All the Colors of a Jew

By: Gila Kalman  |  December 20, 2023

By Gila Kalman, Senior Opinions Editor 

With the ongoing war in Israel, and subsequently the constant drawing of parallels between biblical times and the present, I’ve started pondering one difference between the past and now. Biblical literature speaks of the Jews, Bnei Yisroel, as one singular people. Not just in the spiritual sense of one man and one heart, but in a more simplistic and practical way. Bnei Yisroel lived together, ate together, and fought together. Even when the nation split into different tribes, they lived on one land. Jews, in a general sense, occupied the same space and practiced the same customs for thousands of years. That, however, eventually came to an end due to violent expulsion, forcing Bnei Yisroel to scatter throughout the entire world, creating a population of people connected by history, yet separated by borders. 

At first, this was a depressing acknowledgement: the thought of estranged family. A sister I don’t recognize. A brother I do not know and may never meet. Yet, while we have been forced by history into an unbearable estrangement, our bond may not be as broken as it seems. Throughout my 23 years on the planet, I have met many of these lost siblings and I have come to learn that really, we are far more similar than different. We may have different accents, but we pray the same holy words. We may have different practices, but we hold the same ancient values. We may have different skin tones, but we share the same indestructible spirit. More deeply, we may have resided in completely different places, and yet, we have all suffered for the very same reason: our collective crime of existing as Jews. My family escaped Russia and Poland, yours ran from Iraq, Spain, Ethiopia, Morocco, Syria – the list goes on. My great-grandparents faced the Holocaust, yours, the Farhud. We share a common pain, a generational trauma buried deep in the psyche of every single Jew, no matter the color of their skin. We are a people so diverse and yet, so very much the same. 

Today’s antisemites deliberately dismiss this diversity, while co-opting our one-ness, twisting it to fuel a visceral and ancient hatred. To the anti-semite, Jews are a monolith. They equate ‘one’ with ‘same.’ We are, all of us, The Jew. The Jew who, depending on the particular narrative being peddled, is either a rat who corrupts the purity of the white population or a pig who unceasingly abuses people of color. The Jew who cheats, infiltrates, controls, and is devoid of all morality. The anti-semite wishes to corner us into a single identity, one with no nuance, and no color. 

It behooves The Jew, then, to shout our differences from the rooftop, hand in hand, together. To force the world to see the rainbow that we are. The Jew is gloriously multi-faceted. We are a menorah. Individual lights, each flickering a little differently than the other. One single candelabra, standing tall and proudly as an exquisite testament to our endurance as a family. 

I do not look like you, and you do not look like me, but family members do not have to look alike or talk alike. Our stories read alike, our hearts beat alike, our souls shine alike. 

These thoughts come at a pivotal moment in my life, and are proving to be a core aspect of my belief system. A vital aspect of my belief system. One which will soften my landing as I take this next leap towards the future. In February I am leaving. I’m leaving Stern, I’m leaving my hometown, I’m leaving all that is familiar. “Won’t you miss your family?” I’m asked. Yes, of course, I’ll miss them. I’ll miss the family I was born into, and the family I’ve made here in college. But don’t think for a second that I will be alone. I am going to meet more of my siblings, who are waiting for me in the place where it all started. I’m going to meet more of my family, to join them in the bringing together of our estranged brethren from all over the globe. To aid in the rebuilding of Bnei Yisroel as a people who share both heart and home. To contribute my colors to the world’s largest melting pot of Jewish life. I am going to look the anti-semite right in his witless eyes – and laugh. Laugh because his terror has only made us more connected. Laugh because he has reversed what our ancient enemies worked so hard to accomplish. He has brought us close to one another, urging us to grab hold of each other’s hands and march on resolutely. Urging us to fight together as we once did, so long ago. Hopefully, one day soon, we will merit to eat together and live together as well, under one roof, at one table, as a family should. A family with a million faces, but one perpetually beating heart.