It is now a traditional time of introspection for the Jewish people in preparation for the High Holy Days. What better time to reflect on what it means to be a Jew?
A recent conversation with a colleague brought to my attention how deeply embedded anti-Semitism is in our culture. My colleague told me that he would refer to me as “Jewish” instead of as a “Jew,” due to the negative connotations associated with that word.
The notion that it might not be appropriate to call me a “Jew” made me angry. I am “a Jew,” just as he is “a Christian” and another person is “a Muslim.” By avoiding the use of the word we are adding legitimacy to the ignorance and hatred that distorted its meaning.
I am a Jew, an individual who identifies herself as a member of the Jewish community, not as the word was thoughtlessly misused by a good friend as referring to a tightwad. I am not ashamed to be called a Jew, despite the fact that in my childhood some jokers repeatedly taunted “A-choo, a-choo!” when my family entered a local department store, and other haters rode their bikes in circles outside my childhood home in Elizabeth mocking my father (who escaped Nazi Germany), chanting “Rabbi, Jew!”
Why is the word Jew vulgarized rather than the word Jewish, which refers to the collective community? It’s because these hate-filled people are bullies and cowards who prey on vulnerable targets: individual Jews.
Yes, I am a Jew.