One of the most famous concepts amongst Jewish people is what I lovingly call Mispachology. The idea that someone you’ve never met or come into contact with before is, somehow, connected to you through a common link. Be it your pet’s previous owner’s, neighbour’s, sister’s cousin; anything goes!
A few weeks ago, I was sat on the riverbank in a random UK city minding my own business. Someone approached me asking if it would be OK for them to conduct a quick survey about some event that was taking place in the city that day. Having watched them attempt to convince six other people around me unsuccessfully, I felt it right to give her 15 minutes of my time after everyone else had dismissed her so swiftly. Chatting easily and answering her questions, the stranger thanked me and asked my name to complete the form.
“My first name is Selena with two ‘e’s and my surname is Chait – that’s C-H-“
“A-I-T! I know you!”
My mouth gaped open. My face must have appeared to be a perplexed picture-perfect moment.
She then continued for 10 minutes, explaining how she knew exactly who I was. I know my name is noticeably rare compared to something like Chana Cohen but each time this happens, I am still surprised. Most Jews, no matter what their background, level of observance or origin seem to be able to find common ground with one another. Isn’t it fascinating?
I used to hate the fact that I felt I could never be anywhere without being recognised. Sometimes you just want to escape and be a face amongst the crowd but for some reason, I could never just blend in. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I moved city for two years; I wanted to be unknown. My goal was to become an anonymous Jew. But rather swiftly, I realised that this term is an oxymoron.
One of the main reasons of my ‘fame’ is that my father was, and probably still is, one of the most famous chazanim in the country. People came from far and wide to be emotionally impacted by his singing. If you wanted a seat in our shul on Yom Kippur (which had more than 2,000), you’d probably have to call dibs on a chair by Rosh Hashana. Even though he gave it all up a couple of years after my birth, I still find myself withholding my surname when answering the phone in my office because I know people will be chatting to me for hours once they find out whose daughter I am. It’s not that I’m not proud of my father’s reputation, it’s that they don’t ACTUALLY know me; they just think they do.
For years, I hated it. If I wasn’t known for being me, I didn’t want to be known. I wanted to have the opportunity to build my own identity rather than being an extension of someone else’s. There are thousands of people who want to be known to be known – like the Kardashians; famous purely for being famous. But that’s not who I am and it’s not who I wanted to be.
For some time, I tried it; being a foreigner amongst the natives so to say. My surname was never mentioned and my birthplace was never brought into conversation. I enjoyed the peace in the beginning but then after some time, it felt lonely. It felt like I had no connection to people because no one knew who I actually was. That’s when I realised – Jews need Jews. We all need to feel that connection to each other because it sets us at ease to know that we share a link, no matter how crazy it may be. We get this sense of belonging and it’s strangely comforting.