I am a Jew.
Some of you might not have known that. Some of you probably did. I'm hoping it doesn't make a difference to either group.
But the horrific, unconscionable act that took place yesterday in Pittsburgh makes it important that I make the point clear. I am a Jew. I'm not an observant one, not even a faithful one. I am, honestly, an atheist and have been open about that for some time. But being Jewish isn't all about attending temple or even believing the teachings other than some principles that make sense to us. We pick and choose as all people do, what we decide is right and what is not.
What happened yesterday is, by any measurement, not. It was absolutely outside the behavior of a civilized society. It was cruel, pointless and driven by an irrational hate. It was something no person should ever have to face. No person of any religion, no religion, any race or any background. No person. Period.
But I am a Jew, and have been especially the past couple of years concerned with what that means to me. There are those who consider us a separate race, however one defines a race. When I am confronted with the question of race on surveys or forms, I hesitate to check "white" and usually go with "other." When asked to be more specific, I write, "would rather not say."
My daughter teaches students in the New York City school system, and they often express curiosity about her ethnic background; it's a common way especially for first-generation students to establish an understanding of their teachers and their peers.
One of her students asked my daughter about her heritage, and my daughter replied, "I'm Jewish, so I guess white."
Her student, who is African-American, shook her head. "The white people won't think so," she said.
From the time we are small children we are taught, directly and otherwise, that we are "different." Many of us don't take part in Christmas celebrations at school. I remember clearly being asked to explain to my classmates the story of Passover when I was perhaps seven years old. I probably threw Superman into it because I was very big on Superman when I was seven.
There is considerable pride in being the outsider sometimes. I am not at all timid about my family's roots. My grandparents, three of whom came to America from Europe as children, did not consider themselves Russians, Poles or Austrians. They were Jews. Where they came from didn't define them in the eyes of those they lived with, or their own eyes. The identity was clear.
I have always seen myself as an American. I was born here to parents who were born here. I don't speak a language other than English, although the Italian lessons on Duolingo are starting to sink in a little. I asked my father once to teach me to speak some Yiddish. He gave me a phonograph record for children teaching the language and I don't think I've ever played it.
We're always aware that there are people who hate us for being Jews. It's hard to fathom that, as my ethnic background has never defined me in my own mind, and I'm aware that we're not trying to threaten anybody else's beliefs or ethnicity. But it's undeniable that some simply want us to disappear, and if we won't do it on our own they are happy to help. It's been tried before and at times has come close to succeeding, but we persevere.
The attack yesterday has caused me to rethink my point of view. I will check "other" and then explain my answer less vaguely from now on, I guess. If the world insists on seeing my ethnicity first and everything else second, I can work with that. But what happened yesterday can't be permitted to happen again. Action must be taken. The complicity of public officials in the blind, stupid violence against any group must not continue. Those responsible for the mindset behind the sick, awful man who walked into that synagogue have to be held accountable and removed from their offices as quickly as possible.
I am a Jew. When I meet you, I won't be thinking about that. Whether or not you do is your own choice.