To be a Jew who sees a Jew

Necklace with Hebrew word Chai on itI grew up amongst Jews, and I don’t mean only my family. The students in my elementary school were predominantly Jewish, and I hung out with fellow Jews in the neighbourhood and at the Jewish grocery stores and bakeries where we shopped. I even went to synagogue for many years, and I studied all things Jewish right through university. I was immersed in Judaism way back when.

I’m still Jewish, as evidenced by my excellent challah-baking skills (FYI: brioche ≠ challah), but, besides my few local Jewish friends, there aren’t many of us in town. I am largely to blame for my isolation from the small Jewish community here. I do not attend synagogue or visit the local Jewish community centre. I once caught a film at the Jewish Film Festival. There is an annual Jewish film festival here.

I miss being part of a Jewish community sometimes, just like I miss smoked sablefish and blintzes for brunch and my grandmother’s chicken soup at Friday night dinner. So imagine my surprise yesterday when I spotted a member of my tribe entering the grocery store as I was exiting. I spied, with my little eye, a Jew.

How did I know the lass was Jewish? She was wearing a big Chai (pronounce this not like the tea but with a guttural ch) around her neck. This necklace screamed, “I am Jewish.” There aren’t a lot of Chais or Stars of Davids or other Jewish symbols to be found around necks in this city, so I was surprised by the unexpected sighting.

This young woman had her earplugs in and music blaring so she could see my look of surprise, followed by my lips moving, but she had no idea what I said. No, I did not caution her on the permanent damage she was causing her hearing. That was my inside voice. Rather, I said, “Chai!” which kind of sounds like “Hi!” if you, like me, can’t pronouce the guttural ch properly. Chai is not a greeting. It means “life” and is an important symbol amongst our type. Remember Fiddler on the Roof singing “To Life, to life, l’chaim!”? L’chaim commonly precedes a toast (not the kind with bread, but the kind with alcohol).

This young woman, who wondered why a stranger was speaking to her, stopped, took out an earplug, and said, “Excuse me?” I pointed to her necklace and said, “Chai!” (which again probably sounded more like “Hi!”) Then I said, in case she thought I’d said “Hi!” while pointing to her chest, “You have a Chai!” This was code for “You’re Jewish too!”

She smiled with understanding and wished me a Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday), which is how we Jews greet one another this time of year. The day we met, Sukkot, our holiday celebrating the bounty of the harvest, was ending, and another less familiar but no less important festival was soon to begin. We Jews are in full throttle holidaying this time of year.

That woman must have thought I was crazy. I am a little meshuga, as we say. But you already knew that. Meshuga + poor impulse control = Annie. I make no apologies for who I am, even though some days maybe I should.

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4 thoughts on “To be a Jew who sees a Jew

  1. You will have to buy yourself a Chai on your travels so we can see what the necklace looks like and so other Jews can know who you are when you are out and about if you wear it.

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