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