Friday, August 5, 2011

You Belong Here

So, here's the background: my gym membership is expiring pretty soon and I've been thinking about looking elsewhere. One place that I am very interested in is the Jewish Community Centre, even though I hadn't set foot in it since I was in daycare there (if that phrase even applies; I think I was brand new when I was in daycare there). I'm mostly drawn to it because I'm interested in getting in touch with the Jewish community (as you probably have read already) but I'm a little weary to just jump into a synagogue, mostly because I don't speak a word of Hebrew and always feel lost when I'm at a synagogue. Anyways, so yesterday I went to drop into the JCC to see what the fitness centre is like (it's gorgeous, by the way).

I've also been reading Dreams from My Father by now-President Barack Obama (who celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday!). I'm only about halfway through, but I can say for sure that it's stunningly honest and wise and inspirational. A definite must-read. I've also found it interesting thinking of a few things while I've been reading. The first is wondering if the Barack Obama who wrote the book (it was first published in 1995) would have imagined that he would become President of the United States thirteen years later. I also wonder how he negotiates who he was when he wrote the book with who he is now. The other thing that has been kind of central in my mind while reading it is wondering how many other Presidents or presidential candidates would feel comfortable baring so many of their experiences in the way that he has. For instance, the book talks about his high school and college experiments with drugs, sleeping in an alley in his first night in New York City and some comments that he was ashamed of. I guess I just don't see a lot of them baring all in that way (though that comment is made from a very uneducated perspective - they may have and I just don't know about it). I suppose I also really like it because it doesn't feel laced with rhetoric. To me, it's a really authentic telling of how he got to be where he was at that point in 1995.

I also like it because it is a chronicle of a search for a personal (ethnic) identity that is "mixed" (I use that word cautiously; I just don't know what else to say). Barack Obama is, as many are aware, the child of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father. I also recently read a great book called Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker; who is the daughter of a black, famous feminist mother (Alice Walker) and a white, Jewish father (both American). I suppose that, as the product of a "mixed" marriage myself, I recognize these questions of "who am I?" and "where do I fit?" in these memoirs.

I do think that now it doesn't matter so much that I come from a mixed ethnic background. Damn near everyone else does anyways, but I suppose that for me it has been a somewhat poignant fact of my life. I also think that I'm drawn to the Jewish half of me because there are lots and lots of people in this world (and even in this country and this city) who would have preferred it if all of the Jews just didn't exist anymore (a synagogue in Toronto was vandalized last night or today unfortunately, much like Jewish sites in Calgary were about a year ago). Perhaps the thing that makes these questions of "mixed" identity important to those of us who ask them is that the "halves" are linked to oppressed minorities.

However, the interesting thing that I really wanted to mention is that when I was putting Barack Obama's amazing book away, I caught a glimpse of my receipt from my dropping in to the JCC. At the bottom of the receipt is their slogan: "You Belong Here". The logical part of me says that it's a coincidence, but I definitely felt like the universe or God or whatever was trying to tell me something. And at worst, it was still a nice, comforting coincidence.

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