According to my birth certificate, being Jewish is my race, my religion, and my nationality. I like to call it the “Kosher Trifecta.” While I speak English without any sort of accent, something about my my physical appearance must tip people off to the fact that I’m not third or fourth generation American, and I’m often asked where I’m from. I typically smile and answer “the former Soviet Union.”
“Russia?” they answer back with widened eyes. Before the current Russian fiasco, the questioning normally would have stopped there — but in today’s political climate, people want to know more. And the answer, at this time, is best avoided.
I was born in the USSR, AKA the former Soviet Union. More specifically, in Lithuania, like my mother and her side of the family. My father, on the other hand, is from Ukraine. My family was part of the first wave of Russian Jewish immigrants to flee the USSR and take refuge in our adopted country America. Complicated right?
So people delve further and inquire, “So are you Russian or half-Lithuanian and half-Ukrainian?”
“Neither,” I say, “I’m a Jew.” Which leads to further widened eyes, and typically a response of “being Jewish isn’t a race, it’s a religion.”
I must beg to differ. My Soviet birth certificate clearly lists my race, religion and nationality as Jewish.
You see Jews born in the former Soviet Union were considered a subpar race. Non-Jews had “Russian” stamped in their passports as their nationality/race whereas Jews like myself had “Jew” stamped, because unlike our fellow Soviet citizens we were not deserving of the label “Russian.”
So, who am I?
- I was born in Lithuania but would never call myself a Lithuanian.
- I speak Russian but do not consider myself a Russian.
- I’m a naturalized American citizen yet my traditions and beliefs often seem very “old school” for modern American society.
So, I am a Jew with a bit of a self-identity issue, one that seems to get more politically complicated over time. You could say I’m a triple Jew; and proud of it.
Who are you?