Well, to start with, I understand my people to be everybody, no exceptions. In fact, I am in accord with Indigenous Peoples like the North American Indians. When they say “All my relations” as they pass the pipe in a circle, they go beyond people to mean all the children of Mother Earth and Father Sky: the soil, the plants, the rivers, the oceans, the animals. I aim like them to make my family as wide and inclusive. Many U.S. citizens will use the term aliens in reference to undocumented migrants at our borders. I hope that otherworldly aliens are found to exist in my lifetime so that I can include them among my relations as well...
Having said that, I am a Jewish ethnic who lives very much in a non-Jewish world. Matter of fact, I am a regular member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. My wife comes from English and Dutch ancestry, with Scottish forebears going back to the first kings of Scotland. And my late wife was a German Lutheran from the former East Prussia, divided since the end of World War Two between Russia and Poland. Still, the other day I went to a morning program at Boulder’s Jewish Community Center (JCC) on a new adult-education program the Center along with several synagogues in town is co-sponsoring.
There were maybe 80 people in attendance in the large, modern hall, most of them elderly Social Security recipients, having breakfast and learning about all the facets of the new program. Many looked and acted Jewish. I wondered if maybe the minority who seemed more Gentile were really also Jews who just didn’t look Jewish to me. Moreover, the food, keynoted by out-of-this-world poppyseed bagels along with the usual accoutrements, was totally American Jewish. One of the presenters talked about her own life as much as the program, all in an unmistakable New York Jewish accent. I suddenly felt tears rising to my eyes. I was at home here among my people. I could be as universalistic as I wanted, but my body and heart knew that this was also home. Maybe not the home of my spirit, but certainly a home to an important part of my personal self. I remembered hearing from fellow Jews recounting the feeling of being in Israel for the first time. “So many people looked like me or members of my family,” they would say. Or “it felt totally weird to be in the majority for a change. I never knew this sort of sense of belonging was missing in my life until I experienced it in Israel.”
When she was in elementary school, my older daughter who will turn 57 in two days wrote an essay called “My Inside Self and My Outside Self.” At the JCC I realized that about me too. In retrospect I remembered Walt Whitman’s lines from his Leaves of Grass: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself! I contain multitudes!” Among them, doubtless, is my Jewish self.