By Jamie Bornstein
I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire. Jewish. But “Jewish” was a word that you whispered. Even at home.
“Charlotte is such an incredible interior designer. She’s Jewish [deeply whispered]. She did the Goldberg’s house, and it’s so creative.”
It’s not that we were not proud of who we were. In fact, we were deeply proud. It’s just that…being Jewish…it felt incongruous with the outside world. It’s not that it felt dangerous…but it did not feel safe either. It felt very…other.
It was so ingrained in our consciousness to whisper. In fact, I’ve seen family members whisper “Jewish” in completely Jewish contexts…like, in a restaurant…in Jerusalem. It’s in there. Really deep in there.
Not feeling like the other is a really hard thing to do when you’ve been conditioned to feel as such.
In some ways, more than actually being the other, I think we othered ourselves.
I think I rebelled against being the other. I decided that being the other sucks; that I could be what felt right and positive, and that I could actualize that which was inside, fully vocalized, audible and proud.
I guess I came out. Big time. I’m a flamboyant Jew – because screw you otherness! I’m happier this way!
Luckily for me, I have a supportive and proud family. I live in a generally tolerant part of the world. I’m safe. And in the scheme of things, I did not do anything that radical.
Still, I tasted otherness. I tasted what it felt like to hide. I internalized what it meant to be one thing in the home and another thing on the street.
Years later I whispered about my mental health condition; about my anxiety and panic attacks. Once again, I othered myself. And once again, I decided that being the other sucks.
Every single day we whisper something about ourselves, and every single day we interact with someone who is whispering. And those whispers…they are the seeds of angst, fear, confusion, depression, and worse.
It’s hard to stop whispering, but it’s necessary. A soul yearns to call out; to sing its song. A stifled soul becomes sick, and withers.
Speak a little louder. Speak loud enough so that you can hear yourself. And then a bit louder. And one day, sometime soon, others will hear your voice too. And on that day they will see you, and you will feel proud.
Jamie Bornstein is the founder of Mental Health Safe Space. He lives in Sharon, MA with his wife and three children. He is the Senior Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, North America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.