Monday, March 25, 2002


In years past, Pesach was a comfortable pitstop halfway through spring, a time of year when we gathered to re-enact ancient ritual, but mostly to eat macaroons, gefilte fish, matzoh, and complain about the constipation inflicted by the last. This year, everything is different.

Joshua Micah Marshall posted a couple of comments to his weblog here and here, about his aversion to the concept of multiple citizenships for an individual. He sees American identity as righteously hegemonic - that individuals who call themselves Americans should not have the right to place themselves at the beck and call of any other sovereign collectivity, that American citizenship is unitary and utterly unalienable.

I know that Josh is Jewish. I don't know his family's history, I don't know how much his day-to-day narrative builds on the older stories of previous generations in his family, and how much credence he places in those older stores. I don't know how much he identifies as an American, vice being a Jew. I won't comment on how correct his statements ought to be for himself - I'm no moralizing ghetto dweller believing in the sanctity of my own victimhood. But I am profoundly shaken by his pronouncements, because they are indistinguishable from similar protests made by prominent German Jews in the 'teens and 'twenties, about the perfectness of their Germanness. They possessed a perfect citizenship which many to the East desired who were by war or circumstance deprived of it. Even being Jewish did not collide with the Ausweis that said "Deutsches staatsburger".

And I am descended from German-Jewish refugees from Hitler. I sit now in a parlor furnished with odds and ends crammed hurriedly into a shipping crate in 1937, when such cramming was still possible. I am typing on this keyboard as it rests on a desk my great-great grandfather used in his house in Nuremberg one hundred and fifty years ago. Racked in a bookshelf two rooms away sit my grandfather's school-annotated Hebrew texts, published by the vanished Rüdelsheim press. When I go to services, I wear a smuggled tallis, and put on smuggled tefillin both made to order for my grandfather's bar mitzvah in the Erlangen schul in 1922.

As I approach Pesach this year, the very fact of the impermanence of my tenure in this land spits in my face. I don't feel secure in my Americanness. I don't feel safe with my white face and my brown hair. This year, unlike every year before, I am a Jew, andI am afraid. I'm not just afraid because of the blood libel bullshit some camel-jockey notional academic with a Potemkin degree published in al-Riyadh; I'm afraid because judeophobia seems to have seeped more deeply into the common Western consciousness than at any time since the Second World War. I'm afraid because Danny Pearl was murdered like a sheep at Eid because he was a Jew, and should I ever go to Pakistan or any of the two dozen Arab states in the Middle East, I would be murdered in exactly the same way because I am a Jew, and not a single person would raise their hands to defend me because I am a human being.

I think Jonathan is wrong. I think citizenship is tactical, and should be in the private interest of the sovereign individual. I'm glad I can get the British, German, Polish, and Israeli passports to which I'm entitled by national citizenship laws in those respective countries. I'm glad the option is open to me, should I need to flee as my grandparents fled.

My father was born in England in 1944. My mother, in Philadelphia in 1950. They keep their passports, bankbooks, and cash handy in a special place in the house. I used to think that was crazy and sad-funny. I don't anymore.

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