Living in a world surrounded by people that don’t quite share your beliefs, you find yourself stopping. Having to write from a perspective that is commonplace to you, but “other” to the person sitting next to you.
I write as a Jewish person. I write from that place of “other”. Usually, in a classroom, I am the only Jewish person.
Here’s what it means to write as a Jewish person in a non-Jewish Community:
It means rewriting your experiences to be understood
More often than not, I write two drafts. The first draft is for me. The second draft is for the reader. For example, I had to write about a summer experience for a class. I chose to write about Shabbat (the sabbath) at the Jewish camp I had gone to every summer for 12 years. The first time I wrote it, none of my classmates had understood what was going on. They would have gotten the gist of the piece, but there was some connection for my classmates who didn’t know what Shabbat is in the Jewish community.
This isn’t the hard part. The hard part is rewriting every. Single. Time.
It means explaining culturally specific words/holidays
When I went back to edit that piece for class I realized that most of the things I wrote about needed explaining. I spent a good chunk of time rewriting about Shabbat in a way a non-Jewish person could understand. I called it Sabbath, the day of rest, instead of Shabbat. I explained what the customs were and why we were doing it, both in the context of camp and in the context of Judaism as a whole.
It means writing to inform
This form of reiteration has provided me with a perspective: how do I write so someone other than me understands my point of view. These rewrites are not authentically “me”, there is always the subtext of education. Before the editing stage, there is an “understanding” stage of making sure that all things said made sense to people outside of that community. Writing for non-Jewish classmates has enabled me to think about context and information outside of my experience.
It means writing yourself as “other”
We all write things to be understood. The subheader of “Jewish” is an ever present part of me that becomes a source of commentary. Shabbat becomes more than this thing that I do. It becomes a difference between me and my classmates. By writing about my Jewishness, I become subject to the commentary of my environment. What my practices mean to non-Jews. How my classmates perceive me.
It means getting the chance to educate
As a person subjected to such commentary, my writing is a platform to provide perspective. The first draft is intended for other Jews that understand and relate to the experiences I have. The second draft is for the uninformed, the audience that I write for because of mere circumstance. The ability to think of myself as “other” allows a sort of educational drive to my writing. Shabbat becomes more than what I did, it becomes a way to let the unknowing in. I am able to teach someone about a different religion just by writing about the things I do in my daily life.
It means being empowered
My writings provide perspective. By writing from a perspective of being “other”, a lot of times I feel as though I’m able to add something for the person reading it. I contribute to their overall knowledge of Judaism through my experiences. I am asked questions a lot, further explanation, “what does this word mean?”, “why do you do this?”, etc. When I write as a Jewish person my writing becomes more than just for myself. And that is empowering.
Meet the blogger:
TAYLOR ELGARTEN is a senior at Hamline University who will graduate with a BFA in Creative Writing. She owns three cats, and will one day open a book and coffee “food” truck.