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.


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. 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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