Thoughts I’ve had lately as a privileged WASP with a new Jewish last name

It’s a strange time to have just become a Horowitz. In fact, it didn’t take very long, nor did we have to go very far for me to realize that, by taking a Jewish last name, I had stepped outside of my privileged WASPy box…

We went to Newport Beach the weekend after our wedding and the people at the hotel had no idea how to pronounce “Horowitz.” A name (or variations of) that has seemed to me to be as common as Jones or Smith in Los Angeles was unpronounceable and completely foreign to these people just 50 miles away.

I grew up, and currently live, in a thriving community of Orthodox Jews. Most of the kids in my junior high and high school were Jewish, which meant I had a super fun bar mitzvah season, Trick or Treating sucked when Halloween was on Shabbat, come the High Holy Days I was often the only kid in class, and my first and second loves and best friends are Jewish. In fact, I had no idea that Judaism is something like less than .2% of the world population — I literally learned that fact just a couple of years ago!

So you can imagine my astonishment when, as a teenager, a Family Member That I No Longer Speak To turned to me and said, “you better not marry a Black guy or a Jew.” (My boyfriend at the time happened to be white and Jewish.) And I had no idea what to say… I think I just looked at her and asked, “Why?” And the look she gave me was absolute astonishment — the answer to her was so completely obvious that she never did deign to give me an explanation.

One of the last times I saw that family member was the first and only time she met the man who would become my first husband. She pulled me aside and the only thing she asked after meeting him was, “He’s not a Jew, is he?” I laughed at the absurdity of the question, and told her he wasn’t, and why would she ask that. “Because his name is Aaron and he has a big nose.” (Oi vey. You can see why I’m happy to not have a relationship with her anymore.)

Well, my second husband isn’t technically Jewish either, but his father was and his last name is Horowitz. And now it’s my last name.

And that means our (hypothetical future) kid’s last name will be Horowitz.

And, after the events of this week, for the first time in my life my biggest fear about having a kid is not the physical pain of giving birth, or the mental anguish of the teenage years. I most afraid of bringing a child into this world full of people who already hate them, just based on a name and a heritage that, honestly, I don’t even know how much they’ll really even identify with. Because despite being a Horowitz, our child will only be a quarter Jewish.

But those people marching in the streets and carrying torches and Nazi flags won’t care. They’ll see a little curly-haired kid with the last name Horowitz and, like The Ghost of Relatives Past, that’s all they’ll need to think of our kid as “less than.” The children of those people at that Nazi rally will bully my kid at school. And they’ll get funny looks from Other Relatives People Don’t Speak To when they introduce themselves. And maybe they’ll get the shit beat out of them, or killed, when they show up to rallies to say that, Hey! Maybe their existence shouldn’t be discounted and vilified by people who are afraid of traditions and cultures they don’t understand, or care to learn about.

And when our child grows up and this shit is still happening — this racism and anti-Semitism and hate is still being normalized — that Horowitz kid is damn sure going to notice THAT. And they’re going to notice it in a way that the Tharpe or the Finley kid wouldn’t. Because, while those fictional WASPy kids of mine would probably watch the news and say “that’s terrible,” and it would probably make their hearts sick the same way it makes mine, it wouldn’t make them actually question whether or not they should leave the house that day… Or if it’s safe to travel to the South… Or wonder about whether they should put their name on their mailbox… Or consider changing their name completely.

When I changed my last name to Finley the only thing I thought about was the annoying paperwork. When I changed my last name to Horowitz I thought about the emotional weight of all the people before me that had this name — all the people who had to die because of this name, that had to fight for years to survive with this name.

I didn’t take it on easily, and I’m still not taking it on easily. Especially now, as I see Nazi salutes in the streets of Virginia. Or see my friends posting photos of the anti-Jewish graffiti they woke up to while on their vacation in Maine. Or watch the hostess in Georgia, with the Southern accent that sounds just like my racist family member, do a quick double take when I give her my last name. It was ever-so-slight and I wonder if Mike noticed it. And I wonder if our kid will notice it. Because this privileged WASP, who’d never seen it when she was Megan Tharpe or Megan Finley, can’t un-see it now.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts I’ve had lately as a privileged WASP with a new Jewish last name

  1. kimmy

    I’ve had the flip of this my whole life – A WASPy last name and Jewish identity, and it took a lot of time and chutzpah to stand up to those WASPs who thought I was one of them to not only let them know that I wasn’t, but that it didn’t matter. But it did matter to a lot of them. Xenophobia is real. Anti-semitism is so real. More grateful than ever for this beautiful LA bubble and pray that it just keeps expanding with conversations about tolerance like this.

    1. Megan Finley Horowitz Post author

      I feel like America is kind of getting that super-hurtful “Jew in WASP’s clothing” treatment that you got your whole life. We’re ALL getting to see the hate that’s always been, just being hidden behind dog whistles and family secrets.

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