There are a few places outside of Texas or California where I will agree to eat tacos. Born and raised in Texas, I am a taco snob; so when a new taco joint opened in Jersey City about 10 or so years ago, I agreed to go reluctantly.
There were maybe seven of us at dinner and tbh the tacos were fantastic. I was sitting between my (former) mother-in-law and my husband at the time and I don’t know how it came up but my former mother-in-law was telling me about how she didn’t want her boys to know they were Jewish when they were growing up.
I must have been doing the “hold my beer face,” because I soon felt a light but firm hand on my leg and saw a look in my husband’s eyes that said, “Let it go, let her have this, not worth it.” I promptly ignored his request and laid into this woman with the fire of a 7th grader who is fresh off her first debate tournament win.
She claimed, like we all do, that she wanted her children to be safe. She did not want them to experience bullying or be left out. The most generous interpretation I can give this justification is that it was the poorly executed outcome of well-intended ignorance from an overworked tired mom.
Except now her children were grown and we were at a nice restaurant with a group of adults and there was still a cloud of shame around Being Jewish. Being Jewish wasn’t something to be proud of, it was something to hide.
The way to protect children from bullying is to address the source of the bullying. Not to infect your children with shame about who they are.
That is precisely what I said at dinner when I was interrupted by the arrival of more tacos and advised kindly to stop speaking and being impolite.
The only other times I’d heard this kind of reasoning was around mental health. I watched friends and family advise each other not to tell others about their suicide attempts, addictions, abortions, rape, abuse, and self-harm. I watched people hide their truth, their selves, and their lived experiences in exchange for the holy grail of assimilation and acceptance.
Except it isn’t that, is it?
When we hide, even when it makes sense, even when we should, I wonder if hate wins.
Hate wants to eradicate. To annihilate. Terrorism exists to terrorize. To cause you to live in a constant state of fear. We do the terrorists’ job for them when we believe that who we are is something that should be hidden and denied.
When we eradicate ourselves in the name of safety.
The number of people who have told me over the last few weeks that their impulse is to hide their Jewishness astounds me. What’s worse: I have this impulse too. It came out of nowhere. I’ve been loud about being Jewish forever. Still, hiding makes logical sense – people want to kill Jews. People hate Jews. So, pretend to be something else. For now (you tell yourself). Save yourself. Save your family. Go into hiding. Because you can.
Other hated minority groups can’t hide. You can’t hide being Black or Asian. You can hide being Jewish. It’s a bizarre form of (dear God) privilege?
Listen, what you decide as far as hiding is up to you.
No judgment, not from me.
What is not up for debate is shame. You can hide your truth, but do not internalize that shame. Do not let it turn into self-loathing, self-abandonment, and a desire to be something other than you are.
Let other people hate you. Let them have their misconceptions and lies, their false realities, their delusions.
But you know who you are. And even in hiding, I hope you have pride in who that is, whoever that is.
I sure do.
PS: Oh, right! The taco place is Orale, I hope it survived COVID. It was high-end Mexican with a fantastic tequila selection and mouth-wateringly delicious guac. Down the block, there’s a place called Taqueria that has street tacos that are likewise to die for. Way greasier and just as delectable. It’s a hole in the wall so more of a lunch vibe but also delish.
I just assumed that’s what you were wondering while reading this. lol If you’re in the tri-state area go check them out.
And if you’re Jewish, stay safe. And if you’re not Jewish, stay safe. We can’t fix the madness that is erupting outside of us but we can make use of our own frontal lobes and be kind to each other; and love on those we love (including ourselves).