One of the things I did over vacation was to hang up a mezuzah on our new house. It’s a beautiful copper/verdigris one that was a Chanukah present from my parents, at my request. I wonder about having it there, especially when we’re not around; I’m sure there are a lot of Jews in Eugene (a liberal artsy college city) but I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t any, or very few, in the small town where our house is. (I could well be wrong on this.) It’s inside the door frame and there’s a metal door outside, so it’s not all that visible when the outer door is closed; I just wonder what the reaction will be if people notice it. (Most likely, “that’s pretty, what is it?”)
I’m not shy about mentioning that I’m Jewish to people I know, but having lived in so many areas with few Jews, it felt a little funny traveling with my mother last September. She is apt to tell random strangers that she’s Jewish within the first two minutes of any conversation. I do worry more about anti-Semitism in Europe than I do in much of the US, but mostly that felt like oversharing; I guess I’ve also spent much of the last two decades among people (emphatically including my husband) who are much less likely to discuss things like famliy or religion with strangers or even work acquaintances.
I’m thinking about Judaism and how ‘out’ to be about it due to a couple of uncomfortable conversations with my boss yesterday. The Dutch tradition is to shake hands or kiss three times (left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) when wishing someone a happy new year. I should have had that in mind since I’d already been been wished a happy new year by a couple of colleagues, but when I ran into my boss in the hallway with his arms full and he said “Happy New Year! I’ll give you a hand later,” I gave him a puzzled look because it took me a moment to realize he meant “Sorry I can’t shake your hand now,” and not “I’ll help you later”. (Help me with what?)
I explained, but when I walked into a meeting a little later, he’d obviously been telling people that story and asked me “Are you a Muslim?”
I said, “No – that’s actually the second time you’ve asked me that.” (The first was at a dinner when I asked to have the alternative meal instead of suckling pig.) I added, “I’m not an Orthodox Jew or Mennonite, either – I’m allowed to shake hands, I was just confused.”
He replied, “I didn’t know you were Jewish,” (WTF?)
Then someone else said something about people who were Orthodox anything not being allowed, and he agreed that if I were Othodoc anything I “wouldn’t be allowed to shake hands with women,” so I said, “Oh, I could shake hands with *women*.”
Later I went to him and told him that while I really appreciated being introduced as the quality manager instead of the “Quality Lady” this time, could we please not discuss my religion or lack thereof during staff meeting? He bumbled a bit about not meaning anything in a bad way, and I’m sure he didn’t, consciously, but still it’s not a request I’d ever expected to have to make! (Given the level of prejudice against Muslim immigrants here, I suspect that somewhere lurking in his subconscious was a curiosity about where my dark hair and eyes come from – though I also think he’d be embarassed to put it in those terms. I don’t care if people do think I’m Muslim, except that it’s always a bit galling when people think you’re something you’re not in any context, but it did feel strange to be asked about it at work. I suppose this is me being American; people here sometimes list things like marital status, religion and number of kids even on resumes.