Such a loaded question and almost impossible to answer. The setting was a close-knit family bris where I found myself as one of the only non-family members amid a sincerely welcoming environment. The father of the baby boy was genuinely curious to know which stream of Judaism I belonged to and for whatever reason felt a deep need to understand how to categorize me.
“I really like Chabad.” The answer didn’t satisfy him. “No, you’re not Chabad.”
“Are you Ashkenaz or Sefardi?” I tell him that my mom’s family is originally from Iraq and my dad’s side is originally from Lithuania.
“No, but religiously. How do you categorize yourself religiously?”
I guess my whole MO of purposely not covering my hair so as not to be defined isn’t working. I live for the fact that it’s impossible to know what my true views are and now with one simple question he’s shattering everything that I stand for. My assumption of what gives me away is the fact that I didn’t have time to properly deal with my hair so I’m wearing a bandana.
My husband interjects with a picture of my Charedi family. “Which yeshiva is that?” The naivete is actually adorable.
He asks me why I came to Israel. “If you came here away from a good life in Los Angeles it must be because you’re a Zionist.” He’s satisfied with the answer he came up with until I burst open his explanation.
“Actually I came here for a visit and ended up meeting my then-husband so I stayed here and got married and I’m here ever since.” He doesn’t like my answer. He prefers the Zionist answer.
He wants to know about my family. I stopped telling people that I’m one of 13 siblings since most people just straight-up don’t believe me.
My husband interjects once more and tells the host about my brother, the Charedi Zionist. My brother belongs to a Zilberman-esque community in Sanhedria Murchevet and recently wrote a book encouraging specifically Yeshivish people to make aliyah, aptly titled Living in the Land. He also founded an organization in Israel called Avira D’eretz Yisrael with the same purpose.
The dad of the newborn is adamant for an answer.
“Oh, you’re Breslov. Are you Yerushalmi or Benei Brak Breslov?” I’m actually most surprised that he somehow knows there’s a difference since he thought all Chassidishe people had the same rebbe.
From my days of working in customer service I know that the most important thing is giving an answer that will satisfy the customer. Whether there’s any semblance of truth to that answer is a separate matter.
“Yes, I’m Yerushalmi Breslov.” I’m honestly just happy that we both agreed on an answer that will put him at ease. He looks happy and demystified.
I conclude the whole saga by whispering to myself, “Damn it, why can’t I just be a chameleon?”