One Week As A Jew

ryan kippahSo last week I decided to become a Jew for one week.

First off let me explain something. I am Metis. My family has experienced firsthand, the abuses you read about when you study residential schools and generational abuses. I understand very well what racism and bigotry mean. Again, I personally have experienced it first hand. But it was the reaction of people to the attack on some of my Jewish friends at a political demonstration that really sent it home to me. I already explained, I’m not converting, I even explained why, albeit in a humorous (yet truthful) way.

I decided that in order to really understand what Jewish people go through, I was going to “become a Jew”. Unlike that dude who tanned and took some pills to become black in that movie, I didn’t really have to do anything difficult. All I had to do to incur the hatred and enmity that comes along with being Jewish, was put on a hat.

I didn’t need to speak, walk or act differently, just put on a hat that identifies me as a Jew. Now think about that. I wore the same clothes I always wear, spoke the exact same way, walked the same way, but by putting on a small piece of woolen apparel, I suddenly became despised to the point where it was uncomfortable for me to walk in certain areas in my own city here in Canada. I had a few people threaten me with physical violence but in all honesty, I am not a small man so I was not concerned. It just made me think about what smaller people must go through, people who do not have my gifts. I should be clear: while I wore the kippah, I tried not to behave badly. I maintained my generally civil disposition, I still held doors, I still behaved much like I normally do. I didnt suddenly keep kosher, I wasn’t keeping shabbot, I just wore the hat. But to some people, that made me a target for hate. It made me a Jew.

I was also very aware that during my one week as a Jew, I couldn’t just walk around percussively educating asshats. Not because I would be physically unable to do so, but because while wearing a kippah, I was representing Jewish people, and if I did something that reflected poorly on them, it could make things harder for other, smaller Jewish people. So even though there were multiple times when I would have loved to physically educate someone, I had to show restraint, something that I am not always able to do when I am not Jewish for a week. I learned a lot though, and some of it was actually positive.

The positive side was I learned to not assume. A couple of times I was positive that I was about to have a very bad experience, but was pleasantly surprised. I had several people say “ Shalom” and on Friday night, several people said “ Shabbot Shalom” I also had a few cute girls talk to me, something I never avoid. I had an Egyptian taxi driver say “ You Jews, pretty good people, you got a raw deal.” One Arab woman said “If they gave my country to the Jews, we would all be rich.”

I wish those had been the norm rather than the exception, but sadly I had a lot of poor experiences. Let me explain what I think is the reason why.

People have become inured to the quiet bigotry that Jews face, probably because they are pale skinned and often DON’T LOOK ANY DIFFERENT than most of us. We have stopped taking it seriously when a Jew says “ What you just said makes me uncomfortable.” Because they look just like us, it’s hard to understand that they could be targets, BECAUSE TO WESTERN PEOPLE IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE TO BE PREJUDICED AGAINST SOMEONE WHO LOOKS LIKE YOU. The most common argument I hear when I tell someone that what they just said was antisemitic bigotry is “You guys always claim that.” Ignoring that I am in fact not a Jew, and that in fact when someone is accused of antisemitism, its almost always a valid accusation. The reason it is said so much, is because in fact it exists and is prevalent. The scary thing is that most Jews won’t call it out BECAUSE people accuse them of being over sensitive. I’ll tell you what. I am far from sensitive, but if I see racism or bigotry, I will call it out and if someone wants to debate it, I will.

I had an idea of what Jews go through but to be honest, I had no idea of how deep this antipathy runs. I knew that asshats often drop the Nazi card or make ridiculous comparisons of Jews with Nazis in order to attack Jewish people emotionally. They know full well how disgusting that is, but its a natural human desire to want to get an emotional reaction out of someone. I actually told one guy that if I ever heard him say “ Jews are the new Nazis” again, I would ensure that he ate his teeth. He walked away quickly and quietly, but I have no doubt that he will say that again, only to a much smaller person.

I could go on and on about the ridiculous shit I was exposed to. Strangers asking me questions about my genitals, people asking if they could touch my hat, getting glares and dirty looks from people I had never seen before and things of that nature, but to do that only shows what everyone already knows – that some people have an irrational hatred of a people they have never spoken to. I was not shocked that people are bigots. I was shocked at how accepted it seems to be, and even more shocked at the actual depth of it all.

I will say this as well. I am even more firmly of the belief that I am on the right side, that in the end, I will have the last laugh, because frankly, the people who act like this, are not good people. They are not “misguided” or “ill informed.” I can’t even say they are ignorant because in the age of information anyone who is ignorant, must be willfully so. The only people responsible for Jew hatred are the ones hating, and the people who will end up paying for that hate in the end, are one and the same. I believe that, because I believe in a just and fair god.

To my Jewish friends: you have allies. Sometimes they do not even realize they are your allies, but anyone who shares the common values of freedom, of the right to assemble, the right to speak our minds, and equality for everyone, supports you and everything you stand for as a people. Stay strong, stay resolute in the face of persecution and great pressure. You have a great tradition of doing so and thus persevering against all odds. I do not see that changing.

Ryan Bellerose,

P.s. I know wearing a kippah didn’t actually make me Jewish. In fact, it really hammered home the feeling of alienation and persecution that I think Jewish people feel regularly. If anything, it made me homesick for Israel and for my own home. The former, a place that is not my home, but where I felt real tangible joy at seeing indigenous people living comfortably in a state of their own with no apologies, and my home, because sometimes I just want to hide from the world and Paddle is a good place to do that.

About Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. Ryan was unsure if his real name was "Go get water!" or "Go get wood!" In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football , reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.

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Facebook Comments

  • dabney

    Ryan, this would make a great documentary for the Jewish Film Festival. “My Week of Living Jewishly” or “Jew Like Me”.

    • juvanya


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  • One4Zion

    Thank you Ryan for what you do. As a fellow Canadian-Israeli (sorry, but I consider you an Israeli, for what you do- you are more Israeli than a lot of others I know), please know that you have my admiration and respect
    It’s an honour to have you as an ally and fellow zionist.
    Only criticism I have for you, if you allow me, is:
    I could do without the bravado, the proclivity for violence in some of your texts: “i will make you eat your teeth”…and so on other posts…
    Leave the violence to the arabs, the muslims who are devoid of arguments and will lose to any spelling bee child willing to talk to them.
    We are supposed to be smart, you are smarter than them. I’ve read some of your texts and you seem to be well informed. You would crush any arab on any discussion about Israel without resorting to threats. Anyway, thanks again and AmIsraelChai

    • Rabbi Burns

      Sometimes bullies need to be shaken out of their delusion that they have the power to say and do to you whatever they please. If you can do so with the threat of violence rather than actual violence, then great.

      • Servo1969

        Some people believe strength causes violence.
        I disagree.
        Strength discourages violence.
        Weakness invites violence.

    • juvanya

      Its part of his charm. Some might say that we Jews need more of that attitude. 2000 years of pussyfooting hasnt done much for us.

    • Dafna Yee

      I disagree. Sometimes you have to use actual violence; that is why Israel has the IDF! When I was 13 and my autistic 14 year old brother was being picked on, I ran up and punched him in the jaw and knocked him to the ground. (That was probably due to surprise more than anything else since I was a lot smaller and skinnier than him.) He never bothered my brother again and he was always very respectful to me, as well.

      • Jackie Bourg

        Dafna… u r right! That’s exactly how I dealt as a single mother of a nice boy who was always bullied. I picked up a few by the scuff of the neck and threatened: “When you touch him, you touch me…SOOOO, BACK OFF”!!! End of story and we won.

        • Dafna Yee

          Good for you!!!

  • The Bobcat

    Ryan, you are awesome. A true Metis Mensch.

  • Batya Medad

    Fantastic post. I just couldn’t resist blogging about it.

  • Greg Franklin

    Proud of you for what you have done. You express a heart and soul of a man of honor. Blessings to you and yours Ryan.

  • CableLegend

    Great post- especially the part about feeling alienated.

    The nazi slurs portion hits home for me as it reminds me of something that happened when I was in 3rd grade that sticks out as the moment I became aware of prejudice against Jews and as the moment that I became pro-Israel. I had always gone to a catholic school until we moved to the burbs in 3rd grade and one day at recess I saw a couple of kids doing the Heil Hitler salute to a kid (I’ll call him J) that up to that point I had really only known as the kind of quirky/nerdy guy who was really into fighter planes and Star Trek. I could see that he was upset so I ran over and told the guys messing with him to buzz off and asked J what that was all about and that’s when I found out his was Jewish. It made me sick to how upset he was and that people would do that him- it’s arguable that at that age the kids didn’t really have a full grasp of what they were doing but they still knew what they were doing was hurting him by his reaction.

    Anyway, after that J & I became very good friends through high school. We would shoot BB guns together, he’d teach me about jets & help me w/ math & I’d try to teach him to throw a baseball or football (he wasn’t an athlete) so he wouldn’t be embarrassed in gym class. While still in elementary school, as December rolled around and the everyone in the class would be talking about Christmas (he was literally the only Jewish kid in my grade), he would always give a presentation on Hanukkah and bring in dreidels for everyone to play with. Knowing him really opened my eyes and I think helped me become a better person. Sorry for the long rambling story.

  • Chaya L De Leenheir

    Respect, Ryan. I live in Belgium and over here it is becoming really nasty for us jews. Nast and scary. We need more people like you. G’d bless you!

  • juvanya

    You are awesome and hilarious, and a bit of a loose cannon, but I love it all. Thanks for everything!

  • Dafna Yee

    Ryan, I’ve admired you since I’ve read your first post. I wish you could be a public speaker on an international news station. Although you are neither Jewish nor Israeli, I’d be happy to have you speak for my people. Thank you for having the courage of your convictions; too few people do. All honor to you.

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  • MikhaelMeir

    re “People have become inured to the quiet bigotry that Jews face, probably because they are pale skinned”

    Jews come in all colors. More than half of the Jewish population in Israel is definitely not pale-skinned, as most of the Jews in Israel come from neighboring countries (although quite a few people from the Middle East are actuallyfair in hue, including plenty of Arabs) but even excluding the Jews of Middle Eastern/North African/Ethiopian or African American Jews (whether they are biracial or converts to Judaism) plenty of Ashkenazim (Jews of Central and Eastern European descent) are actually swarthy in skin tone.

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  • Batya Medad
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