It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post.  I am more than halfway through developing Onion Dances for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and have one week remaining in my residency in Blue Hill, Maine.  I feel like I have answers to some questions from the beginning of the process. Equally, I still feel like there is a wealth of material that I have yet to develop and discover before the piece makes its way to the stage.  One of the questions I have had throughout is: what does it mean to be a Jewish American? I did some free writing, and here are some of the answers that I came up with. I would be interested to know whether other Jewish Americans have similar responses to this question, and whether these responses vary on a generational basis. 


Being a Jewish American means using Yiddish words in the same sentences as English words. Words like “oy” and “mensch” and “chutzpah” and “klutz” and “kvetch” and “noodge” and “schlep” and “shtick”. Being a Jewish American means missing a lot of school during September, and having to justify absences with one’s religious identity. Being a Jewish American sometimes means feeling guilty for my beliefs, or feeling the need to hide my Jewish identity in certain settings, like in Morocco or in rural parts of the country where the KKK still fly a flag.

Being a Jewish American means not being Jewish enough in Orthodox communities or in Israel. Being a Jewish American means coming from a melting pot with an equally melted and manipulated and morphed religion. Being a seventh generation Jewish American means feeling a pull to be deeply connected to the Reform movement and my inherited history while also feeling a pull to create or invent my own traditions.

Being a Jewish American means feeling that, in some situations, we are at the higher end of the social hierarchy because of chance and lots of hard work. Being a Jewish American is like salmon in a salmon run, beating themselves bloody, pushing against the current to make it to their destination, Israelites lost in the desert for 40 years looking for the Promised Land. Being  a Jewish American means inheriting the memories and trauma from past generations. It means having bodies that carry stories that aren’t always our own, but become our own through experience and over time.

Being a Jewish American means Manhattan and L.A., movies and Broadway, Woody Allen and Gertrude Stein. Being a Jewish American means feeling distanced from one’s former homeland but also feeling on the fray of one’s current homeland. Being a Jewish American means that talking about death and dying isn’t taboo.  

Being a Jewish American means being a Jewish mother. Being a Jewish American means always being over prepared and overpacked. Being a Jewish American means lingering in the ellipses, the question marks, and the unknown. Being a Jewish American means asking lots of questions and pushing for answers. Being a Jewish American means having good Jew-Dar. Being a Jewish American means never being satisfied with the quality of the bagels.

Being a Jewish American means knowing the Hebrew Alphabet, memorizing your parshas for your bar or bat mitzvah, but not actually understanding any of what you are reading. Being a Jewish American means being politically and socially active and invested in equal rights for all, from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2016. Being a Jewish American means fighting for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Being a Jewish American means being drawn to the “what if’s” and lingering in ruminating thoughts. Being a Jewish American means being part of a tribe that some people will never understand. Being a Jewish American means feeling stuck in between one’s religion and one’s nationality and never feeling completely grounded in either.

Being a Jewish American means eating steak with mashed potatoes and butter and sour cream and a glass of milk, and never feeling guilty for not keeping kosher. Being a Jewish American means spending one day a year atoning for the last year. Being a Jewish American means lighting candles before there are three stars in the sky, going on a hike instead of going to services, Marx Brothers movies instead of Shabbat dinners.

Being Jewish American means holding community close and field trips to organic farms and Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum.  Being a Jewish American means complaining about having to go to services. Being Jewish American means bagels with lox, capers, and red onion, matzah ball soup, potato latkes, challah, rugelach, babka, potato knishes, schnitzel, sesame seeds and poppy seeds on everything.  

Being a Jewish American means occasionally saying the odd word in Hebrew when it feels right. Being a Jewish American means wearing a hamsa or star of David necklace but hiding it under your shirt. Being a Jewish American means feeling excited when you hear another Israeli first name. Being a Jewish American means feeling like your identity as a Jew is constantly threatened by the violence and prejudice in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Being a Jewish American means worrying that the Holocaust could repeat itself. Being Jewish American means holding your breath every time you see a swastika. Being Jewish American means worrying excessively and second guessing oneself. Being Jewish American means talking about concentration camps and musicals in the same conversation. Being Jewish American means never forgetting and Never Again.

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