(Resisting Assimilation as a Jew by Choice)
There’s a strange phenomenon in the Jewish community that, often, people who converted to Judaism try to never bring it up again. I totally get it: the first time someone said to me, “hey, you look Jewish-” I floated on that validation high for weeks.
When people want to play Jewish geography, it’s easier to cite your friends and chosen family than to go into your life story. And your journey is nobody’s business but your own (and, I suppose, your beit dins’).
But truthfully, every single one of us chooses to be Jewish in one way or another, even if you aren’t the one in six who converted. It’s a choice to light Shabbos candles. It’s a choice to sprinkle conversations with delightful Yiddish phrases. It’s a choice to develop a tolerance for gefilte fish (actually I’m not sure I’ll ever get that one). It’s a choice we make every day to live as proud Jewish people.
In the face of growing antisemitism and global terror, many Jews discuss hiding their Magen David necklaces inside their shirts, putting their kippah in their pocket, and staying home from communal events out of fear.
My good mensches, that’s what the bigots want! They want us to hide our culture, teach the kids to blend in, and refrain from gathering… until we’ve assimilated and disappeared entirely.
Cultural genocide is the only way the antisemites can ensure we are all truly gone.
As a Native American, I’ve seen the results of assimilation in my own family. It’s well-known that Natives were forcibly assimilated through terror tactics as a form of systematic cultural genocide. In just a couple of generations of hiding, families became completely disconnected from 30,000 years of cultural heritage.
To this day, my grandmother hushes me if I mention our tribe in public, out of fear that someone will continue the mission of “kill the Indian, save the man.” While Native culture is undergoing a renaissance, we’ve lost so much knowledge of “the old ways” and many people wonder if we even exist anymore.
And as Jews, we are at that crossroads again today, as we have been at several points in our history. Terrorists and antisemites want to do to Jews what was done to the indigenous people of North America: scare us into assimilating until we are invisible. They already took an unfathomable amount of Yiddish culture from us.
As our ancestors did so many times before, we are facing a collective decision about what to do next. Do we fade quietly into history? Or do we stand proud and refuse to be erased?
Every act of Jewish pride is an act of resistance.
Every time we braid challah, make kiddush, or even wear an ugly Hanukkah sweater, we are proclaiming to a world that would make us invisible: I will not be erased. I am a proud child of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov; Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. I will survive as an unbroken link in the chain of the Jewish people.
As a Jew by Choice, I have thrown my lot in with this beautiful people. I may not have my own Bubbe’s recipes, but I have recipes generously shared from the bubbes of my shul. I may not have inherited Judaica, but I have secondhand Judaica from thrift shops that carry unspoken stories. I may not have been born into this culture, but I can make damn sure it survives another generation.
So this Hanukkah, let’s proudly reclaim the heritage the Maccabees created for us when they fiercely fought against assimilation. We are the Maccabees of our modern time and we have the responsibility to keep the Ner Tamid lit for another generation.
The antisemites want us to forget that we are Maccabees.
Let’s prove that we remember.