Dropping the “K Bomb”

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.


Filed under K Bomb, Mission Minyan, School Ties

6 Responses to Dropping the “K Bomb”

  1. British Karaite

    Beautiful piece. I’ve almost been “in the closet” regarding my Karaite beliefs, since I was brought up and still live in an Orthodox community in London. I wouldn’t think I’m actually a Karaite Jew, per se, but I definitely closely relate to many Karaite principles and practices – namely, the position on the oral law and prostration during prayer. Nevertheless, I proudly tell everybody about my Karaite beliefs everywhere that I go. It sometimes comes across quite confrontational, even though I don’t intend it to, and I love being approached by the Lubavitch guys to put on tefillin just so I can respond with “thank you guys, I appreciate it – but I’m a Karaite.” Most of the time, I get very interesting conversations out of it and make a lot of people think, I’ve even had many friends of mine following the same Karaite footsteps as me. Other times, I’ve been called a heretic and got into many arguments…but the evidence is always in the Karaite favour so I don’t shy away from them.

    I pray for the day we have large and unified Karaite communities outside of Israel, and especially in London – with bet knessets, schools and all.

    Thanks for the blog, keep writing!

    • Ella

      Hi, I’m London based and looking for a Karaite synagogue. Do you know of any meetings at all? It’s very difficult to find any when I search online. Thanks, Ella

  2. The complexity and beauty of the various strands of Jewish beliefs and praxis that have woven, and still continue to weave Judaism, since its inception up to the present day – is often not known or appreciated by the majority of Jews – who, unfortunately, do not realize that Judaism never was, and never will be a single rigid monolithic belief. Consequently your hesitancy to share your true beliefs in your earlier years is hardly surprising, – as the more liberal and informed acceptance of Jewish beliefs that do not fall within the boundaries of mainstream Rabbinic based Orthodoxy is a recent mind shift within the community. Thank you for sharing your fears, hopes and aspirations.

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