I’m at the fancy corporate yuppie organic grocery store picking up a few things, and stop to have a conversation with The Cheese Guy about the brie–do they have any that’s kosher, or at the very least not made with animal rennet? We chat for a bit about this, he finds me my cheese, I go on my merry way.
As I’m in line for checkout, he comes running up to me. “You seem like a very intelligent person. Do you have a self-depricating sense of humor as well?” Of course I do. He had something to show me, but it was in his car. He came running back as I was paying, with a copy of Heeb magazine.
“Oh, Heeb!” I say, somewhat relieved. I don’t like the idea of strange men going to their cars to fetch me things I must see. That almost never ends well.
He’s clearly crestfallen. “You know about this magazine?”
Well, um, yeah. He didn’t know that I was a Jewish professional or that I’ve done work on Gen X Judaism or that I was in the middle of working on something with the magazine’s founder when she learned that she got the $$ to start the thing. But really, still. Today, in addition to the kippah and tzitzit, I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “I [heart] Monsters”, a skirt, and boots that look dangerously like combat boots, except with maybe more buckles. I look, basically, as much like the magazine’s constituency as a person could (even though I haven’t seen an issue in years.) He’s not Jewish, he doesn’t know that we all heard about this magazine like a million years ago. He just saw a Jew and his “Jew” light went on, and he wanted to give me something Jewy.
I’d feel grateful or happy to have a free magazine or whatever, but this kind of thing, frankly, happens all the damn time. It’s like the would-be suitor who saw me as the solution to all of his spiritual crises (solution in a skirt, lucky him) and sent me gifts: halva, Yiddish fridge magnets, one of those punching joke “rabbis” (the plastic toy was in the shape of an old Hasid; for all we know the toy hadn’t gotten smicha, but rather worked in the diamond industry or something) and a few other things that had nothing to do with me as a human being, or my needs, hopes, dreams, and fears, but rather, the thing that I symbolized to him. There are a lot of reasons I’m glad that I move through the world visibly flagging my religious and spiritual orientation, but serving as the world’s “Jew” file is not one of them.
As I left the store (2004 issue of Heeb tucked politely in one of my grocery bags) I stopped to sign a petition to improve public schools. The petition guy asked why I wore a yarmulke. I told him (“because I’m Jewish”) and then when he asked again I told him the answer he wanted (ie, to answer his gender curiosity–which, for the record, I don’t mind, since I’m always happy to help dispel myths). Before I knew it, he was telling me everything he had heard about Judaism on NPR–evidently we’re the only religion that observes a day of rest* and are very serious about our dietary laws. Which, you know, maybe I hadn’t heard?
*never fear, I corrected him on that.