Losing My Religion, Under a Secret Cloak of Shame
My grandparents had life-threatening reasons to hide their identities but didn't. My motivating factor for hiding under my invisibility cloak was embarrassment and shame. Thirty years on, I am still embarrassed and ashamed — but for different reasons.
I am Jewish.
It took me a long time to be comfortable saying that.
1986: That's me in the corner
Why do Jews have short arms?
Why do Jews have big noses?
Watch me throw this one-cent piece in the gutter and see if it attracts any Jews.
This is the banter I hear daily at my private Christian school in Australia. "Jew jokes" were de rigueur, and as I progressed through the grades, they got increasingly racist. Soon, they revolved around the Holocaust and the atrocities that occurred.
Hey guys, I heard a new one last night. What do you call a Jew that…
It was why I remained firmly in the closet. No one at school knew I was Jewish; they could never know. While I didn't join in the jokes, occasionally, I pretended to laugh at them. I felt sick, but knew I would be physically and mentally tormented if my secret were revealed.
We were scheduled to play a football game against a Jewish school in ninth grade. The jokes escalated that week in anticipation of the big match. I was torn. Do I join in the jokes with my teammates? Do I confess my secret and stick up for my brethren? The dilemma made me sick — at least, that was my excuse for calling in sick to school the day of the game.
Hiding in the shadows
The more things change, the more they stay the same. A recent survey of Jewish students at universities in Australia found over two-thirds of respondents had experienced antisemitism at university, while over half said they had hidden their Jewish identity.
“Many of my friends I know will hide things or won’t wear Jewish jewelry or identifiers. All it takes is one person to ruin your day or worse, ” Zac Morris, college student.