Julia Sherman '22
There’s nothing quite like attending an Episcopal school as someone who doesn’t identify as Episcopal. But it’s a whole different story when you’re not just ‘not Episcopal,’ you’re Jewish. Now, I don’t consider myself particularly religious. I don’t even consider myself particularly Jewish. I don’t subscribe to then entire ‘Jew-ish’ identity though; rather, I’m just a Jew. Well, I’m an American Jew: my grandfather grew up in Brooklyn, my dad’s a lawyer, and my nose is my least favorite part of my face.
For most of my life, I didn’t bat an eye at my Jewish identity. Not that I really comprehended the concept of religion or a higher power, but I didn’t start to think about my religion culturally or socially until I was around 11 or 12. I was in Hebrew school one day, and one of my classmates was telling me about her elementary school, which just so happened to be the National Cathedral School for Girls. But I interrupted her, looked her dead in the face, and asked “If you’re Jewish, why do you go to an Episcopal school?” My question was sincere, but completely inappropriate. Now, about five or six years later, I’m asking myself the same question. Why the hell DO I go to an Episcopal school if I’m Jewish?
When I entered in 9th grade, I heard horror stories from my brother on the other side of the Close. Gas chamber jokes, Holocaust puns, and photoshopped pictures marked his first two years at STA, all swept under the rug by either my brother or the St. Alban’s administration. I was prepared to enter the same sort of environment. Instead, though, I entered a different environment.
Instead, I get asked about the Israel-Palestine conflict a lot. I learned about the conflict once in geography last year, but that’s where my knowledge stops. But somehow, I’m always expected to have an opinion. That could be due in part to the fact that I never stop talking and giving my opinion on things, just another part of me that feeds into the American Jew stereotypes. Anyway, ask any Jewish person, and they’ll give you the exact same conversation about the conflict. Somehow, I always manage to get ambushed at the worst possible moments. Whether it’s in the lunchroom right after I take a bite of my dry chicken, or as I’m trying to rush from one class to the next. “Julia, is not supporting Israel antisemitic?”
“No…?” I reply, trying to not spur the conversation any further.
“Um, is it antisemitic to not like Israeli people?”
“This can’t be good,” I think to myself.
Before I’m given an opportunity to respond, I’m whisked down a conversational rabbit hole about the ethics and origins of Zionism, the war crimes of the Israeli government, and who Jerusalem really belongs to. As much as I wish it every night, I’m not the be all and end all speaker for Jewish people. I’m actually not the be all and end all speaker for any concept, unfortunately.
Don’t even get me started on the Israel-Palestine conflict government club meetings.
I’ve also been told on multiple occasions by multiple people that they hadn’t met a Jewish person before coming to NCS, or I was the first Jewish person they met. Hearing that really makes me feel special. Like I’m a unicorn, only if unicorns had brown curly hair and overbearing mothers.
There’s also nothing I love more than the Sacred Days email series. Every year, on about three occasions, I get emails from the NCS Religious Studies department with the subject Sacred Days, which are essentially just watered-down explanations of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, or Passover. I would appreciate those emails SO much more if I actually got those days off school. But hey, nothing says “enjoy your holiest day of the year” like make-up work in every single one of my classes and a butchered explanation of holidays.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being at NCS. I also love being Jewish. And I’m not the victim of constant antisemitism just by attending this school. But while Jews may be an anomaly on the Close, we’re not in the world. We live in DC for crying out loud. So next time you talk to someone Jewish on the Close, try and think before asking about the Israel-Palestine conflict.