I am and am not a Jew. My case is something like that of the poet Emily Dickinson, who
worshiped and did not worship God. I am a Jew in the sense that every drop of blood in my veins
is Jewish or so I presume, and every thought in my head, my habits of thinking, my moral
impulses and burden of chronic guilt, my sense of humor if any, my confrontational and
adversarial inclinations. They say a Jew is somebody who loves to argue, especially with God and
other Jews. My laughter and tears are Jewish laughter and tears. What else could they be? My
ancestors are Russian-Jewish ancestors. The peasant mud is hardly shaken from my roots. When
I stand before a classroom, who stands inside but a long line of rabbis, cantankerous and didactic,
hungry and fading. In the 1880s when the great pogroms swept Russia and eastern Europe, it
was me that the madmen hated and wanted to kill. Me, an innocent girl in my babushka throwing
grain to the chickens. In 1944 it would have been me, my long nose no longer in a book, wetting
my pants in a cattle car, or among the soft slain bodies layered upon each other in the great mouth
of a trench at Babi Yar. Here is my violin, hidden in a closet of the Warsaw apartment, kicked
into splinters by a soldier's boot, going up in flames. And I have fantastically escaped and can
breathe air, enjoy freedom. Can't be a Buddhist like Allen Ginsberg (who anyway gets more and
more rabbinical), or a Sufi like Doris Lessing. It would be a joke, silly to pretend. Could I
despise the drops of blood in my body? To deny my Judaism would be, for me, like denying the
gift of life. But I'm not a Jew, I can't be a Jew, because Judaism repels me as a woman.
To the rest of the world the Jew is marginal. But to Judaism I am marginal. Am woman, unclean.
Am Eve. Or worse, am Lilith. Am illiterate. Not mine the traditions of Talmud of Midrash, not
mine the centuries of ecstatic study, the questions and answers twining minutely like vines around
the living Words, not mine the Kaballah, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet dancing as if they
were attributes of God. These texts, like the Law and the Prophets, are Not-Me. I am not
allowed to study Hebrew. I am not allowed to be a scholar. I am not given access to the texts. I
am supposed to light candles in their honor, revere my husband and raise my children, cook and
clean and manage a joyous household in the name of these texts. What right have I to comment?
None, none, none. What calls me to do it? I have no answer but the drops of my blood, that say
Is there a right of love and anger?
I'm afraid: but it seems obvious, doesn't it. Everyone is afraid. Do what you fear. I don't know if
it says that in some text, but women have to run on hobbled legs, have to pray and sing with
throttled voices. We have to do it sometime. We have to enter the tents/texts, invade the
sanctuary, uncover the father's nakedness. We have to do it, believe it or not, because we love
him. It won't kill him. He won't kill us.