Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
This week, I’d like to focus on the self, not as the observer, but as the observed. Not when we felt comfortable enough to notice the difference in the other, but more the moment my insides pinch from when realizing everything we believe ourselves to be, is called into question. It is because in those moments that my identity has been threatened that I not only retreat inwardly, but fend off all potential opposition—losing not only myself, but connection to a community and lifestyle.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, teaches us that in order to reach the goal of the self-actualization, a person must feel comfortable in their environment and develop a sense of identity. This need, or the “esteem need” is bedrock of the human experience. In his work, A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow explores this need, and what happens when it goes unmet:
“All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, (usually) high evaluation of themselves, for self respect, or self-esteem, and from the esteem of others…the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, for independence for freedom.”
We need people to see us in a positive light, and we do things constantly in order to be perceived the way in which seems fitting in our own eyes for their eyes.
How difficult the journey when I am the stranger in a world that does not welcome me? How sad the setting that causes me to feel so estranged that my basic human need, values, beliefs and my very identity is lost?
In Genesis 21:6, on the surface, we read of barren woman without a child to call her own, but with a deeper look, we see a woman barren of identity, lost within an environment that belittles her for her inability to give birth. Sarah, caught in a net of self-estrangement and difference, cannot believe that at her old age of ninety that she would give birth.
“And Sarah Said: ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone that will hear, will laugh because of me.’ And she said: ‘who would have said to that Sarah could breast-feed.’ ‘For I have bore him a son in his old age?’”
In the social jungle of the human experience, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity. When I am incapable of adapting to a setting, I am left with few options or coping strategies. Some people laugh and some disengage. Some stay in the corner, and others leave, but here we learn of our Matriarch, a woman with enough confidence to leave her entire life behind for a new one, but loses herself when she realizes it is her who does not fit in.
As our world grows further apart and closer together, as we get thirstier for connection in a desperate kind of way, the opportunity is upon us to welcome in the other, to tolerate ritual and spiritual expression in its many facets. To proclaim loud, “I know you are different, but come closer…I’m different too!” For without doing so, diversity is rejected, and our Jewish identities will remain a far cry from being our own.
Pronounced: AHVR-rah-ham, Origin: Hebrew, Abraham in the Torah, considered the first Jew.