Say 'chai' - the joy of being identifiably Jewish

Student blogger Asha Sumroy was 'outed' as Jewish in a club with strangers - and she loved it

August 13, 2018 14:59

In the middle of last month's heatwave, on one of the hottest days London has ever seen in my lifetime, I was in an even hotter, tiny, underground venue filled with accordingly sweaty people when, some guy around my age, looks me in the eye and says “Hi” as knowingly and as warmly as if we had been childhood friends. 

“Hi?” I reply, trying to reign in the rising intonation from a level that’s rude to one that could just be me struggling to recognise his face in the dark. 

“Hi!” He says again (I never type exclamation marks unless I have to/am being sarcastic, but here, it is necessary) and I think as I moved in awkwardness the shifting light must have illuminated my face - never good at hiding what’s in my head - and its look of utter confusion. 

He’s not fazed. “You’re Jewish!” He correctly identifies. Quite how, I had no idea. I laugh now as I write this because later that night an Israeli friend of mine remarked that I was looking very Jewish, for no particular reason, just my vibe. 

Of course not. Aaron (as I later learned his name to be) points to my necklace - a chai, a symbol made up of the Hebrew letter ח and י that means ‘life’ - and reads in traditionally diasporic pronunciation: “Hi!”. 

I obviously found this whole situation hilarious enough to still be thinking about it almost a week later, though arguably, you had to be there. Either way, we enjoyed Aaron’s company when we finally spilled out into the relief of the slightly-cooler street.

For lots of Jewish young people it’s not unusual to bump into another Jew who knows someone you know in London (as it turns out Aaron and another friend I was there with went to school at JFS together) but for me the novelty never wears off. And especially in this situation, the fact that being identifiably Jewish enabled the kind of interaction between two strangers that I think we are becoming scared of in much of British society. 

In my last blog I wrote that I think we’ve forgotten how to wonder about people, but that I would leave that topic for another blog. And I guess this is kind of it. I think to a huge extent it’s my Jewish values that have led me to interact with the world in a way where I am curious about the story of every person I see and wish I had the time to sit down and speak to them. This, obviously, is not a realistic world, but I still think there’s time to revive an approach towards other people which is curios and open and social and tender. And to me, trying to do that is the basis of acting out my belief that everyone was made b’tzelem elohim (in the image of God). 

August 13, 2018 14:59

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive