Jewish Journal

Not a Wandering Jew

by Tera Greene

July 8, 2010 | 3:04 am

Photo by Weenobee, Street Hiking with Nova Jade* (2008)

This past weekend, I spent 30 hours over three days celebrating my own personal Independence holiday, taking out my dreads that were five years in the making.  It was freeing, it was necessary, and my hair is so beautiful.  I feel like it was the coda in the symphony of precious years hence, wherein I have made so much progress, but have also felt as though my life was too effected by energies that, in hindsight, were probably not the best energies for my pure heart and soul.  Taking out my dreads has truly been a blessing.  As I am exactly four months away from turning 27 years old - G-D Willing - I also feel my blessing has to do with owning my Womanhood, which includes my visible Queerness, my unique Black experience, and my Judaism-by-Choiceness.

But shedding my dreads has also had me thinking about one poignant aspect of the latter:

I am NOT a “Wandering Jew”.

I used to think I am, and then the last couple of days since taking out my dreads Hashem directed me to really think - really think - about what the term “Wandering Jew” means, and how it relates to me.  Or not.

So, I began researching…

From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, wandering is defined as such:

Main Entry: wandering
Function: adjective
Date: before 12th century
: characterized by aimless, slow, or pointless movement: as a : that winds or meanders b : not keeping a rational or sensible course : vagrant c : nomadic

d of a plant : having long runners or tendrils

From thefreedictionary.com:

wan·der  (wndr)
v. wan·dered, wan·der·ing, wan·ders
1. To move about without a definite destination or purpose.
2. To go by an indirect route or at no set pace; amble: wander toward town.
3. To proceed in an irregular course; meander.
4. To go astray: wander from the path of righteousness.
5. To lose clarity or coherence of thought or expression.
To wander across or through: wander the forests and fields.
The act or an instance of wandering; a stroll.

Now, I don’t mind a leisure stroll, especially on Shabbas, and especially with someone you love; and being human, I lose my train of thought at times.  By the same token, I am quite nomadic in nature.  But, I am someone who knows what she wants, knows how to manifest what she wants because of clear mind and a direct-line to Hashem, and my direct course of action may change because life happens.  Things change.

I kept researching…

There’s a Brazilian Wandering Spider, a Wandering Jew Plant [common name for several creeping plants of the genus Tradescantia (including Zebrina ) in the spiderwort family. T. pendula is most commonly cultivated in window boxes and hanging pots. Wandering jew is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Commelinales, family Commelinaceae; The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008], and “wandering” is a term for those with dementia/alzheimers [It is common for a person with dementia to wander and become lost; many do repeatedly. In fact, over 60 percent of those with dementia will wander at some point].  There’s even a blogger and website called Wandering Chopsticks, which is home to Vietnamese recipes. 

In every aspect, wandering deals with creeping, irregularity, no purpose, confusion, and that’s quite unlike who I am. 

I’m terrified of spiders, I love plants and chopsticks, but wandering? Nah…

In the most negative sense, the “Wandering Jew” has most grossly been depicted in the German Nazi propaganda film, The Eternal Jew (1940), an antisemitic “documentary” with the title in German, Der ewige Jude, which is the term for the character of the “Wandering Jew” in medieval, and Christian, folklore.  (Wikipedia - Eternal Jew)

Why would anyone want to take on a term that was once depicted in such a slanted and skewed form?  Why would anyone consider themselves a wanderer, in any sense?  Spiders, plants and chopsticks wander, and the falsification of a group of Human Beings wander… What good does it do to brand ourselves with such terms that are not positive, not progressive in nature?

Which brings me to the ideals of “Wandering Jew” as it applies to folklore.  I recall hearing once the story of where the term came from.  The story was that of a local citizen of Jerusalem watching Jesus heading to be crucified who saw Jesus get tired on his home wall, and the local told Jesus to basically keep steppin’... and Jesus retorted back to the local to also keep steppin’... (and I paraphrase) “for all of eternity on Earth” until Jesus came back ‘round (people call it the 2nd coming). 

Now, I don’t know about you, but a) why would a Jew call themselves a term that had to deal with the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ (though, yes, Jesus was a Jew) and b) even if you thought he was coming back - hypothetically - is not that a Christian view based on the New Testament? I don’t know everything, but being a Jew, to me, has nothing to do with the New Testament. More over, I personally don’t believe that G-D is a punishing G-D, and though oftentimes I have gotten fed up with people and their selfishness and wanted to become a hermit, I don’t honestly believe that me or any Jew, or any person, is condemned to being a hermit, left to wander aimlessly. 

I do, however, believe that my role as a Jew is to go out and be of action. To be focused and to BE who I am and question things, lead and be of good example.  To live! To be a light source.  I found an article recently that was quite fascinating, found on Aish.com, which at the end stated:

As we embark on the various journeys that create the tapestry of our lives, it is important to remain focused on the exciting goals we are moving towards. In that way, with God’s help, we will find the strength and courage to stand up to the myriad of challenges life may present.

I’m not asking you to deal with G-D how I relate to G-D, nor do I believe that all who wander are lost.  Oftentimes wandering is healthy while you hone what it is you want in, and out, of life, and sometimes questioning your relationship to and with G-D is also healthy.  But just to wander aimlessly, or to adapt a life of going hither and thither with no direction at all, not knowing an inclination of what one wants in life, even slightly, is not only disruptive to those around you, but it can be dangerous to one’s self, especially in the case of dementia.  To wander, and to be a “Wandering Jew”, are terms that I am finding are offensive and backwards, archaic even, like the usage of the word “Gyp” to define when one has been shortchanged; or “Lame”, a term used by many - especially teens - when something is not cool.  Sure, we get thrown off course sometimes, and life happens totally not how we expect, but to cut ourselves short by labeling ourselves with terms that are not beneficial?  Well, that’s just not cool.

So, as I am being more apt to my sincere expression of my Womanhood, and challenging terms that I have even considered myself at one time, I behoove us all to rethink how we define our Being.  I mean, what’s in a name?  Instead of wandering, how about living life with intention, purpose and the vulnerability and humbleness of knowing that life can change on a dime, and that we are not perfect.  We owe it to ourselves as a Peoplehood to do our best and move forward with focus and faith. I owe it to myself as someone whose completeness, her Shalomness, is comprised of four major categories of minority groups to live without fear, but with a full grasp of clarity of vision, because wandering can only dilute my identity more than what history has tried to do already. 

I repeat: I believe in the adage “not all who wander are lost”.  But I also firmly believe that we people whom may consider ourselves as wandering may just have a lovely case of wanderlust, with spirits bursting with an energy and need to travel.  And that, my friends, is fine by me and so much better.

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Tera “Nova Jade* Greene is a professional lesbian of color and Jew by Choice.  She is a producer of music and film, a renowned DJ and always finds herself in the midst of...

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