Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the instability of Jewish identities

You probably read Tablet. Make sure you read this. For many Jews, and I'm one, a Jewish identity isn't stable. It's a story that goes, roughly, "Yes. No. Well, yes, dependinig, but not really. Well, yes. And no. And, emphatically, yes."

I'm sure many minorities have that conversation with themselves, asking in what way their identity depends on that one fact and in what way their behavior depends on that identity. As a certain type of Jew, there's more hanging on this, because there's nothing else to hang my Jewishness on. It folds over itself, so asking the question becomes a major way I enact Jewishness.

Kafka once claimed he had nothing in common with himself. But the fact that he's someone who would say that is more than enough to have in common. One interpretation of The Metamorphosis is that Gregor Samsa's awaking to find himself a bug is a metaphor for being Jewish. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

And, truly, everything has changed. Too much history rides on it to pretend it's an illusion.

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