PANIM my face, my identity


By Mara Reifman


I am what I do – is this who I am?

Am I or am I not defined by what I do?



It took me a while to decide what to write about in this week’s blog.


Myself? Nah, I already do that in my personal blogs. Life? Hum … boring, doesn’t everybody do that? Other issues occurred to me but they would have already been discussed here, some to exhaustion.


An issue that talks to my heart came to me, derived from a lovely conversation over dinner with a former lecturer of mine whom I hold in very high esteem, my chosen thesis examiner, one of my education gurus.


Tell me what you do and I will tell you who you are.


Are you defined by what you do? Doing needs to be defined here: ‘doing’ as in ‘work’; ‘my behaviour’ as in my actions; my status; my worldly possessions; men and women and their doings.


I am, in a way, what I do. Not my job, that is only a title. My work is what is important for me; it is, to a certain extent, how I define myself. “Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Mara and I’m a teacher.” I love what I do. I am passionate about it to the point of contaminating other people – or alienating

them. Engaging is the word most students use when evaluating me and my classes. But is this what and who I am?


Am I not the person who smiles as they greet passing colleagues or a neighbour or a friend? Is it my kindness to others or the fact that I am moody or rude that defines me? Is it my behaviour and my values?


Does my status in society define who I am? Am I what I have, the house I live in, the car I drive?


Am I seen by others as through my origins, who my parents were, my grandparents, the country I was born in, the family environment where I was brought up? What influence does my doctor mother and engineer father have in the way people see me?


And my marital status – single, divorced, married, re-married, de-facto? Is that how you see me? She is popular. Or. She is on the shelf. Or. She missed the boat. How do you see me?


Man and woman. Men and women. Is a man defined by what he does while a woman is defined by the children she has or has not or will not have? If one looks at men’s traditional roles in only 50 years ago, it would be concluded that man’s pride was derived from work in which they defined themselves. The sole breadwinners of the family at the time, men have had a long journey of trying to get away from the model of “protector, procreator and provider” as described by Friedman and Greenhaus (2000).


Have we, feminists, found ourselves yet, in this search for liberation and individuality? Or are we, instead of being an equal contributor to life’s earnings and children rearing, a simple slave of double shift work having to accumulate work responsibilities with homework and laundry and the daily slaving in the kitchen? All that while men are lost, forever trying to find out what their roles are now – neither here nor there, lost amongst our feminine and feminist quests.


Having said all that, religion, last but not least, comes to mind. Am I Jewish religious, ultra orthodox, secular, non-observant? How do the other layers who make me define who I am in the face of my religion? And how does my religion shape the other layers of my ‘panim’?


I do not have the answer. I am still searching – who am I, who are you?






Shabbat Shalom,






Deberg, B (1990), Ungodly Women, , Mercer University Press, accessed 24-10-08.


Kansas, L, (2008), ‘Men’ and ‘Mankind’ apparently not being defined by being Ambulatory Wombs,, accessed 24-10-08.


Friedman, S and Greenhaus, J, (2000) What Happens When Business Professionals Confront Life Choices, Oxford University Press, US,,M1, accessed on 24-10-08.


8 thoughts on “PANIM my face, my identity

  1. Not sure anyone knows how to define who they are.When I meet someone I tend to define them by either feeling a good connection towards them or I don’t feel that chemistry and feel apprehrensive about them.Its not what they look or sound like but how I feel inside. Which may seem strange! When I first met Mara I felt wonderful vibes she was just nice to be near and I felt comfortable. I actually feel the same about women and men not in a physical sense but emotionally, I need to get good vibes.

  2. Hi Mara, according to “Tania” the core thesis of Chabad – one’s actions is considered a ‘levush’ a garment; as are one’s thoughts and speech – so who are you – you are your soul – the five levels of your “Neshama”
    (yes i know one of the levels is also called Neshama – this term is also used collectively)

  3. Hi Mara,
    If you know you’re a teacher, then there’s a seperate entity that “knows”. If you can observe your happiness and sadness, then you are the observer (and the feelings are just feelings attached to the observer).
    We also shed layers of skin, replace cells in our body – and we are still the same person -therefore we are not our bodies.
    We can take on beliefs and discard them and still be the same person – so we are not our beliefs…
    There are an awful lot of things we are not…
    That leaves the observer, the Self.
    Unfortunately, the observer is covered with all these layers of habits, customs, beliefs and prejudices which blurr the observer’s vision.
    Still, when you remember to be the observer and not to yield to habits, customs, beliefs and prejudices – you can see more clearly.
    As a simple example – talk to an aborigine as an equal without prejudice, look them in the eye and listen without automatically discounting what they say – then you’ve transcended the Self above the prejudice.
    While this hasn’t really defined the Self, it tells you what the Self is not. The discovery of what the Self is not, is a journey to Self discovery.

  4. To all of you who added a comment to my blog, thank you for taking the time to read it.

    Shorty, this is a theme I find myself again and again writing about … There doesn’t have to be an answer but I keep asking the question …

    Ami, there are many layers/levels to what you are saying, difficult to explore it all here and now. What I’d like to add is that a good start to answer ‘the’ question is by finding out what ‘is not’.

    Esther and Louisa, I totally agree with your ‘vibes’ and I usually pay a high price when I don’t ‘listen’ to my instincts.


  5. Hi Mara

    A thoughtful and insightful blog entry.

    The notion of self appears to be an intersection on many fronts. Not sure if that makes up for individual personalities or not. Besides vibes, one needs to also be comfortable in one’s own skin so to speak.

    Was trying to find you on facebook but got this thought provoking blog on google instead. Good to have located you on this blog.

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