woman.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    I found this piece a little well…ethnocentric. I wear my Judaism on my sleeve too and I have worked for more than 20 years in environments where there are very few Jews and there is very little knowledge of Judaism and I almost never encounter hostility or suspicion. I encounter mainly a kind of respectful indifference.

    I also don’t go into detail about what I did say on on Simchat Torah with my work mates but I imagine they have stuff they don’t share with me.

    In fact my experience is that most groups have a similar sense of not being understood. I have Indian and Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and African friends and colleagues who I’m pretty sure don’t feel that comfortable about sharing details of their traditional ‘stuff’ at work because they encounter either ridicule or a kind of patronisng “isn’t that interesting”. Where there is a real connection with people I think people disclose more and my experience is that we have a lot in common in how we experience and express our specific ‘tribal’ identities – even if the details are different.

    yes anti-semitism is very real and I agree that the worst kind of anti Israel sentiment is mixed up with anti semitism but I think my African and Indian colleagues have more to fear in the streets of Melbourne than Jews do.

  • Letters in the age says:

    Mandi

    Spot on,

    Having worked with gen y Jews at one stage

    God it was fun and we were very naughty indeed,,,!!!

  • leila says:

    “Many Jews out there will say they’re not religious simply because they fear themselves.” ??

    What a ridiculous statement.

    I’m a Jew, and proud to be one. But I’m not religious, not because I fear myself, but because I don’t believe in God. And yet I still proudly identify as Jewish, and have no problem saying so to anyone.

    There are a lot of aspects to Jewish identity that are not religious. Many gentiles don’t understand this, because they see Judaism as just a religion, but of course, it’s much more than that.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B”H
    You actually may have misinterpreted the statement and yes Judaism and being Jewish is much more than ‘religion’. It is an attitude, a lifestyle perspective, a cultural experience, a view point on both on a microscopic and a macroscopic level of understanding. To say it is simply a religion is a gross oversimplification. There are people who are not observant but they are embed with a sense of Jewishness that is overwhelmingly true to what G-d wants of us.
    There are Jews who do fear exploring their spiritual life too much for any. Number of reasons.

  • Chaya says:

    Hi Ilana, firstly I wanted to say thank you for sharing your personal journey in this space. I know it cant be easy putting your conversion out there. I am grateful that you have grasped the point of the article perfectly! I would love you to add me on facebook if you have it!!

    Leila, the context in which I meant that statement was simply that its a scary thing discovering yourself and facing the legacy of the Torah. Putting yourself in a position where you realise how much you love your faith is a confronting time. Alot of people fear change.
    Some time ago I learnt an amazing concept; there is something that only you bring to the world that the other 7 billion can not, this is why you were created, so whether you believe in Hashem or not is besides the point, you have the capacity to change the world and not just by davening or going to shule.
    You are right, there are multiple facets of being Jewish, my point is to embrace each one of them and to do so proudly.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, I sincerely appreciate it.

    Chaya.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B”H
    No problem Chaya. It is always a pleasure to see a young person with a strong sense of self and positive Jewish identity as well as proudly so. Being Jewish we have many good qualities that we nurture and develop in the course of our lives. It is an ongoing journey and I am glad to see you are already an astute young woman who has not bought into the media myths built up about being Jewish in any way what so ever.
    My journey to Judaism started young and took years. There are many facets of being Jewish that I may take other lifetimes to discover, but I do stand in a unique position of being able to stand both on the inside and look out as well as the outside looking in. That is, I do understand a secular view as well as the Dati or frum view and there are more than fifty shades of black if you get my drift and more than fifty shades of red. :-)
    I am on Facebook too despite being a dinosaur I am tech sa’avy to some degree more than less.

  • letters in the age says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tScCLtRMz-Q

    This is the type of humor i was talking about…

    It’s funny

    ducks for cover…#

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