Jewish educator Avraham Infeld asks, “Is it possible to be unified without being uniform?” Today, being a Jew can mean different things to different people. It can also mean different things in different surroundings or at different times in our lives. Zora Neale Hurston explores this idea in her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” in which she examines the times when she feels most “colored” as well as when she feels most herself. Over the course of the essay, she comes to the conclusion that the two are neither synonymous nor conflicting:
I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
For instance at Barnard. "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.
In this passage, Hurston refers back to a time before she “became colored,” when she lived in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, when she achieved the “unconscious Zora.” She contrasts growing up in Eatonville with her experiences at the predominantly white Barnard College and, in her essay, reflects on the moments when she feels most like herself.
Hurston's personal reflection on what makes her feel most authentically herself can be a way to invite students in Jewish settings to reflect on the same dynamic. When do they feel most Jewish? Is it when, like Hurston, they are thrown against a predominantly non-Jewish background, blending in with the majority non-Jewish culture, or when the "water ebbs" and they connect with members of their Jewish communities? Is Jewish summer camp or Hebrew school a place where they feel most Jewish, or do they feel that this part of their identity is most pronounced when they are “thrown against a background” of people unlike themselves?