There is a joke, that I’ll paraphrase.
A rabbi from New York is invited to visit a synagogue in China. He isn’t sure what to expect, but he is delighted to witness a service exactly like those that he is used to, but it is still a bit strange because everybody there is Chinese. After the service, he meets with the rabbi of the shul, and thanks him for the wonderful experience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says, “but it was just beautiful!”
The rabbi smiles and says to him, “Thank you! Its strange though…you don’t look Jewish….”
What does it mean to, “look Jewish?” If you can tell me, definitively, what this means, I will give you a gold star. There are Eastern European Jews, Spanish Jews, Mediterranean Jews, Italian Jews, Asian Jews, Indian Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Arab Jews, North African Jews, Black Jews…you get the idea. There are Jews whose ancestors have always been from the children of Israel, and there are Jews who are the descendants of converts–or are converts themselves.
Yes, that’s correct, a person CAN convert to Judaism. In fact, conversion to Judaism has such a long and rich history, that several times the practice of circumcision for the sake of conversion has been outlawed on pain of death by whoever was the governing people of the time. Still not sure you believe me? King David’s grandmother, Ruth was a convert. You can read all about it in the book of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) which bears her name.
I have heard the remark many times that, “Jews don’t have red hair,” but King David himself is described as being red haired. If you look in any Yeshiva (school for learning torah) you will probably see–very orthodox–Jews with red hair. Some Jews have curly hair. Some jews have straight hair. Some Jews have no hair!
I think you get the point: There is no such thing as “looking Jewish,” or more in particular, there is no such thing as a person who, “doesn’t look Jewish.” I actually enjoy when people ask me the question of, “is Jewish a race, a culture, or a religion?” I look at them and grin a little bit as I respond, “yes.”
It is a little bit like being human. Sure, all humans aren’t Jewish, but just as there is not enough clear and simple description of what it means to “look Jewish,” all people are people! I saw a video earlier today, from the show, “What Would You Do?” They had three actors in a barber shop in Harlem: a black, female stylist; a black male customer; and the girlfriend of the black customer…who was a white girl. They had the stylist playing the role of the racist woman who can’t stand to see a nice young black man with a white girl. The object of the show was to capture the reactions of the other customers in the shop, who weren’t privy to the plot. There were a few customers who really lashed out against this racism. The basic part of the arguments was, “People are people!”
I don’t care if you’re black, purple, polka-dotted, whatever…you are a person, and you deserve to be treated as such. That is the cliche part of what I’ll say here. The non-cliche, and possibly controversial part is this: we are not all the same! Some of us are tall, some short, some fat, thin, athletic, academic, math geeks, language geeks, uneducated, PhD’s, speak english as a second language, speak english as one of five languages. And yes, not only are some of us white, and some of us black. Some of us are Jews, some (well most, really) of us goyim*. And–brace yourselves–some of us are men, and some of us are women! And thank G-d for that! For all of it!
We are not the same! This culture of false equality that we are inculcated with is one of the things that is harming our society on a daily basis. There is no reason that a woman should be expected to be–in all ways–equal with a man, and vise versa. And that goes for every single one of the classifications listed previously. This isn’t to say that a woman can’t do the same things that a man can do, or vise versa, but it is to say that there are things that each one of us are better at doing, and that’s just the way it is. There is no excuse for subjugation resulting from differences, and I think that is why there is such a hard push for total equality. Unfortunately, because there are people who do subjugate others under the premise of these differences (I think these differences are just scapegoats, by the way, for those who are hateful or power hungry), we miss out so much on the beauty embodied in these differences.
Each one of us being different is what makes this world a beautiful place. If each person were simply treated as a person, and appreciated for both our strengths and weaknesses, this world would be so amazing. If everybody ceased, tomorrow, from subjugating others, we would have peace on earth. That is the climate that we will witness when Moshiach (the messiah) comes. That will be as close as possible to Heaven on Earth. In fact, this would be a return in thinking. A revolution in terms of coming full circle.
Whatever you think about the veracity of the story of the garden of Eden from the book of Bereishit (Genesis), there are quite a few things that we can all take away from it. The story of the garden can be seen as allegory for the human race, and for each human individually. Adam and Eve live a carefree existence. Every need is provided for them. They do not feel cold, or heat. They do not know hunger or thirst. The only stipulation, is that there is a tree (not an apple, by the way) that they are not to eat from. When, after being tempted by the serpent, they eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they pass from this state of innocence to the world beyond, where they have to work for everything. Now, they must worry about competition, jealousy, embarrassment, blame, sin, and atonement. Before, they were children. Now, they are adults.
There is a remaining philosophical question in this, regarding whether a person can actually be wholly human and be innocent like this. One of the things, after all, that makes us human is that we not only have the capacity but also the necessity to reason logically, and to think about all of these things. Nakedness doesn’t only refer to articles of clothing, but also to psychological openness. In fact, it is much harder to be emotionally naked in front of another person than it is to be physically naked. If we can build a world where man and woman can look at each other naked–in the most difficult sense of the word–“and feel no shame” as it is written, then we can realize a world in which Moshiach has come. Then it will be as a return to the Garden of Eden, a return to the purity of youth when it didn’t matter if you were black, white, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Asian, arab, Jew, or goy*…or, man or woman.
*Note: I cannot stress this enough, I do not use the word “goy” or its plural “goyim” as a derogatory term. It is the opposite of saying “jew” and carries with it no inferiority from its antonym.