Illustration: Michael Arnold
Woman. Wife. Mother. Daughter. Sister. American. Israeli. Zionist. Jew.
I get to define myself. I get to prioritize my labels. Daily. Hourly, if I so choose.
The world defines me as Jewish and woman. Those are the two labels I wear with my outer appearance. “You look like so-and-so” or “you must be from New York” or “I work for a Jewish woman who saves her pennies” (I got that one, completely unprompted, at the Target checkout last night while my 13-year-old raised her eyebrows at me in surprise and horror) follow me everywhere I go. And I’m OK with it. I choose to wear my Judaism as a badge of honor, with my curly hair and my larger nose, and whatever other attributes people choose to assign to a Jewish “look.”
But, in the United States, on the doorstep of 2020, I still get to define myself and how I choose to act based on the labels I assign to myself. And the label I currently assign to myself is worried. Worried that old white men with a pen once again want to take away my rights and put me in a box. Regardless of the intent, that is the consequence. Some of my right to define myself will be removed by an executive order from the 45th president, whereby Judaism will no longer be a religion, but rather a nationality.
Not all Jews define themselves as Zionist. Not all Jews even define themselves as Jews. They simply define themselves as citizens of the country where they reside. With Trump’s executive order, all American Jews will be classified as “other” and associated with a country to which they may have no spiritual or physical connection. That’s a problem. But the bigger problem, to me, is that we’re allowing someone else to define “us” and what it means to be Jewish. Each individual should have the inalienable right to define himself or herself.
Of equal concern is that this comes from Trump, who as recently as this past weekend, invoked multiple anti-Semitic tropes while addressing the Israeli American Council advocacy group in Florida. Trump has proven himself incapable of separating individuals from stereotypes, and while I may believe that he is not truly anti-Semitic, I believe he fuels the flames of anti-Semitism by perpetuating horrible labels and categories for us.
I find myself praying more these days, as hate from both sides of the aisle finds its target with Jews, and the world turns a blind eye to escalating acts of violence against Jews. I saw multiple stories about the Jersey City shooting yesterday before I realized that it was a hate crime and Jewish target, because of how the story was reported. Unfortunately, with history as my guide, I have no illusions on how this latest act by Trump will play out, and, so, I pray for the U.S., I pray for Israel, and I pray for all of us.