Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Politics in Conversation and Conversion

One thing that people comment on in conversation is that I don’t seem to have an opinion on <hot button Jewish topic>. Local, national, or Israeli, I will not be chiming into most non-Torah discussions the Jews around me love to have. That I don’t HAVE an opinion couldn’t be farther from the truth, of course.

I am an opinionated guy. I have an opinion on almost everything, and given enough information, can form an opinion on a topic quickly. The difference is this: I just am not going to share hot topic opinions with most people, and certainly not with those I only know casually. Note that this is generally true in most areas of my life, but is particularly true among the Jews who I interact with in my community on a non-regular basis.

“Why is that?” you may ask. The simple explanation is that I know how strongly and emotionally individuals can be about politics. Jews in particular seem to have an affinity for loud, vehement, and sometimes angry political arguments. That’s great! As I have mentioned before, I grew up in an ethnic Catholic household. I’m used to passionate arguments with lots of gesturing and yelling, and no hard feelings at the end of the night…most of the time.

The “most of the time” is part of the problem here though. When you’re an outsider, you can’t know enough about people to be sure the conversation will be a straightforward discussion which will be forgotten when it is over. Since my status is continually unsure, I know I can’t afford to upset the wrong people. Leaving the wrong person with the wrong impression is just asking for trouble.

Enter a conversation with someone I am acquainted with, but not much more: Perhaps this person hold grudges easily. Or doesn’t trust anyone who won’t side with Republicans, because they do what is best for Israel. (I lean slightly toward the left, as you might guess by my comments on DovBear or GodolHador.) Or just generally doesn’t like goyim. Either way, taking a stand on a topic they feel strongly about may leave them with a negative impression of me. If they have the ear of one of the rabbis on the va’ad that I don’t have a personal relationship with, maybe he gives me a bit of a hard time to make sure I’m not going to be a problem. I’ve encountered all of those types of people above, so I know they’re not figments of my imagination. I avoid the problem by staying quiet.

It’s hard being on pins and needles all the time. This is why the world of blogs is so appealing to me right now. It’s fantastically informative AND cathartic for me to vent some of my self out into the world of Jews. It does make me worry though because I feel slightly inauthentic when I am in situations where I feel I have to avoid topics entirely. I am a naturally quiet person, but I am not meek. What will people think when I start feeling more at home and start coming out guns blazing? Will they feel duped? I doubt it, but it something I have to consider.

So to those of you who have been reading and commenting on my blog, and the other fantastic Jewish blogs out there: Thank you! It’s helped me understand how my personality will fit and be received as a Jew.

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