Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
27

Are You Jewish?

Because of my mixed heritage I have been confused for pretty much all of your swarthy, hirsute ethnicities at one point or another—Jewish and Italian, obviously but also occasionally Hispanic, Greek, and even once, by a cab driver who unrelatedly treated me to a crash course in Syrian profanity, as Lebanese. I am a dark and hairy man, and that's part of the deal. (This is also why I won't get bed bugs.) Still, I am irritated every time this holiday (this holiday is Hanukkah, or however you spell it) rolls around and I am accosted in the street by furtive Hasidic men who look at me with searching eyes and say, "By any chance are you Jewish?" My answer is always no—I am only Jewish when I am around Italians, and vice versa—but when it happened again last night I was particularly irked, and I wondered why. I decided that perhaps it has something to do with how abstract the assumption is. This idea that you can somehow identify a person's characteristics and ancestry simply by judging their appearance and looking for telltale racial markers… how does one even encapsulate the concept? There oughta be a German word for that, I thought to myself, before even more sadly realizing that there almost certainly already is.

Photo by Zurijeta, via Shutterstock

27 Comments / Post A Comment

WF (#6,824)

Basically, AllLookSame.com .

BadUncle (#153)

They're just really eager to open a can of Mitzvah on someone. Even though I clearly look like a pallid, British Isles mutt, Lebovitchers regularly ask me the same. I try to think of it as a compliment – like I'm being hit on by guys with bad hair and no fashion sense.

DMcK (#5,027)

@BadUncle Yeah, me too. Nothing to be self-conscious about. Although, when some petitioner asks me "are you a registered Democrat" (yes, I am), I'm like, "is it my hair? Do I need new pants? Should I shave?"

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@BadUncle I thought that invigorating the ol' genetic pool is precisely the point of it. I'm no expert but I'm guessing that those who have enough Jewish genes to pass the technical definition, yet obviously plenty of other kinds of genes too, would be the most sought after.

BadUncle (#153)

@Niko Bellic A Jewish uncle tells me it's not about converting the goyim, but bringing the secular and reformed Jews into the orthodox fold.

But who doesn't like free candles?

Smitros (#5,315)

There have to be degrees between an all-or-nothing approach. If someone assumes (correctly) that I am not Chinese, it doesn't strike me as racial profiling.

As a 1/2 irish, 1/2 eastern european lightly bearded jew living in Brooklyn I get this a LOT. Ironically, my swarthy Irish father looks more Jewish and my red-haired mother looks Irish. Not so funny, though, is the fact that the state of Israel refuses to recognize neither my parents marriage (my father never converted, being an agnostic former Catholic) nor my Reform Judaism upbringing. So when my fellow? Jews ask if I'm Jewish the answer – despite my bar mitzvah – is always no, thank you. Happy Holidays!

jfruh (#713)

Being a wrong-side Jew, I always am torn as to how to respond in these situations. Saying "yes" isn't right according to the rules the Lubavitchers play by and feels like I'm setting them up for a "Ha ha, fooled you, I just got my mom's gentile blood all up in your mitzvah"; saying "no" feels like I'm hiding my Heebish roots (the only thing worse than a self-hating Jew is a self-hating half-Jew?) just to avoid being hassled. And yet the last thing I want to do is go into this rap with them about it, PARTICULARLY if it's going to get me mad about their outmoded maybe-your-mom's-a-whore worldview. But then I'm also an atheist, so no matter what my heritage wouldn't it be kind of wrong to engage in their ceremonies with them insincerely? Anyway, long story short, the very fact that I spend this much time dwelling on this ought to prove that I'm a Jew.

iantenna (#5,160)

i've been confused for a jew my entire life to the point where people i've know for years are shocked to discover i'm not one. in their defense i do have a large nose, curly hair, and a german last name; i'd probably make the same mistake.

laurel (#4,035)

I'm half-Italian and half-Scots and look the former. In California, Latinos and Chicanos address me in Spanish readily. In New Mexico, Hispanics never do.

whoa, that's a perfect paragraph.

NeonTrotsky (#2,249)

To the Russians, I look German (this one's 1/4 true); to the Germans, I look French; to the French, I look Italian; to the Italians, I look Greek. In New York, I am asked if I am Jewish and in the South I am occasionally asked if I am of African descent. If anything, ethnic confusion means meeting strangers is never boring…

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Let me explain something to all of you people: you are all Americans. You can't be 1/4 this, 1/8 that, blah, blah, blah. That doesn't make any sense. You are all simply nothing, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's what I like about you people. Those who are really something are insufferable (especially those who are the thing that I am, which don't even get me started on).

melis (#1,854)

@Niko Bellic Are you suggesting that my roommate in college wasn't 1/32nd Cherokee? Because she is going to be devastated, let me tell you.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@melis From what I remember of my college days in Alabama and Kentucky, the entire population of the South falls into two distinct categories: 1/32nd Cherokee and 100% black.

@Niko Bellic I assume you are baiting for someone to argue with you … so here I go. In some ways I see what you are saying and I might even agree. Having a relative from Ireland 100 years ago means little to nothing compared to what a country's identity means today. But I can't deny that my "ancestry" has shaped my immediate culture and personality. I've learned though, that Europeans are incredibly proud of their respective countries and can be very bitter about the American of sense of individuality. Sort of like what you are doing here in calling us "nothing". What a loaded statement. I guess Americans are like mutts … who think they are super unique based off their history but are probably just vain.

Mr. B (#10,093)

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

JoshUng (#11,371)

I grew up in area with a lot of hasidic jews. My father is jewish, my mother isn't, I look more like my father. I'd get called "Jew!" walking down the street a lot, but not in a derogatory way, in a "are you one of us?" way. And being named Joshua didn't stop it either.

Being "half jewish", I've been accused of "being jewish when its convienent." That interests me, does anybody know when its convienent to be jewish? I'd like to take advantage of that.

deepomega (#1,720)

I used to get told I looked just like my super Jewish, swarthy stepfather. My name is Christian, and I'm mostly German. Also my Uncle passes as hispanic, and my dad was once racially profiled by a Dennys. Now that I have a beard, I regularly get asked where in the Middle East I'm from. (Often this is meant as Lebanese, for some reason.)

Senor_Wences (#2,234)

I get it from those guys every time they're out in the mitzvah tank. I am so very obviously of Irish descent that it's pretty much ridiculous. I've always assumed it's the red hair, but it's Irish clown red, not sandy Jewish red, so, you know, whatever.

Kakapo (#2,312)

I have blond hair and blue eyes and was asked by a group of Hasidic fellows if I was Jewish last night.

mae (#6,538)

Me: Slavic mutt, passed for a local in Poland, passed for Russian in Brighton Beach, recovering Catholic/atheist with a Jewish paternal grandfather.
Union Square, last Hanukah: Spotted two Orthodox girls about my age, scanning the crowd and looking confused/exasperated, the way one scans the crowd for someone from whom to ask directions or borrow a lighter. They both saw me at the same time and just *knew* and rushed right over.

They didn't believe me when I said I wasn't Jewish. Just baffled. The wave of Catholic/Jewish/whatever guilt I felt was overwhelming.

The only other time an Orthodox woman has spoken to me (outside of my previous retail job) was a woman on the train who asked if I, "by chance have a tissue or a napkin or something." (Which, can someone explain the "by chance" thing? If I were Jewish, it wouldn't be by chance, and it's not by chance that I have a tissue, either. I have a tissue because I am PREPARED.) I gave her two tissues, which she found pretty incredible because she only asked for one. I consider myself redeemed.

skahammer (#587)

Guilt, schmilt.

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