Miriam, Hagar and Me


Miriam’s roles echo in me. Like her, I am an older sister, a Jew, a teacher of children, a woman who has chosen not to be a mother. It has been harder, however, for me to explain the connection I feel to Hagar.

When was eleven or twelve, riding in my mother’s minivan, I clocked a puzzling bumper sticker: blue borders on a white background, it read, This Christian Supports Israel. What? I thought. I’d been taught that Israel was a Jewish stronghold, a last refuge in case the U.S. turned against us. At the same time, I’d spent my Memphis childhood avoiding Christian classmates’ invitations to Nativity plays and Vacation Bible School. The most vocal Christians I knew were more concerned with converting Jews than supporting us. How could those same people also want to “support” a country I believed represented us?

When I spoke my confusion aloud, my mother sighed and explained: Some Christians believe that all Jews have to move to Israel in order for their messiah to return and the rapture to come. To condemn us to eternal damnation. In other words, they wanted us to leave this place they’d claimed as theirs, go somewhere we’d never even visited, and be destroyed. They raise a lot of money, I remember my mother saying. How could my people accept any kind of allyship from people who would instrumentalize and discard us?

Not long after I saw that bumper sticker, I became a bat mitzvah…then, in September of my freshman year of high school, the Twin Towers fell, and my olive-skinned, mustachioed father started getting stopped every time we went through airport security. My father shaved. I started writing papers about the Patriot Act.