At times, I have felt somewhat like Brendan Fraser’s character, David Greene, in School Ties. David grew up in a middle (maybe even lower-middle) class Jewish family in Scranton, Pennsylvania. David receives a scholarship to a prep school in Massachusetts, but tries to hide his Jewish identity from his new classmates. The movie is set in the 1950s and David faces severe anti-Semitism when one of his classmates (played by Matt Damon) finds out that David is Jewish.
I’ve never actually kept my Jewish identity a secret (and I’ve only faced anti-Semitism on a handful of occasions); but until relatively recently, I have kept my identity as a Karaite Jew somewhat private in religious Jewish circles.
In college, I taught Hebrew school at a conservative Rabbanite synagogue (with an Orthodox Rabbi) in San Diego. I never told anyone that I was a Karaite.
In law school, I helped lead a bus of Jewish teens through northern Israel after Israel’s war with Hezbollah. When I mistakenly heard “Shabbat Torah-ists” instead of “Shabbat Tourists” as the name of a Friday night program, I was teased: “Torah-ists!? We’re not Karaites.” I never told anyone that I was a Karaite.
A few weeks ago, I was at a Shabbat dinner at the home of someone I met through the Mission Minyan in San Francisco. A dinner guest asked me which synagogue I attended. I responded the way I usually do, “I go to a synagogue in Daly City.” She then asked, “What’s in Daly City? Aside from the Karaite synagogue.” I smiled and said, “That’s where I go.” We spent much of the rest of the night discussing Karaite Judaism and its philosophy. And it was wonderful.
I often look back and wonder how many amazing conversations I missed out on by keeping my identity private.
So for every time I did not say it and for every amazing conversation I missed, I say it now: I am a Karaite Jew.