Identity | A Jewish Education

Jewish Education

My father’s rage was something I experienced as a thunder clap. Sharp, heavy, but indistinct and difficult to translate. Loud electric noise. Lightening storms never scared me as a kid. It was my father’s temper that made me want to crawl under my bed. I hadn’t heard that thunder clap in years. Turns out it still makes me jump.

Boom. My father is yelling. Boom. Boom. Boom. He is yelling at me. “You do not joke about that!” I finally make out.

I thought I knew where all my Dad’s buttons were. I could list their sizes and positions with my eyes closed. I had armed myself with this knowledge as a kid so that I could avoid his fits of anger to the best of my capability. If I ever found myself in a dark alley with one of those babies, I’d know how to dance around it in the blink of an eye.

“You do not joke about anti-semitism!” he screams.

But yet here I am, 24 years old and cowering in the kitchen like a little girl. I had hit one giant fucking button.

Ingrained in me from when I was in the womb was the knowledge that my dad’s parents had survived the Holocaust, that they had nothing when they came to Canada, that their families had been killed, that they had to work very hard when they got here, and that all that had happened to them because they were Jewish.

As a child, I envisioned my grandparents in tattered clothes, faces smeared with dirt, waking up at the crack of dawn to scrounge for food on their hands and knees. Naturally, I assumed that all Jewish people had endured this. They had all been victims of this horrible thing called the Holocaust, they had all lost their families, and they all survived on bread crumbs and oranges for a very long time.

I saw Jews as underdogs, as people who had survived and thrived in the face of unbelievable adversity. I loved that I was Jewish. I was proud of it.

But that would change.

I’m 8 years old, sitting in my Jewish Heritage class, the one that no tantrum no matter how violent could get me out of. Sitting there hating my parents guts. While the other non-Jewish kids at my elementary school get do arts and crafts, I have to memorize the Hebrew alphabet.

But we’re not practicing our Hebrew today. We’re learning about something called anti-semitism. “Some people say mean things about Jewish people to this day,” my teacher Devorah says. “A lot of people say that all Jewish people are rich.”

I crinkle my nose. How can that be? It makes no sense to me. How can anybody think we’re rich when we’ve all been victims of this horrible thing called the Holocaust, we’ve all lost family, and we’ve all survived on bread crumbs and oranges for a very long time?

I’m 14 years old, pudgy and awkward in my body. I’m recovering from a punk phase and my hair is cut short and spiked with hair wax. Boys barely look at me. And when they do, they snicker. I am going to a sleep-away camp for the first time. It’s a fine arts camp, and I’m so excited to be around cool kids who act and write music and actually get it. They’ll get me, I think.

Turns out my parents have splurged on a fancy camp and all the other kids are spoiled rich kids. And they are all Jewish. All the girls dress in the newest designer clothes and pile on brand-name make up and European perfume. I’m not even wearing a bra yet. It is hell.

The other kids make my life miserable. “Are you a lesbian?” one of the more popular girls snickers at me. Her name is Mercedes. For god’s sake.

I hate them.

I come back to Montreal loathing theses kids. And they’re suddenly everywhere. How had I never noticed them before? Rich Jewish kids fill the boutiques near my house with their packed wallets ready to buy the newest brand-name handbag. They’re at the restaurants my family go to, and their gold and silver bangle bracelets clack and clammer as they chit-chat. I don’t know what’s worse – when they look me up and down or when they don’t look at me at all.

A few of them show up at my friend’s house party, immediately grabbing the attention of all the boys with their tight designer jeans and shrill, flirtatious giggles. Luckily my public school friends hate them too. After yet another night gone by without the slightest attention from our crushes, we commiserate and ream those girls’ a new butt hole with our long dissing sessions. Bitches. Whores. Japs.

They are stupid spoiled Jewish princesses. I want nothing to do with them.

I’m 16 years old, forced to go to my cousin’s bar mitzvah in an outfit I hate. “You’re supposed to dress modestly. And your arms and legs have to be covered,” my mother insists. I look like I walked off a Mormon commune. When we get to the synagogue, I immediately spot the short skirts and heels on the other teens. “I look like a fat bubby,” I whisper harshly to my mother. She jabs me with her elbow.

Furious with my mom, I go straight into the sanctuary in search of my father. But I’m soon stopped. “I’m sorry, but you can’t sit here,” he says. I look up at him stunned, then follow his gaze to the synagogue balcony.

‘Oh right,’ I mutter under my breath. ‘God forbid I should distract the men.’ The man pays me no notice and I stomp up off. As I climb the stairs, keeping my eyes locked to the ground, I focus all my energy on how much I hate my parents for making me participate in a religion that treats me like a second class citizen.

I’m in cegep, leaving the baby fat behind in high school and asserting a new confidence. Boys look at me now, and I finally feel normal, even kind of cool. I get my first boyfriend and he’s Catholic. And I’m so proud of that. I feel like I’ve found a way to separate myself from the other Jewish girls, from Judaism altogether.

I am 19 years old, attending university in Toronto. “You’re Jewish?!” my friend says with a laugh, when it finally comes out six months after knowing each other. It’s the first time I’ve revealed this information to anyone in Toronto. “I would have never guessed,” she says. I feel pure unfiltered happiness. “Wow, I’ve never met a Jewish person before,” she adds. “Do you still get a Christmas tree?”

I meet a man. His father is Indian, and even though his family isn’t religious whatsoever, I tell everyone that he’s Muslim. I am thrilled when family members ask if my boyfriend is Jewish. Every time I get to answer, I feel a rush of excitement. “No, he’s Muslim,” I sneer, like I’ve found the ultimate insult, like I’m showing them what I really think of their Jewish culture.

I am 21 years old, having dinner with my family, home visiting for the long weekend. “Are you coming to Shabbat dinner?” my mom asks.

“I can’t.  I forgot to tell you- I’m anti-semitic,” I chuckle.

My father slams his hand on the table. “How can you say that!” he screams, along with some other things that I can’t make out.

“I was just joking,” I manage to whisper, totally stunned.

“You do not joke about anti-semitism!” A huge fucking button.

My father leaves the room. I look at my mother, but she doesn’t offer me the reassurance I expect. Instead, she quietly begins to clear the table.

I look at the ground, feeling ashamed but not sure why. My younger brother taps me on the shoulder. “I know what you meant. Like how all Jewish people drive SUVs and wear Lulu Lemon pants, right?” His smile is wide and unabashed. He’s thrilled to get in on the joke, thrilled that he can think like his older sister. “He’s just sensitive because of that Holocaust stuff.”

And then I get it. And my dad’s right. It’s not funny.


Lick My Knish is a forum for sex-positive feminist expression with a bissel of Jewish neurotic sparkle and political incorrectness.  Lick My Knish is a new contributor to Shtetl Magazine. And, we want more!