Many of us have common preconceptions about other human beings. We tend to judge based on what we think we know rather than facts. We think before we speak, we speak blindly and sometimes that is expected. But when will the willful ignorance stop? We think we know all there is to know about appearance, language, culture, and even religious practices, even if we have not in fact researched any of these things. This seems to be very common but especially in the world of Judaism. I myself am not innocent to being consciously ignorant. If I saw a fair skinned man with what resembled a fedora resting on his head and and a curl from under each side of the hat, I would assume that man was Jewish. Granted in many cases this can be true, however, that is not the image of all Jewish people. Taking a class dedicated to learning about the Jewish Diaspora has opened my mind up to many things, especially regarding appearance. An important theme of this class is understanding that, “Judaism is a global religion with local variants”. Hopefully after this post, I hope you all have a mutual understanding.
As simple as that phrase is, it gives us a certain perspective. The word “global” makes us think about the larger picture, the entire world even, while the word “local” makes us thinks about the smaller places: cities, states and so on. What this also tells us is that the appearance of a Jewish person does not have one look in particular. Alanna E. Cooper is a Jewish historian and cultural anthropologist who can attest to that. In one of her articles about her studies and why she chooses to study what she does, Cooper says, “The reason I was drawn to study Bukharan Jews was not family ties. Rather, it was the allure of their difference. Although they did eat matzah on Passover and knew some Hebrew, their cuisine, music, and ritual and cultural norms were totally unlike anything else Jewish I had ever encountered. Yet in the face of our differences, I sensed a hovering connectedness. Why, I wondered, was I so readily and warmly welcomed into their homes? And why did I have such a strong feeling of kinship among them, despite our vastly divergent historical experiences?” Kulanu.org also gives us many examples of Jewish communites worldwide. For example, the website lists many countries in Africa with people who are in fact Jewish. In this section specifically about Africa, over ten different countries are listed. I myself was a bit shocked once looking through the website. Usually, black and brown bodies are not associated with Judaism, much like the Bukharan Jews with a more Israeli culture. Because of this course, I have began to learn to put all internalized stereotypes about Judaism aside. I now understand that Jewish persons cannot be put into a box. There is no one type of Jew. So, what does a jewish person look like?
Overall, appearance does not and cannot define a Jewish person. There is no standard, ideal Jewish image, never has been, never will be. Jewish people come in all colors and speak several different languages. Below I have attached a couple of links to learn a little more about Cooper’s experience and her studies, as well as Judaism as a global religion.
Cooper, Alanna E. “Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History.” The Forward , 9 May 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.
“Jewish Communities Worldwide.” Kulanu: Communities. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.