Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Life

On Becoming Sarah ‘Is Anyone Here Jewish?’ Seltzer

When I arrived last week for a writing residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I sat with my fellow new students in a basement room getting “oriented” and kvetching about the poor quality of the accommodations. But as we began to introduce ourselves and each other during a “getting to know you” game, I noticed a distinct lack of “witz” and “berg” and “man” as suffixes for people’s surnames.

Suddenly, I realized that I might be the sole member of the tribe — and I felt a whole lot more than seven hours from New York City. For me, a born and bred on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with extended sojourns in Cambridge, Mass, being that removed from a hub of Jewish activity isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

Of course I’ve been a minority many times before: teaching in the Bronx; studying in Ireland with a host of Johns, Patricks, Colleens and Moiras from small Catholic colleges in the Midwest; once on a hiking trip on which my peers played very, very competitive sports. And on the whole, I’d been fine, of course. But there had been an aching loneliness for someone who would echo my “Oy veys,” share my allergies and bat-mitzvah stories, and not keep asking me what my Christmas plans were.

I began asking a few new friends if they, or anyone they’d encountered on campus, shared my religion. Soon I might as well have been known as Sarah “Is anyone here Jewish?” Seltzer. Although I didn’t have any takers at first, my opening up about my religion helped others open up to me. I was told by two people that I was the first New York Jew they’d ever met. I began teaching my new friends Yiddish phrases, although I had to stop myself from peppering too much of my speech with the mother tongue — as I didn’t want to seem affected or exaggeratedly ethnic. I did come to notice that I use the world “schlep” on an hourly basis).

Of course, after a few days, I identified a few Jewish students in other classes, and a handful of prominent Jewish faculty members. Even a non-Jewish visiting writer, Richard McCann, read an excerpt from a story full of Jewish references and told us that he had flirted with conversion.

But by the time he read his story, a few days into the residency, I no longer felt the need to seek anyone out based solely on their ethnicity. My new group of friends, not a Jew among them, didn’t feel alien to me the way the soccer players and the kids from the small Catholic colleges had. They were writers, after all: verbal, and opinionated, and nerdy and interested in new things. They were urbane, without necessarily being urban. They interrupted each other and worshipped humor and culture. They were my people, too.

Explore

Most Popular

In Case You Missed It

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.