by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Be’Chol Lashon
When I first saw Off and Running I was immediately taken, but then again, my own personal investment in the film’s subject matter was considerable. Like Avery, I’m an adopted Jew of color from New York City. I see only dualities in my maturation, which has been a series of racially charged incidents quelled by moments of encouragement by people and institutions that worked together in a bizarre alchemy to create me.
As a young child my parents sat me down and explained it was important for me to find a faith of which to be a part. I grew up in the predominantly liberal and Jewish bastion of New York City called the Upper West side and at the ripe age of 9, it was Judaism that I felt most connected to; it was what I knew best. I began to attend a Schul after school where we were taught stories from the Bible, Yiddish and about our history and culture. I liked the friends I made and the stories I heard at Schul. The formation of my Jewish identity at that age was informed by Schul where there were transnationally adopted Jews to my right and left and by my neighborhood where I felt my family the apotheosis of what the 21st century family looked like. At 9 years old, I thought being bi-racial and Jewish was a magical marriage of identities.
At 13 years old, in the planning stages of my Bat Mitzvah, my Hebrew School teacher called a meeting at his home to discuss details. He opened his door to see me, my father who is an Ashkenazi Jew and my black mother. Upon seeing my family, without asking, he regrettably informed us that the synagogue, would not allow me to perform the right of passage in their temple because my mother wasn’t a Jew. My wily mother, coyly and smarmily responded “oh, but her mother is Jewish.”
Yes, it turns out my biological mother is a white Ashkenazi Jew.
And with these words, my Hebrew school teacher, as though I was caught in the Woody Allen version of my own life as a film, threw his hands into the air and exclaimed “it’s Bashert [it’s destiny] then! You’ll have your Bat Mitzvah in the Temple!” In that moment I felt a definitive rage. I wanted desperately to be a part of the Upper West Side’s most exclusive and popular clique, Judaism, but felt what would prove to be an indelible stake in this idea of blackness, something pitted against Jewishness. And so there it was, in the home of my Hebrew School teacher that the two were separated, like oil and water.
I was Black and Jewish but I couldn’t be both, I couldn’t be a Black Jew. Continue reading