Sisterhood Blog

On Becoming Sarah 'Is Anyone Here Jewish?' Seltzer

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

When I arrived last week for a writing residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I sat with my fellow new students in a basement room getting “oriented” and kvetching about the poor quality of the accommodations. But as we began to introduce ourselves and each other during a “getting to know you” game, I noticed a distinct lack of “witz” and “berg” and “man” as suffixes for people’s surnames.

Suddenly, I realized that I might be the sole member of the tribe — and I felt a whole lot more than seven hours from New York City. For me, a born and bred on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with extended sojourns in Cambridge, Mass, being that removed from a hub of Jewish activity isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

Of course I’ve been a minority many times before: teaching in the Bronx; studying in Ireland with a host of Johns, Patricks, Colleens and Moiras from small Catholic colleges in the Midwest; once on a hiking trip on which my peers played very, very competitive sports. And on the whole, I’d been fine, of course. But there had been an aching loneliness for someone who would echo my “Oy veys,” share my allergies and bat-mitzvah stories, and not keep asking me what my Christmas plans were.

I began asking a few new friends if they, or anyone they’d encountered on campus, shared my religion. Soon I might as well have been known as Sarah “Is anyone here Jewish?” Seltzer. Although I didn’t have any takers at first, my opening up about my religion helped others open up to me. I was told by two people that I was the first New York Jew they’d ever met. I began teaching my new friends Yiddish phrases, although I had to stop myself from peppering too much of my speech with the mother tongue — as I didn’t want to seem affected or exaggeratedly ethnic. I did come to notice that I use the world “schlep” on an hourly basis).

Of course, after a few days, I identified a few Jewish students in other classes, and a handful of prominent Jewish faculty members. Even a non-Jewish visiting writer, Richard McCann, read an excerpt from a story full of Jewish references and told us that he had flirted with conversion.

But by the time he read his story, a few days into the residency, I no longer felt the need to seek anyone out based solely on their ethnicity. My new group of friends, not a Jew among them, didn’t feel alien to me the way the soccer players and the kids from the small Catholic colleges had. They were writers, after all: verbal, and opinionated, and nerdy and interested in new things. They were urbane, without necessarily being urban. They interrupted each other and worshipped humor and culture. They were my people, too.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Richard McCann, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Writing

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.