"Claire" by Dawoud Bey, 2004

Dawoud Bey, Claire, 2004. Pigment Print, with interview by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister.

Image courtesy of Dawoud Bey.

Commissioned by the Jewish Museum for the exhibition The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography.

Claire Saxe Interview excerpts

My name’s Claire Saxe, I’m 16 years old.

My father is mostly Russian, and my mom is I think about half Russian, my grandmother is part Native American. She’s Ojibwe and lives on an Indian reservation in northern Wisconsin.

I’m not very religious. I think 3/4 of my family either is or was Jewish at one point in their life, but I’m not really religious at all. Whenever people ask what religion I am, I mention that parts of my family are Jewish but I’m not religious, but I think culturally I identify more with being part Native American than I do with being part Jewish. Which is interesting, because I’m such a small percentage Native American, but I think just because I’ve been to the reservation every year since I was a baby, I’m so familiar with the culture and everything because of my grandma, it feels closer to me than Judaism does.

In 6th grade I did research on Ojibwe religion, ‘cause when all my friends were getting Bat Mitzvahed and I was like well, maybe I can find something of my own. And it wasn’t really what I had sort of romanticized it to be, but there’s still something that it has been in my head all these years that I like, and I’m not really sure what you’d call that. I mean, I really like the idea of being connected to nature and your surroundings, and acknowledging the life of everything around us, and it’s sort of spirit and existence. I find that really comforting, you know feeling at home, and feeling like I’m not alone when I’m in a forest surrounded by trees, because everything around me is alive…

When I was about 13 and all my friends were getting Bat Mitzvahed I was kind of upset, and I asked my mom why she hadn’t made me Jewish when she had the chance. And I guess part of me does still want that a lot, sort of wants to have that identity, to have that part of myself more concretely. But religion now isn’t a part of my identity so much, because I didn’t have any sort of religious experience growing up. So I don’t think I need it, I’m not dependent on it. But if I grow up and find something that feels right, I think I would like to have that as part of who I am, and to pass on to my children, so they do have that. And since such a large part of my family and a large part of my ancestors were Jewish, I’d probably investigate that first. But it’s not something that I'm yearning for and that I need, because it's not something that I've had my whole life.

An excerpt from an interview with Claire Saxe, 2004, conducted by Dan Collusion and Elizabeth Meister, which accompanies the photograph Claire by Dawoud Bey.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Claire." (Viewed on April 18, 2024) <>.