Ever since I can remember, everyone always told me “You need to study, that’s the only way you can succeed in life,” or “If you don’t study, you’ll never get ahead in life,” and other things of that nature. But I hardly remember being taught about identity, belonging, isolation. Just try to explain that you weren’t even thinking about University, work, or the future at that time. I was busier asking: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? Important things about myself that I didn’t know. People’s questions are what leads them. Today I know this a little better.
I have a name, an address, and a peer group. I didn’t choose any of them, and they all became the basic ingredients in the beginning of my identity journey. You hold on tight to them because you feel these are some of the only things you can lay claim to. Losing some of them also felt like losing a part of myself, my identity. This must also be the reason why in grade school, when my teacher suggested changing my name into Hebrew, I wasn’t willing to do it. When I told my little brother, he said the same happened to him, and we laughed about it. We said jokingly that if we changed our names, we’d make it something that everyone knows and would make them laugh, like “Yossi and Shmuel.”
This point in time surfaced a lot of feelings, thoughts, and questions in me. A lot of keywords made me think about identity. Immigrant, Jewish, Black, Ethiopian, Ashkenazi. Some of my friends would call me Ashkenazi or say “Something in the way you talk sounds Ashkenazi.” It bothered me and I needed to tell them. When they said that, I’d felt like they said “Go away, you don’t belong here.” I have plenty more examples for points where I experienced identity crises. People who don’t know this will never understand this hardship, and those who do know, know how hard it is to talk about, since seemingly, each person experiences these issues differently. Some take it hard, and some less so. And I don’t want to be weak. So it’s “no big deal.” Sharing is part of a deep solution, even when you can’t see the problem.
Today I still ask myself questions about identity and other issues, but they’re less jarring than they were in the past, because back then I was able to realize many things. The most important realization being that I can create myself anew every single day, so I have no need to look for more. One more thing that helps me is to surround myself with people who give me the space to be myself, who know that you can ask questions and experience confusion. This is nothing to be ashamed of, they’re very legitimate and they need space. I surrounded myself with people who know that a person can change and grow. Each person is a world unto themselves, and can embody many identities, so there’s no need to ask them to change themselves to fit in, but rather the other way around. I hope we can better recognize the power of words, that we understand that every word from a friend, neighbor, family member, or even random people, can shake up another person’s identity. So I wish we can use kind words.