Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What not to say…

 Speak no evil

Aliza Hausman, a native New Yorker of Dominican descent who converted from Catholicism to Judaism, writes a blog Memoir of a Jewminicana, that I discovered when I read her article My uterus is none of your business on Beyond BT

Her newest post, What to say and what not to say to a convert,  talks about how converts are asked, often publically, why they converted. Besides this being a halachic no-no, as Aliza points out, it’s just plain rude. Besides being asked outright if they’re converts, Aliza says that people will say things like “That’s not a very Jewish name” to elicit information that they don’t deserve. I have to admit that I did something like this once, but it wasn’t to get a confession. I met someone from some hicksville place and said “oh, I didn’t know there were Jews there.” In my defense, I’d like to say two things:

1. I’m from New York. I didn’t know there were Jews anywhere till I was almost 18.

2. When I grew up, nobody was a convert. And if they were, it certainly wasn’t talked about. It’s not like today where I know many people who are either converts or in the process (maybe it’s a California thing). It never occurred to me that the person I said that to was a convert. I was just being a stupid New Yorker.

Even today, it’s not really on my radar. Unless I’m told I have no idea whether someone is or isn’t Jewish and whether they were born tribe members or joined later. I will admit to having uttered “Why would anyone convert to Judaism?”

Aliza’s previous article, My uterus is none of your business, talks about people asking her if she’s pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Another incredible invasion of privacy. It seems that today people feel it’s their right to ask whatever they want and get answers. Sometimes they’re bold and ask directly and other times they just try to stare you down.  I’ve felt this personally after answering the dreaded question “how many kids do you have?” In the orthodox Jewish world having 2 children is suspect but having only one means either you’re selfish or there’s a good story lurking there. So if I say I have one child usually the other person will just look at me like they’re waiting to hear why I only have one child. And if I say that I have a daughter and I had another daughter who died I’m inevitably asked what did she die of. Well, first of all, it’s a hard question to answer and certainly not in one short sentence. No “she had cancer” or “she died in a car accident” or “terrorist attack” [almost expected since we lived in Israel]. Life (and death) don’t always fit into neat little boxes. And secondly, chances are, I don’t want to get into it. I know you’re incredibly curious but I don’t want to talk about it.

Now that I’m working among the world at large for the first time (the gentile world), I’ve noticed that it’s only Jews who seem to ask these intrusive questions. The people I have told at work about my daughter greeted the news with an I’m sorry. And that’s it. They didn’t feel the need to pry. So Aliza, while some think the Jews are better than everyone else it seems that there are some midot we can learn from our gentile friends.


Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

Thanks, Fern. It was great reading your response to the pieces. There certainly is this need to pry, this entitlement to know. I want people to understand that this makes a lot of people feel violated and unsafe even when that's certainly not the intention.

Fern Chasida said...

Thanks for visiting and reading my post Aliza. I think if people stopped for a minute to think about how they're making the other person feel, many of these intrusive comments would not get uttered. Of course, that could just be my desire to believe in man's goodness.

mother in israel said...

I enjoyed your post and was touched by it as well as by the earlier one about the insensitive things people say to bereaved parents.
I do feel uncomfortable with your point that "it's only Jews who seem to ask these questions." I respect that this might be your experience, but it's most definitely not true, nor do all Jews ask those kinds of questions. So I guess I view that comment as reinforcing a stereotype.

Fern Chasida said...

Mom in Israel - thanks for your comment. The truth is, I've spent most of my life in the Jewish world and this is just something that struck me. I know not everyone, regardless of whether they're Jewish or not, ask intrusive questions. But sometimes, it feels like it.

Anonymous said...

Nice post!

Fern Chasida said...

Ilana Davita - thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked it.

Safranit said...

I was at a family bar mitzvah and my cousin's aunt from the other side of the family said she was from a suburb of Milwaukee near where I response was I didn't know any Jews lived there...her response was I wasn't Jewish when I lived there...ooops :)

Fern Chasida said...

hey Safranit,
we all seem to get foot in mouth disease on occasion. i hope people understand that it's not intentional.