Wherever You Go, There's Always Someone Jewish
I found this photograph of me standing awkwardly next to a rather homely looking Easter Bunny on a recent trip to Memphis.
Upon discovering it, I turned to my mom and asked her why I looked so uncomfortable in the picture.
She glanced at it, shrugged, and said, “You probably just told her that you were Jewish and that you didn’t want her to come to your house.”
I have to admit… that does sound like me.
The back of this photo says, “1990” which means that I was all of four years old when I told this grocery store Easter Bunny, “thanks but no thanks.”
If my mother’s intuition is correct (and it almost always is), this means that even as pre-school age child I felt comfortable broadcasting my religious identity to anyone and everyone who stood still long enough to hear it.
It was around the same time that I made this Easter Bunny so uncomfortable that I was first introduced to the most marvelous song ever composed: Wherever You Go, There’s Always Someone Jewish.
The chorus of this masterpiece is as follows:
Wherever you go,
There’s always someone Jewish.
You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.
So when you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of newish,
The odds are, don’t look far – ‘cause they’re Jewish, too.
(I apologize to everyone who knows this song... as reading the words of the chorus has most likely gotten it stuck in your heads for the rest of the day.)
“You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.” This idea has been emblazoned on my heart for as long as I can remember.
I have always loved being Jewish. My sisters and I were raised by parents who love being Jewish and who made Judaism part of our daily lives. We were supported by grandparents and extended families- both Jewish and non-Jewish- who valued religion and celebrated every step of our Jewish journeys. We belonged to a temple where we saw thousands of Jewish people studying, eating, playing, and praying together. Being Jewish was awesome.
As a kid, I knew that being Jewish meant that I was special. I had been taught that being Jewish was something to be proud of, and that meant- to my young and talkative self- that being Jewish was something to announce at every opportunity.
After I finished Pre-Kindergarten at Temple Israel, I was enrolled at St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls. Switching from a Jewish school to a Christian school could have been the moment when I learned that, as a minority, I should hold my Judaism close and be a little more private about my Jewish identity.
Instead, it was during my fourteen years at St. Mary’s that I became even more convinced that being Jewish is awesome. Being Jewish meant that my mom came every year to explain Jewish holidays to my class. Being Jewish meant that I knew all the answers when we talked about the first five books of the Bible. Being Jewish meant that I was different from many of my classmates and that we always had new things to learn about one another.
Throughout my years at St. Mary’s, I was loud about and proud of my Judaism. I knew that if I ever felt uncomfortable being a Jewish kid in a Christian school, I had allies in my teachers, my principals, my friends, and my parents. The confidence that I developed being Jewish in a non-Jewish environment has served me in every facet of my post-St. Mary’s life.
The love of Judaism that I received from my parents and the safe environment to be vocal about Judaism that I received from St. Mary’s combined to convince me that being Jewish is something that should be embraced and shouted from the rooftops.
Being Jewish is the core of who I am.
I am the Jewish child who sang “peas and carrots” instead of “Jesus Christ is Lord” in the St. Mary’s Christmas Pageant for two years running and without missing a beat.
I am the Jewish middle school student who felt safe enough to walk out of a religion class where a substitute teacher had implied that only Christian people would go to heaven and march directly to the principal’s office to report this very un-St. Mary’s behavior. (I should note that my trust in my school was well placed as I spent the next week having teachers and administrators check in with me to make sure that I understood that the substitute’s message was not what our school stood for and that the teacher would not be asked back.)
I am the Jewish high school student who told her Driver’s Ed coach that she was Jewish and then, when the coach told her that he had never met a Jewish person before, convinced him to use the time left in their lesson to drive over to her temple.
I am the Jewish St. Mary’s girl who was so perturbed by her schoolmates’ pronunciation of “Shalom Chaverim” during an all-school hymn sing that she interrupted chapel, walked up to the podium, and told hundreds of nice southern girls to hold their hands in front of their mouths because if they weren't spitting when they said “CHAverim,” they weren't doing it correctly.
(PS: I’m also the Class of 2004’s "Most Likely To Storm The Chancel.")
I am the Jewish teenager who celebrated her senior year of high school by both being a shepherd in a St. Mary’s Christmas Pageant tableau and by showing up to her graduation from Temple Israel’s high school program wearing the tallis that was a gift from her Catholic aunt.
I am the Jewish college student who walked around "Activity Sign Up Night" carrying a pan of falafel and loudly proclaiming, “Are you Jewish? Come to Hillel!”
I am the Jewish adult who is motivated by her appreciation for her faith and the Jewish tradition to work hard so that every person has the ability to safely claim and own every part of their identities.
I am the rabbi who teaches her students that being Jewish should never make them feel small, and that if anyone ever makes them feel vulnerable because of their beliefs, an entire community of adults will stand up for and with them.
I know in the deepest and strongest ways possible that being Jewish makes me stronger. I am proud to belong to the diverse and beautiful family of the Jewish people. I am blessed because I know that wherever I go, there will be a Jewish community that I can connect with.
After all, "the odds are… don’t look far… ‘cause their Jewish too."