I only go to one bar mitzvah, and it isn’t my own. I wear a yarmulke for the first and last time. I spend three days learning Yiddish on Duolingo and give up. I’m pretty sure I use the word “spiel” wrong. Sometimes, when the men on the corner ask me if I’m Jewish on Fridays, I say no, because—I promise myself—I’m late for class. I can’t remember how to dance the hora, but I listen to “Hava Nagila” while I brush my teeth. I still don’t know whether to pronounce the “anti” in “antisemitism” as “ant-eye” or “ant-ee.” If somebody asked me to explain Sukkot, I would run away. I try to write about my Jewishness and the page stays blank. I’m a mediocre dreidel-spinner. I hate that I can’t control myself around chocolate gelt. At my worst, I am quiet when people say things about Jews. I sit and listen and get a funny feeling in my gut, like somebody is punching me very slowly. Late at night, I listen to klezmer and dance in front of the mirror and tell myself I am the man in William Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe.” I often wish I played the clarinet. I go to Shabbat dinner once, but not twice. I don’t know what I think about any of the things I’m supposed to know what to think about. I tell people I’m Jewish, then say, “Well, just my mom.” A friend asks me whether I went to Hebrew school as a child, and I say no a little too quickly. My college puts on a production of Bad Jews, by Joshua Harmon. I don’t go. I tell myself it’s because I am a bad Jew, because I don’t want to see a play about myself. Eventually I realize that I didn’t see Bad Jews because I don’t believe in them, at least not in the capital-b sense. I go to Ancestry.com with my older brother and learn about all the places the grandparents of my grandparents lived, all the places they could no longer live, all the places they went. I eat so much gelt. I write. I start learning Yiddish on Duolingo again. I learn how to say, “I am.” I learn how to say, “This is a hotel.” I learn how to say, “Yes or no?” The owl congratulates me. I tell it, “Hello.” I tell it, “Goodbye.” I consider telling it, “I am Jewish,” but I realize that I don’t know how. This is okay: I am because I am because I am. I dance to more klezmer music in the mirror. I am not a poetic speaker. I am not a figment of William Carlos Williams’s imagination. I do not belong to his tiny world of plums and wheelbarrows. I am not a bad Jew. I am not a Bad Jew. I am, and I am good, and I am.

Xavier Blackwell-Lipkind studies comparative literature at Yale and serves as managing editor for the Yale Literary Magazine. His writing appears or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Gulf Coast, Five Points, and West Branch.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore