Looking Jewish

Looking Jewish by Rebekah Friedman - Photo by Ayelet Kalfus

I was told I look Jewish, whatever that is supposed to mean.

In my entire life I was never taught that Jewish was a look. But there I was. Face to face with a boy who had bright blue eyes and a face full of freckles from a few towns north who I had met for the first time. His first words to me were “You’re Jewish.” I didn’t know how he had gotten that idea, and my friends and I were all shocked. Sure, I was wearing my Magen David necklace and just so happened to have on my URJ Camp Newman tie-dye, but he hadn’t been standing next to me long enough to notice either of them. That’s how quickly he had judged my belief system by just looking at my face.

Later that day I started asking myself what Jewish looked like, and I still can’t seem to find an answer. When people think of Jews, they most likely think of a stereotypical Hasidic Jew or maybe Adam Sandler. However, I don’t see myself as looking like any of these people despite the fact that my entire eighth grade class told me I looked like Anne Frank after we read and watched The Diary of Anne Frank. So how do I “look Jewish”?

Maybe it’s the genetic dark, curly hair from my dad’s side of the family, but I really don’t know what it is. I’ve gone to Jewish summer camp for 10 years, and there is not one key feature that makes all of us the same. We are just a bunch of people with the same belief system. We come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. So I really think this kid just lucked out that I was actually Jewish, considering that I’m the only teen in my city that is Jewish other than my younger brother.

So what would have happened if I wasn’t Jewish? Would I have laughed it off and made a joke about Jewish stereotypes? It is only because I am a Jew that I question this boy’s statement. I also question him because he decided to lie to me and say that he was Jewish, too. I was surprised and actually a bit excited to find a person my age with whom to share beliefs outside of camp. Then he confessed and said that he only had Jewish cousins. Then he continued by telling me how he had been to a bar mitzvah and a Passover seder.

I don’t want to be told I look Jewish. I don’t want to be told that I don’t look Jewish. And I sure don’t want to be lied to about someone else being Jewish. I don’t tell people who I just met that they look Christian or Muslim, so why do you need to tell me that I look like the religion I practice? It’s great if you think that, but if you want to know the facts, just ask me.

So back to my question that this boy never even answered, what is Jewish even supposed to look like, and how is it me?

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