Are you Jewish?

On Saturday night Nick and I went to The Cabooze to see our friend Erik play. I saw an artist-friend there and as I went to great her and give her a hug, somebody-it-seemed-I-should-have-recognized-but-didn't-recognize also greeted me, gave me a hug, and almost immediately proceeded to ask me what nationality I was. "Are you Jewish?" He said. "We weren't sure what nationality you were, and I thought you looked Jewish."

("Why?" I thought to myself? "Because I have a big nose? We'll that makes sense. All Jews have big noses, right? Of course! If I have a big nose, I must be Jewish." But that's not what I said.)

He had, in fact, used my nose as a measure for guessing my heritage. Interesting. I proceeded to tell him a little bit about my mixed ancestry, the condensed/bar version.  (For here, I can be a little bit more detailed.)


I have a big nose, yes. See? You can see my profile pretty well here, in this picture of me and Nick.

However even though I'm part Jewish, my nose isn't. My nose is my father's (thanks Dad!) and he's Sri Lankan, born in Sri Lanka. Let's see if I have a picture of my dad...

Perfect- here's me, my mom, and my dad at the cabin last fall. See the similarities? Of course in general, but also the nose in particular. My dad's nose is slightly more crooked than mine because he's been punched in the nose before... I think he used to box, just like Who's the Boss.

Sometimes people wonder about our last name (Schumacher) as it is not typically Sri Lankan. "So, you're Sri Lankan?" somebody might think. "Then what's with your name, and your nose?" Well, my family is Dutch-Burgher Sri Lankan. Our Sri Lankan roots go back to Deutschland, hence our German last name. My father came to this country in the 60's, where he met my mother and years later, had my sister, then me.

My mother is Polish. Her story is a little bit different.My Grandfather Chaim was born in Poland. He was raised in Poland along with his many brothers and sisters.On September 1, 1939 he fled to Russia (the Ukraine, to be specific.) It was there that he met my Grandmother, and they stayed in Russia throughout the war. Most of my Grandfather's brothers and sisters died in the war. At this point, I'm not sure how many (if any) are alive... but as I learn more about my family this is one of the areas I'm researching more. After the war my Grandfather and Grandmother returned to Poland, where they had my Uncle George and my mother. In the 1960's they moved the entire family to the states, and began a new life here. My father met my mother's brother, then he met my mother, my grandfather passed away, my uncle and grandmother returned to Denmark, my mother stayed here and the rest is history.

So, that's longer-than-the-bar-version-but-still-condensed-version of my family history... triggered in part by Saturday's interaction.

I'm not easily offended, in fact I've got a pretty dark sense of humor and will laugh at a lot of things normal people might not. So it isn't that this interaction offended me in any way... However, the interaction as a whole seemed funny to me, and not funny ha-ha.

My "jewishness" is a strange experience for me. When I was younger, I always just considered myself Polish/Sri-Lankan - American, because those were the countries where my parents were born, and America is where my parents became citizens, where I was born. It wasn't until I began investigating my heritage that I learned about the Russian/Ukraine, Dutch-Burgher and Jewish components of my ancestry.

If somebody asks me how it is that I'm Sri Lankan even though my last name is Schumacher I assume they're curious and will happily explain to them the intricacies of my unique heritage, of which I'm quite proud. However, if somebody asks me if I'm Jewish and it seems like they are only guessing that because I have a big nose I'll may just assume they're ignorant.

Occasionally when somebody does find out I'm Jewish, they'll ask about my history. "Oh wow, did any of your relatives die in the concentration camps?" It reminds me kind of when people ask about my family in Sri Lanka - When they find out I still have family there, they ask if any of them died in the Tsunami... As though it legitimizes my heritage to be tied emotionally to the tragedies of a particular people. It isn't that I don't want to talk about these things - I think we should talk about them, understand them, heal and learn from them. But the conversation itself can at times seem absurd. "Did you see that movie? Oh, I totally saw it too, it was great!"  "Did your relative die of some type of tragedy? Mine too, high five."

Then again, we connect with people all sorts of different ways. I suppose tragedy has a different way of bonding people, at least more than liking the same shoes. I guess one thing is just a bit more transparent than the other.