“You can’t be Jewish, I mean… look at you!”

Oct 21, 2016
by Avram

This poem was written for and inspired by The Base DWTN, a pluralistic organization run by Avram and Yael, who together have created a space that doesn’t just allow for the existence of multiple identities but actively encourages the learning about and integration of people from all backgrounds. Until I met Rabbi Avram, it never occurred to me that all the different spheres of my identities could be united into one, each one adding to and improving the others. The Base DWTN, in all its various services, activities, and events, has truly helped me realize and develop into the person I am today.

 

*

 

“You can’t be Jewish, I mean… look at you!”

 

Look at me. A picture tells a thousand words,

but we’ve got some time 

so let me try to describe it. 

 

Look at me: I am small and I’m skinny. 

I’ve been told that I’m pretty;

“Even with a Jewish nose.”

And I’ve been told I still look Christian

from my head to my toes.

 

But here’s the thing-

I’m pink and I’m pale but a little olive, too; 

I don’t really freckle like a good Christian should do 

So it’s possible that just from the pallor of my skin 

And how I don’t believe in original sin

And how I wear a Jewish star when I want to fit in

I could almost look Jewish except— 

 

Let’s keep lookin. 

Let’s go a little more into what’s within.

I have piercings in strange places, but desires in even stranger.

My hair- a wavy dark brown by nature - made straight and white as paper, 

colored in by this week’s queer flavor. 

Half shaved and half lanky, 

it extends down towards the ground 

like new, goyish roots settling in for the long haul. 

No longer a signifier to Jews but to the other community to which I’ve been called.

 

I’m gay, I’m gay- was that not clear? 

Let me be queerer. 

My old Shabbas clothes sit oddly on my decorated frame; 

long dresses become miniskirts; my shirts 

turn a little too short to hide my skin, 

and far too tight to hide my Pride—

 

Listen. 

I stretch out my hands towards folk of all genders. 

It wasn’t just Judaism that taught me to be tender.

I touch, I kiss-

(sometimes, I whisper during services.) 

Well-meaning sabim tell me to be silent; 

well-meaning chaverim assume I don’t know the words. 

At shul, “Is this your first?” they ask, 

Because apparently my queerness masks the actual facts;

They’ve already seen me at services past. 

 

I know I shouldn’t have to prove that I’m a Jew 

But Jews are erased so often it feels like I’m not doing my due 

So let’s take a moment to unpack the mystery. 

I grew up in the Lower West Side, 

my family straight out of a Jewish documentary.

Poor Holocaust immigrants- 

Zeydeh a Yiddish archivist,

Bubbeh a hard-working refugee seamstress. 

My mameh the director of a Yiddish theatre company, 

my abba a professor of Jewish lit. 

 

As a child I flit back and forth between Habonim Dror 

and Solomon Schechter’s summons and in Hillel,

my Judaism draped over my shoulders.

A remnant from the shtetl, 

Settled, 

A talit that forever holds me closer. 

 

Maybe Judaism shouldn’t be in the eye of the beholder. 

It’s not like I purposely aim to pull one over

on the nation, the congregation, my local Jewish grocer 

I shouldn’t have to speak Hebrew just so people know 

that I’m not trying to eschew the identity I’ve grown up with. 

I’m just a Jew with some other parts included. 

 

And yet- people seem to think there’s an assembly required. 

If we need to acquire ten Jews for a minyan, 

how many do we need to validate preconceived and biased opinions? 

How many will be inspired push for more unneeded divisions? 

If we have two Jews and three opinions, 

how many Jews does it take to create a new vision?

 

I’m no mathematician, but I can certainly do basic addition. 

I know that some things just don’t add up. 

Does that mean I have to submit to substitution, 

or risk being subtracted from future Jewish restitution? 

 

I’m sick of being talked of by people in abstraction. 

I exist; I’m real. Let’s bring that real, for a moment here: 

it’s not religious zeal that I’m missing, 

but the way I feel when I get side-eyed at both shul and Pride 

like I’m going to steal some integral part of one with my taboo same-sex appeal 

and the other with my inherently Jewish socialist ideals. 

 

And that doesn’t even begin to bring in my whole race spiel.

My first day in biology I get asked about my history;

Half-Jewish and half-Cuban- that’s right, isn’t it, Davy? 

No, thats not— 

Judaism isn’t a race, 

and my mother isn’t just one but two, 

a Cuban Jew, 

and to me that’s the definition of simplicity. 

What people think is so complex isn’t even contradictory. 

And that’s what I’m trying to get at with all my analogies: 

How can my simply existing be considered such blasphemy? 

 

I know that nobody asked but if you do ask me, 

there’s nothing holier than intersectionality. 

My Judaism is one of many patches 

on my quilt of individuality; but without it, 

my being couldn’t go from imagination to reality. 

And I know who I am is a challenge to conditionality 

but essentially, isn’t Judaism all about mutuality? 

Am Yisrael Chai; one nation, united in experiential commonality; 

in modality; 

in spirituality. 

 

Look at me: I am Judaism, in its totality.

 

A recent Hunter College alumni, Davy Ran is a social justice activist, artist, and medical student currently pursuing two global health masters in London and Israel. She regularly performs slam poetry on Judaism, queerness, race, gender, politics, and more. You can find her latest updates at @davinaslocker on Instagram.