I have always despised people who insist that being Jewish is "just" a religion like any other. I hate their arrogance, I hate their condescending lack of understanding, I hate the fact that there has never been anything I could say to show them why they were wrong, other than to say "fuck you, you self-righteous cockwad," which is not exactly the best way to open a dialogue.
But what I hate most about them is this: I wish they were right. I wish being Jewish was something I could leave behind and never look back, the way some former members of other religions are able to. I wish I could just not be Jewish, ever, EVER again. I wish I could never have to identify with a culture of infinite self-pity and victimization that blinds us from our own victimization of others and causes us to try to justify blind hatred and intolerance towards Muslims or anyone Middle Eastern (as if Christians haven't historically been infinitely worse to us). Did anyone see the guy Anthony Wiener got into a shouting match with in the New York bakery? The guy who caused the argument by derisively saying "married to an Arab" while shaking his head?
Let's just say I wasn't exactly shocked to hear him say those words. After all, I heard them quite a lot growing up.
But I can't separate myself from that identity, no matter how desperately I might want to. No matter what I do, no matter what I say I am, a part of me will always be Jewish, and there is NOTHING I can do to change that. I haven't believed in the religion for well over a decade (since about, oh...15 minutes after my Bar Mitzvah, I think); the only word to describe how I eat bacon-wrapped shrimp is "vengefully." But even if I converted to hardcore Evangelical Christianity, I would always be a Jew. Maybe not in society's eyes, but in the little eyes in the back of my brain. I was told, when I was in Hebrew School, that people can convert to Judaism but never from Judaism. At the time I thought that was ridiculous, and that it was just a religion desperate for adherents trying to find any way they could not to lose more people. The truth — that they were absolutely right — is so, SO much worse.
That's what perpetual persecution did for us — it made us into something we cannot ever escape. Other people saw us as something more than a religion, and somewhere along the way, we became something more than a religion. Of course, the culture of self-pity and victimization, we did for ourselves.