A common occurrence for me:
I was lounging about before a meeting, shmoozing with several of the members. People around me were eating crackers, a no-no on Passover. Unfortunately, I hadn't eaten that evening and was feeling peckish. This, of course, led to my favorite pastime: complaining about Passover.
One wag asks, "Are you Jewish?"
"Ah-yep," I reply.
"Oh. Definitely wouldn't be able to tell by the blonde hair."
Oh, I'll admit it, I don't fit the stereotypical image Americans have of a Jew. My hair is straight and blonde, my eyes are some odd shade of blue-gray, my nose is petite, and my skin is preternaturally white. It's a curse, I know.
It's not that I mind not looking "Jewish" (whatever that is). What I detest is being subjected to the ignorance I hear when people think there are no Jews around. Conspiracy theories about 9/11, the threat of Zionism, the Jewish business acumen-- you name it, I hear it. There's only so much that one Jew can do to educate every moron she comes across.
There are amusing aspects to this, however. People with preconceived ideas about physical Jew-iness tend to suffer from the dreaded Foot-in-Mouth Disease. Take, for example, this little encounter:
During my senior year of high school, I was badgering a Chinese friend of mine to stop referring to herself as a "chink" because it made me feel uncomfortable (which is exactly why she did it... I have great friends). We stood arguing for several minutes when this freshman came up to us. With a bright smile, she shouted to me, "So, what do you have to complain about? You're a Nazi!"
My friend and I just stared at her, aghast. Slowly, I pulled out my Star of David/Chai necklace from underneath my shirt and held it out to her. The freshman's face flushed several delightful shades of red and her lips flapped soundlessly, much like those of a beached fish. Oh, dear.
I wasn't incredibly offended by this, just stunned. I realized that she was just trying to fit in with us and she must have thought the comment pretty clever before she uttered it. It also didn't help that I look like I've taken a flying leap out of the Aryan handbook. Her apologies didn't make me feel any better about the statement, just more embarrassed.
"Just watch what you say next time, alright? Most people wouldn't like to be called a Nazi, even non-Jews."
Poor kid. But I bet she'll never say something like that again!
Another interesting reaction that I get is when I tell people that my mother is a convert to Judaism. "Oh," they say, laughing, "so that's why you don't look Jewish." Hmm, yes. What people fail to take into account is that both blonde hair and blue eyes have recessive alleles. This means that both parents need to have the genetic disposition towards blondeness/blue eyed-ness. So let's stop blaming my mother for my supposed physical anomaly, alright?
Despite the trouble I get for them, I have no intention of changing my looks. When I look in the mirror, I see a mix of my mother and my long-dead paternal grandfather, which is never bad. There are so many other things to worry about.
So, to all those other Jews who don't fit the "mold," I salute you! Keep fighting the good fight.