Introducing the {J} Project

My first two years in College, I attended Medgar Evers College, where I took a history course. In class, the professor stated, Hitler was a Jew and the way he killed other Jews was the same as Black people killing others in Black on Black crime in Brooklyn. No one in class contested or questioned this. I raised my hand and asked if this statement had been proven. The professor said, Oh yes, it’s been proven many times, by many sources.

After class, I approached him about his statement again, and asked where I could find these sources. His response? Read Mein Kampf. You’ll find the proof there.

This professor did not know that I was raised in a secular or – like the options on the Birthright Israel application and in the JSwipe profile – just Jewish household. How could he? Unless he peered closely at the gold chain on my neck and saw its hebrew letters, there were no obvious indications of my ties to the culture.

Being ethnically and racially ambiguous comes with its own sets of questions, assumptions, and misperceptions. Of all the assertions people have made on where I’m from, I’ve never been assumed to be Jewish. Even after Drake. As a result, I’ve been in countless situations where I find myself in a conversation with someone who starts talking down about Jewish people.

In an event like this, I let the person finish before calmly mentioning that I’m Jewish. Then, there follows a familiar scenario of forehead crunching, eyes widening, cheekbones reddening,  and – if seated – awkward shifting of the glutes, accompanied by a gentle stammer, Oh I didn’t mean… But you don’t look Jewish.

What does it mean to look Jewish? 

Does it mean wearing a kippah? Fully covering arms and legs? Wearing a headscarf or a wig? Rocking a beard? Carrying a star of David around the neck? While these actions can be representative of certain Jewish communities, it does not encompass the full range of diversity that exists within the culture.

Not convinced? Here’s a photo of two of my brothers and I. Not incorporating any of the aforementioned items, not religious. Still Jewish.

Noah, Danielle, and Shawn. Two or More

I’m not sure why some people have a hard time understanding that there exists such a thing as Jewish people who do not fit the stereotype, in looks and ties to the culture or religion. But I do know that there are a lot of us out there, so I started the {J} Project.

The {J} Project

In the {J} Project, I feature people who identify as Jewish, but who according to others, do not fit into preconceived notions of what a Jewish person looks like. Participants are interviewed in a candid discussion on their ties to the Jewish culture. After our conversation, I photograph them and write an impression from our time together. The result might be a poem, prose, a transcript, or any other form of writing.

Do you want to be featured in the {J} Project? Or know someone who should get involved? Let me know!

Project title

In coding languages, curly brackets are used to indicate an object or value. I used this format to indicate that the project participants (the value in the brackets) are in fact Jewish, even though they might not be religious, and are often not seen that way.

I look forward to sharing the {J} Project with you!

Oh, how did the situation with the history professor at Medgar Evers College end, you ask?

I read through the first few pages of an online version of Hitler’s collection of dark hateful views on dark hateful views on dark hateful views, before I felt bile trickling up my esophagus and closed the browser window, deleted my browsing history, and restarted my laptop in an effort to cleanse it from the propaganda I just read. I also ran a Clorox wipe across it, then washed my hands, in what was perhaps an instinctive response to reading dehumanizing garbage. (I reacted similarly when I visited the slavery exhibit in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and read the heinous quotes people used to justify slavery.)

After the next class, I told the professor that reading this book did not prove Hitler was Jewish at all. In fact, it states that he never met a Jewish person until he was about thirteen years old. The professor mumbled something and walked off. He ignored me for the rest of the semester, and never said another word to me. I’m sure he would’ve loved failing me for the class, but did not give him that opportunity.

He still teaches at the college today.

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Want to be featured in the {J} Project? Let me know!

6 thoughts on “Introducing the {J} Project

  1. Addie says:

    I absolutely love this! Stereotypes are being shattered every day because people don’t look like what folks assume anymore. It will be awesome to see the stories you produce. I think you would love “telling kindred” by my friend Glenise. She is all about storytelling and inclusion.

    Old World New

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie Landa says:

    Hi Danielle….this is your moms friend, Julie. I am not sure how my sisters kids identify but her husband is black and I know their mom has influenced them very much.
    I am going to show them your blog…I hope you do not mind and perhaps they may participate.
    As for your professor…I am enraged. Thr last thing people need now is a racist….spreading lies. This is a scary time and we are supposed to look to professors for facts. I thinkbyou should alert the main office of CUNY. He is not fit to teach and if you want help with this….my other sister actually works at CUNYs main office. She is a writer and deals with the top administration including the President of CUNY. He should not be allowed to teach. He can be hired as a guest to lecture but teaching history that is false is a travesty!
    Please contact me if you are interested in letting CUNY know how you were treated by this liar, imposter…who should be ashamed of himself! Personally, it is obvious to me…that he is an anti-semite in the least…someone with an agenda that is not positive!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mia says:

    Dear Danielle,
    I can’t wait to read the interviews ! I think many people are totally unaware of their own prejudices and hurtful reactions. It’s time to educate them .
    Regarding that teacher, I wonder how this is possible in the US schooling system ! He should be fired ! Imagine how many people he is influencing with blatant lies !!! I am utterly shocked by this .

    Liked by 1 person

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