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by added on 19 August 2015, No Comments on ID , filed under Artistic Process (Israel)

It is important to note, however, that although religion was usually used to identify Jews, the Jews were not considered a religious group, but as an actual race of Jewish people.

“Are you Jewish?” is one of the most common questions I am asked in Israel by friendly colleagues and random strangers, alike. The first time I was asked, I was really taken aback. Whose business is it?  Who on earth asks that? Why do you need to ID me? More often than not, I am asked this question before a friendly “Hello” or “Shalom.” Identifying race and religion precedes asking your name, or caring to know it – as in the case of individuals who spark up conversation with the sole intent to ID you. 


Cycle of Abuse

Once a Jew has been ID’d, they’re classified by the Israeli Jewish community according to where their ancestors originated –  either from a Middle Eastern country (Mizrahi Jews) or somewhere in Europe (Ashkenazi Jews). (Hint: One of the two groups of Jews is considered inferior).  At first, I didn’t realize this was the reason Jews asked me where my grandparents came from.  I used to think there was a genuine interest to know my story (every Jew has a good – and usually sad – story about their past). But the moment I mention my ancestors’ country of origin, their attention span drifts off, and I never get to finish my story. Sometimes, they would interrupt and ask where my “other” grandparents came from – as though there was ‘still hope’. Then, with clock-like precision, the bell tolls and I am dismissed.  

Living in Israel has given me a real sense of what it felt like for a Jew to be identified in Nazi Germany, or France, or wherever Jews were removed from society as an inferior race.  In fact, the experience has been extraordinary. I now understand how my great-grandparents must have felt during the Russian Revolution in Rostov-on-the-Don, when they were betrayed by their own Jewish community, who stripped them of their wealth and health for an ideology that had, at it’s core, a transfer of wealth no different then the initiative that motivated Hitler.

A contemporary Jew, accustomed to living in a democracy that enforces a Charter of Rights, can readily acquire empathy for their ancestors by visiting Israel for three to six months. This is unlike any experience a Jew will ever have. In Israel, a Jew will be ID’d. Singled out, questioned, interrogated, categorized, and labeled. 

Arabs do it, too.  Except the thing I’ve noticed with Palestinian Israelis, they don’t ask right away. Often times they don’t ask at all. And while I truly appreciate that, it doesn’t give them a free ride. One evening, on the beach in Ashkelon, I asked a woman to take a snap of me. I didn’t look to see what she was wearing, or if she was Arab, Jew or whatever. In any case, she refused to do it. She looked at my iPhone for a good 30 seconds (at first I thought she didn’t know how to use a smart phone), then she said “No.” (It didn’t click right away – being Canadian makes you pretty dense in that sense.)  Without examining her attire,  I said, ‘C’mon… Please? I’m alone and there’s no one else to ask.’ Grudgingly, she finally took the iPhone from me and snapped the pic, then handed it back without a word or a smile. It wasn’t until I walked away that I realized by her head covering that she wasn’t a Jew. Damn. I’d been ID’d. Again. 

Ironically, it doesn’t feel any different to be ID’d as inferior or superior. You’re either subjected to feeling your not good enough for obscure reasons you can never change, or you’re handed an instant membership to a group caught-up in a cycle of abuse that uses racism as a weapon to oppress and humiliate others. 


How did Hitler Identify Jews?


In Nuremburg in 1935 the Nazis created a set of laws based on race. According to these laws the Nazis determined who was Jewish. It didn’t matter to them that many Jews in Germany considered themselves to be German. These laws were created because the Nazis believed that Germans were ‘racially superior’ and Jews ‘inferior’. According to the laws ethnicity not religion was the determining factor. Whoever had 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents was Jewish. If you were Jewish you were stripped of your German citizenship. Jews were not allowed to marry Germans. Carrying identity papers was compulsory. All Jewish women were given the extra name ‘Sara’ in their identity papers and men the name ‘Israel’.


From United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (

German officials identified Jews residing in Germany through census records, tax returns, synagogue membership lists, parish records (for converted Jews), routine but mandatory police registration forms, the questioning of relatives, and from information provided by neighbors and officials. In territory occupied by Nazi Germany or its Axis partners, Jews were identified largely through Jewish community membership lists, individual identity papers, captured census documents and police records, and local intelligence networks.


A paper by D. White from University of Toronto, titled, Anne Frank & Identifying the Jewish in World War II

The Nürnberg Laws enacted in September of 1935 were made by Adolf Hitler, and used by the Nazis to first restrict Jews in Germany to being subjects of the state, and forbade interracial marriage between Jews and non-Jews, as well as interracial sexual relations… In the supplementary decree enacted in November of 1935, a Jew was defined as “a person with at least one Jewish grandparent” (Nürnberg Laws). This definition was later changed to include anyone who had a Jewish spouse…So in defining Jews through the Nürnberg Laws, the Nazis were ready to begin the next form of identification through a census system.  All Jews were required to fill out a census. The information on the census included age, sex, religion, home address, type of employment, and number of Jewish relatives (Seltzer). It is important to note, however, that although religion was usually used to identify Jews, the Jews were not considered a religious group, but as an actual race of Jewish people

Note that Hitler also identified Jews by tracing tombstones in Jewish cemeteries.


Photo: Hagit Kazinitz, solo exhibit opening in Ramat HaSharon, July 15, 2015