I’m Jewish, and I Don’t Care Who Knows It. Or Doesn’t. – Kveller
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jewish identity

I’m Jewish, and I Don’t Care Who Knows It. Or Doesn’t.

I want my kids to feel this way, too.


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It’s early evening, and rather than cajoling my children into their respective beds and cribs, which I have left my husband to handle, I’m meeting a friend to see a movie. (“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Obviously.) 

I arrive at the small, old-school theater to find Tamara waiting for me on a bench next to a life-sized stuffed rabbi, bearded and draped in a tallis. Copies of our local Jewish paper are strewn across the table next to her, and Israeli sporting jerseys of some kind hang behind the concession stand. I catch Tam’s eye and we crack up, shrugging and shaking our heads at the delightful randomness of it all. 

“I’ve always known this theater was here,” I said.  “I did not know it was… Jewish?”

More shrugs and laughs. Apparently Jewish movie theaters are a thing. Strange, but not entirely shocking in our corner of South Florida (where I assume most of your grandparents live). 

Tam and I have such a good time (obviously), we plan to do it again on a Friday the following month. When I look up showtimes, though, I see there’s nothing playing. Not our movie, not any movie. This is not only a Jewish movie theater. It’s a very Jewish movie theater. Closed for Shabbat! I am of course further endeared to the place, and Tam and I settle on a Thursday showing. 

This time, though, no giant, stuffed Mensch on the Bench. No Jewish Journals. No jerseys. I don’t think much of it, though. The place is shomer Shabbos — enough said!

It’s the first thing Tam and I discuss on the car ride there, and I can’t resist bringing it up again after ordering our snacks. 

“Are you guys closed on Friday nights?” I ask the woman behind the counter. I just want to hear her say it. 

“No,” she replies. “Why?”

“Oh.” I deflate. “There were no movies listed online beyond Thursday.”

“Friday is when we post the new week of showtimes,” she says, to a chorus of “ohhhs” from me and Tamara, who realize instantly that maybe Jewish movie theaters are not a thing, that maybe there had been some sort of special event last time, that maybe we just wanted to believe in such a place. 

“Did you think we closed for the sabbath?” the woman asks as we pick up our popcorn.

“Yes.” We smile and cringe and wave as we turn to find our theater. 

Then from behind us, we hear her call, “I’m Christian!” 

The woman sounds indignant. Almost… offended?

Once in our seats, I ask Tamara: “You heard that, right?”

“Of course,” she says. “And isn’t it funny — our whole lives people assume we’re Christian, and we almost don’t think anything of it. People say ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we say ‘thank you’ or ‘you, too!’ and move on. We live in a world where it almost feels like we’re inconveniencing folks by being Jewish to the point that someone feels the need to tell us they aren’t.”

I’d never thought of it like that, like it could be so threatening, so insulting for someone to mistake a non-Jew for Jewish, the record needs to be corrected immediately. 

There is, of course, a more generous interpretation of the situation. The woman’s faith is a core part of her identity. She cares deeply about accuracy. We misread her tone. Who knows.

Still, I reflect on the many “Merry Christmases” of my life, and Tam’s right. Most of the time I just let it go, though during recent holiday seasons I’ve felt moved more and more to say something. 

“Thanks! I celebrate Hanukkah,” I might reply (because I care deeply about accuracy). “Enjoy your Christmas!”

Is that the same thing as what it feels like the concession lady did? I consider this as I dig into the popcorn and decide it’s not. I’ve always meant it as kind of a gentle reminder that we’re not all alike, that there are people of all kinds moving about the world. 

It’s summer, but I resolve to do more of that come winter, to be more vocal about my Jewishness to non-Jews. Not defensive, as the woman came across, just assertive. Loud and proud about the identity people are apparently so uncomfortable to be grouped in with. 

Turns out I don’t have to wait for December (or I guess October, if we’re using the Target calendar, which, why wouldn’t we?). 

A few weeks after movietheatergate, I’m walking through the airport with my family, pushing my two older children in a stroller as the little guy hangs over my husband’s shoulder, waving at passersby and narrating the experience. 

“Look!” he shrieks, pointing, and I turn to spot a police officer riding a decked-out Segway, waving back. 

“I wanna see,” the big kids chorus, and I swivel the stroller around. 

“It’s called an X3 Segway Turbo!” the officer calls out to them. (Not really, but something like that.) “Remember that for Santa Claus this year!”

And here it is! My opportunity! Christmas come early! But for some reason, it doesn’t feel so important to enlighten anyone in that moment. The guy’s just being nice. I want to find our gate, and Starbucks. I also kind of want to see how the kids react. 

“We’re not Christian,” my 4-year-old pipes up on cue as we turn away, just as my 6-year-old says, “He doesn’t know we’re Jewish.”

They seem, by and large, unperturbed. Just stating the facts. Not insulted, not jealous at the mention of the big guy with the presents. Not loud (I mean, loud, as loud as two small children tend to be), but proud all the same. They know who they are. 

And I realize: There’s not much more I could want as a Jew, or as a Jewish parent

“You can tell him if you want,” I say. “But either way, it’s OK.”

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