When I was a little girl the very first pet I ever had was a beautiful long haired black guinea pig named Samantha. I adored Samantha. Thought she was the best friend any girl could ever have. I chose the name Samantha for my wonderful best friend because the only black person I had ever seen was this cute little girl on Sesame Street-named Samantha.
Samantha on Sesame Street was really the only African American person in my life for a long long while. I went to all Jewish day schools from nursery on up and I don’t think there was anybody there but a bunch of white Jews. I had all white Jewish friends. I am pretty sure all of my doctors and dentists were white Jews.
But seeing Sesame Street Samantha taught me that there are in fact other people in the world out there besides white Jews. And I wanted to meet them.
My Yeshiva High School was VERY disappointed when I decided to not go to Stern-the big all girls, all Jewish college in New York. They were a protective bunch. They FIRED my 11th grade art history teacher because he showed us art that involved the Madonna. Not the one with the cone bra, the one who ended up with a pretty famous son. So they refused to send my transcripts to colleges that they deemed too non-Jewish (such as Northwestern...yeah I don’t get it either).
Yet somehow I manage to convince them that the 6,000 Jews that the University of Michigan housed would provide me with not only a top tier education but a Jewish husband as well (one of their largest concerns).
Ann Arbor was great. The big huge melting pot of people I had never talked to before, let alone befriended. It’s not like we sat around and sang Koombaya, but my best friends freshman year were an Indian, a lesbian, a hilarious blue haired boy and my future husband-a lovely Jew from Rhode Island. I took a class on all the world’s major religions and a REAL art history class (no worries Rabbis, my eyes didn’t bleed and I didn’t go jumping in the fountain in the Quad for an emergency baptism).
But I understand why everyone fought so hard to keep me contained. It is a big huge trust issue. You have to hope that all the Orthodox brainwashing (and I’m sorry, but whatever it was that kept me from eating the delicious looking pepperoni pizza at study groups has to involve some form of brainwash) keeps hold. You have to hope that all the love of Judaism you have instilled upon a person as they grow up will keep them loving Judaism even when their roommate decorates the dorm with beautiful Christmas lights. But in my opinion, protecting does not mean hiding them from the whole world. You can stay in a little sheltered region of space and time-but why would you want to?
I have all these grand “We Are The World” thoughts, yet here I am 7 years out of college and most of the people I know and hang out with are a bunch of white Jews. That’s just how it turns out. But I don’t want my daughter thinking that any person that speaks Spanish is named Dora.
To be fair my daughter has a bit more of an advantage than I did growing up as one of my fantastic bestest friends, happens to be black and happens to be among her favorite Aunties. So points there. I also have friends that aren’t orthodox, white or straight that she’ll get to know. So that’s good. But ultimately my daughter is going to be kept in her white Jewish day school protection unit as long as they’ll keep her because they are the ones in charge of the really good brainwashing.
So my hope for her is that she has the open mind of her mother. The desires to get out past all the pasty whiteness that I have entrenched her in. That she’ll see and want everything the world has to offer, all while remaining true to herself. If she wants to go to Stern I will not stop her. It is a wonderful school. My brother is currently in Yeshiva University and loving it.
But there must be a little of me in her because in the play room during services on Shabbos, she gathered up every Barbie of every color and had them all sit around her in a circle and started singing to them. And I am quite sure I could make out the beginning strands of Koombaya.