But you don’t look Jewish …

My first name is Irish. My last name is German. My eyes are blue. My hair is blonde. My nose is small. I am Jewish, and this confuses people.

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In my opinion, most people don’t say “but you don’t look Jewish” with the intention of being rude. But, it is rude. And if I said “and what does a Jewish person look like,” I would probably be perceived as a bit rude as well. As we discussed last week in class, microaggression unfortunately is a very common problem in all areas of our lives. Our co-workers, our friends, even our families can exhibit microaggressions. Before this class, I always called these types of comments as “backwards compliments,” as often they are intended in a “nice” way. “Wow, you look great! Did you lose weight?” is a very common example of these backwards compliments, as the statement implies that you didn’t look great before you lost weight.

“But you don’t look Jewish” is a more subtly aggressive statement, as it doesn’t apply I look better or worse than whatever the stereotypical Jewish person looks like. However, what is insulting about it is that being Jewish is part of my identity. My parents are Jewish, and they raised me to be Jewish. I went to Sunday school, Hebrew school, confirmation school. I attended countless Friday night, Saturday morning, and holiday services growing up. I became a bat mitzvah, and I was confirmed in my synagogue. I spent countless hours memorizing the prayers, learning to read and write in Hebrew, and when people say I don’t “look” Jewish, it in a way diminishes all of the work and time I put into the Jewish traditions. It also challenges my word as on honest person (i.e., it implies that I am lying when I say I am Jewish). Most importantly, it challenges my identity as a Jew.

I may be more sensitive to these types of comments than others. I was adopted and thus have self-identity perceptions that many do not. Because of this, when any part of my identity is challenged, it hurts because how I was raised is my identity. My blood is not. My blood may not be “Jewish” which may be why I do not look Jewish. But, my heart is Jewish. My family is Jewish. I am Jewish. So, next time someone tells you something that surprises you about themselves, stop and think for a second. Ask yourself “could this potentially be offensive.” Words, even well-intended ones, can and do hurt.

2 Replies to “But you don’t look Jewish …”

  1. Are there phrases about your Jewish heritage that make you feel empowered? Or is the mention always risking offense? What kinds of contexts or situations make phrases and questions empowering or derogatory?

    I’m curious about your insights. Thanks!

  2. I like when people ask me questions about my faith. I am not sure I completely understand your question. Could you rephrase?

    One of the biggest issues I face right now concerning being Jewish is trying to get my department’s “Christmas Party” to be renamed “Winter Party.”

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