One of the things I love about being Jewish is how diverse we are. Not just in our opinions (ha!), but in our appearances, languages, not to mention our cultural belongings beyond our shared Jewish culture and religion. I was happy to read about Aliza Bracha Klein, in her essay “A Frum Woman of Color”. She raises so many salient points about what it means for her to be a convert and a Jew that to many looks “different.” But really, we need to ask ourselves, what does Jewish look like? Is there “a Jewish look”?
Of course not.
Stereotypes and clichés are lazy and limit us even more then the other. We all know this.
When I named this blog “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish” I was inspired by Silvia Boorstein’s book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist. The idea that we should challenge the notions of what Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim “looks like” seems important if we care about a world where we don’t peg-hole one another, or “the other.” A world where we don’t like to be peg-holed is a world where we see and welcome and are acutely aware of difference and nuance, even within “the same.”
My interest here is to open up a conversation about the divergent experiences converts bring to the greater narrative of what it means to be Jewish. I have written about my own Jewish journey as a Norwegian born Lutheran, and know it is unique from that of others. Over the years, I have gotten to know other Norwegians who are converts as well, and while we do share some experiences that might be specific to us as Norwegian born, each journey is still singular. Take my friend Shoshana Ohana, for example, who like me is Norwegian, but who lives in Brooklyn, New York and is part of the orthodox community there. She writes about a multitude of topics from the perspective of an observant Jewish woman, mother, wife, anchored in a very specific experience.
These individual stories fascinate me, enrich my life and fill my heart. When I became Jewish nearly 32 years ago, I didn’t think of diversity; to me, at the time (younger, more naive, less experienced) the tribe was, or felt, like something homogenous, which of course it never was. I was just exposed to the Ashkenazi American default that was common back then. Thankfully, our minds and hearts grow and expand when we welcome that process, a process in which I have been immersed for the last 32 years.
One result from my doctorate in French is my book Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa published in 2017 (Gaon Books). This study is the result of a personal process of discovery of diversity within Jewish narratives, identities and cultures.
Own your process of discovery, friends, and relish how it will enrich your heart and mind.