Broken Lines of Belonging

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Broken Lines of Belonging by Natalie Dweck Romero - Photo by Danielle Deculus

I have a vision in my head of antisemitism.

What I thought it was:

Barbed wire fences and crazed soldiers, yellow stars blinking against the dark hue of a winter coat, the looming choice of a baptism or execution. Swastikas, stabbings, shootings, news headlines building their rhymes to entertain.

I imagine corrupt governments marching into my life, each stride perfectly in sync, unraveling their flags over capitol buildings to advertise their hate. Posters on lampposts about how to spot a Jew, their flaws, their ugliness, dirt smeared on golden chains, on kippot, on long beards.

In reality, though, it’s an unfortunate constant that has settled in many societies across the globe throughout history. It’s a sense of helplessness because everything you do is wrong, wrong, wrong, because you’re not enough, never good, because Shema is the first thing you say in the morning and the last thing you say at night. It’s a minority people that somehow filters through a majority, seeping into streets and dripping off of the pipes onto the sidewalk cracks.

What it actually was:

The smell of an overchlorinated pool, mixed with summer sweat and curly-hair conditioner. The disappointment that laced the burdened words “ugh, you’re Jewish.”

The way my brother knew, without anyone asking him, to take off his kippah on his walk to school. Wearing a baseball cap instead, the kippah layered meticulously under, he wouldn’t take the cap off until we crossed Avenue J.

We just don’t want to poke the bear.

The blond kid and the red-shirt kid, the ones who threw coins at my brother after he answered the question “What are you?” with “I’m Jewish.” And he was so clueless that he picked them up, handing the coins back to them.

They told him it was a sign that Jews were greedy.

We crossed the street after that, whenever we saw the Blond and the Red Shirt. Eyes down, because the sidewalk cracks had never seemed so interesting until just now.

The stranger thing was, it felt like I’d been staring down my whole life.

***

 

I wish I could say that it was a perfect world once I got to school, because I loved school, but the truth is that it was never like that. The swirl of Hebrew blowing through us, the ע’s and ח’s finding a place in our memory, letters that sound more like home than anything in English. B’not Sherut and sh’lichim, shir hashavua and kabbalat shabbat, chidon chagim and everything in between.

At school I was never Jewish enough, but at home I was too Jewish.

It never made sense, the way everyone seemed to have an exact place fit just for them, right where it clicked. I wanted nothing more than Goldilocks’ perfect porridge temperature, the knowledge that I had a place that only I specifically could fill, where I would be missed.

But I couldn’t do that, either, because I somehow belonged in way too many places, but never truly felt myself in any of them.

We’re a pot of poured roots that had not met in a while, unfamiliar in their jumbled concoction of what’s expected. We’re untranslatable words stuck in one language with no exact definition in all the others, somehow still stretching out to make it across to become phrases.

Argentine Syrian Jewish? Never heard of that.

Believe me, there have been weirder things. I hope.

And there was always that little voice, telling me to watch, watch, watch, because I didn’t want to topple over the heavy, barely balanced scale. Eggshells beneath my feet, every footstep another risk, another question, another perilous thought.

I guess this is no longer about antisemitism, it’s just belonging.

Eventually, though, I had to realize that a cracked eggshell wasn’t the worst. The only way a chick comes to life is by breaking through its shell.

I guess this is no longer about antisemitism, it’s balance. And thinking outside the norm, and faith, and everything that holds the Jewish people as a whole.

Because without that, what are we? A group of people with an ancient sacred text and a god to call ours?

You have to start with what being Jewish means to you to even start thinking about antisemitism. And that brings us to the beginning.

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Natalie Dweck Romero lives in the suburbs of New York City, where she is a member of the class of 2025 at Hastings High School. She runs track and cross country, in addition to playing roller derby, both of which are huge parts of her life. She often finds that she clears her mind best with a pen and an empty notebook on her front porch, listening to music as she writes.
Accompanying photo: “Walking Through Memories ” by Danielle Deculus