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