a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Go Fund Me?

Posted on: May 17, 2016

Me in Jerusalem 2012 -Photo is Property of Erika Davis

My first day in Israel 2012

This is the last post I will write about my upcoming learning trip to Israel and my Go Fund Me Campaign. Afterwards, just my own thoughts about life and Judaism and anticipating going back to Israel.

So while I have you, assuming you’re still reading, I will take this moment to plead, beg, encourage, ask that you make a $18 (or any amount you’d like) donation to my Go Fund Me Campaign and in the notes tell me how you found my blog.

Through the years (Almost 6!) I’ve met folks who were interested in becoming Jewish. Who were queer and not sure they could be Jewish. Folks who were people of color not sure they could be Jewish. And a few of ya’ll were black and brown queer folks just happy to meet another black, lesbian Jew.

I’ve used my blog to help people who are Jewish & have a space to see themselves reflected in Judaism. I’ve tried to educate readers who are Jews by birth and perhaps not familiar or comfortable with the idea of Jews being people of color by looking at Torah and pointing out our historical racial and ethnic diversity. But I’m no Torah scholar and while I won’t leave Pardes after 3 weeks a Torah scholar, I will come out more learned in Torah and Talmud.

It’s this desire to learn that drew me to Judaism and it’s this desire to continue to share our rich ethnic and racial diversity that drives me to continue this work as a Jew.

Thank you for reading and if you’d like to make an investment in my Jewish education you can do so here.

 

Jewish Nose

Posted on: May 16, 2016

Today as I was exiting my commuter bus in Tacoma I noticed a woman who read Jewish to me. She was a white woman with her hair covered. She wore a skirt that reached her mid-calf and opaque tights and flats. The neckline of her shirt covered her collar and the sleeves reached her wrists. It was her clothing, rather than her skin color, that pegged her as Jewish to me.

So I approached her.

“This may be weird and invasive, but are you, by chance, Jewish?”
Her: “No, but I guess I have a nose like a Jew.”
Me: “Umm, I was just thinking of your covered hair and longer skirt, but. Okay, have a good day!”

I walked away quickly pretending to text someone and as I got to the parking garage I realized that was clutching my Magen David. I realized that I never encountered such micro-antiSemitism.

Racism? Sure.

Homophobia? My 28th birthday.

Sexism? Life?

But, I realized that I hadn’t had anti Semitism directed (indirectly) at me before. I presume the woman didn’t think I was Jewish, because if she thought I was she wouldn’t have responded as such, right? I’m used to being an invisible Jew in Jewish spaces, but to my memory this is the first time that a person felt comfortable saying something bigoted to me about Jewish people because they presumed I wasn’t “one of them.”

It feels uneasy and a bit unsafe.

Heading to Pardes This Summer!

Posted on: May 11, 2016

15 days ago I launched a Go Fund Me Page to help with my travel expenses to Israel this summer.

If you’re a regular BGJ reader then that may sound familiar. It’s kind of crazy to think that it has been almost 5 years since my last trip to Israel. And it feels like it just happened. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. Unlike the last time, I’m not going on a trip that is laid out for me with stops along the way at scenic views or areas of historical interest. This time I’m going with my big girl pants on, my first trip solo for the purpose of gaining a better grasp of Jewish texts.

My last few posts about Judaism have been about the disconnect that I’ve been feeling; a disconnection with the faith that five years ago I was so enthralled in feels a bit distant. It’s not foreign, we did host 17 people for Pesach this year and leading was sort of like getting on a bike after a decades long hiatus. I started off a little wobbly, unsure of the language, the content, the heart of the seder and by the end I felt it, my Judaism, pulling tugging at my heart strings.

If I’m going to be the Jew that I want to be, I’m going to have to work at it. And what better way to work at it than to fly across the ocean to the Middle East and spend three weeks learning Jewish text?

I’ll be doing the summer session at Pardes and so far that’s all that I know. I don’t know where I’ll be living, really. Or even how I’ll get from the airport to Jerusalem. I don’t know anyone who will be studying there when I will be, although another amazing Jewish leader of Color, Tony, will be studying at Pardes for the year and has his own Go Fund Me Campaign going to help out. (Go give him some shekles!). I’ve never been anywhere other than home for longer than 10 days and I’m not sure that I will actually like it. And I would be telling a bold faced lie if I said I wasn’t a teeny bit concerned about going to a place so continually fraught with conflict. Not to mention leaving my wife for almost a month.

But, there is this … pull. A pull for better connection to Judaism. A pull to be fully surrounded by and immersed in Jewishness. The desire to be in a Jewish country that runs on Jewish time. The desire to work on myself while I work on my Jewishness.

And then there’s the work.

I want to make an impact on my Jewish community, and I hope that my education this summer will help further that work.

I’m only writing this one post (okay, maybe one more) asking folks to consider investing in my Jewish education. If you have the means, please take a moment to click over to my Go Fund Me page (don’t forget about Tony’s) and make a donation of $1, $18, $36, $54. If you can’t, please consider sharing this post with a friend, rabbi, Jewish institutional leader, or family member who may be able to.

If you want to read about my first trip to Israel, check out this post, this one, this one and this one.

 

 

Coming Down

Posted on: May 8, 2016

Convening participants were asked to write answers to the question "Why are you here?" Photo by Erika Davis

Convening participants were asked to write answers to the question “Why are you here?”
Photo by Erika Davis

Hello, Readers.

Many apologies for my completely non-existent blogging over the last year or more. As many of you know, many things have happened in my life which has made blogging take a bit of a back seat.

And then I went to the Jews of Color National Convening in NYC (after helping to plan and organize it for the better part of the year). I met several people this blog introduced me to and met several others who I’ve never met, but who know me because of this blog. And I decided that it was important to pick it back up. I’m not sure how frequently, but it’s a goal.

So, the Convening.

As I said, as part of my work with the Jewish Multiracial Network I did a lot of the organizing for the workshops of the #JOCConvening. To say that is was a labor of love is to put it lightly. If I’m keeping it 100, and this is my blog and I can do and say what I want in this space, I was extremely nervous going into it. The organizational process was difficult. There were many emotions and feelings flying around and at my fellow organizers because we were and are so passionate about the work that we do. To say that my organizational style is fiery is again an understatement. It was at time furious and ferocious and it was all out of 100% passion, devotion and love for the JOC community I hope to represent as a Board member, volunteer and organizer. And I had to come to the realization that while both organizing sponsors shared a same fiery passion for our constituency and the Convening, that we are very different organizations. And that’s okay.

That difference led to differences in opinions at times and also to a Convening that probably wasn’t exactly how we’d planned, but that worked because of that.

The Convening was able to bring together Jews from across the spectrum of political and religious perspective. It was able to bring together Jews who looked like me and Jews who I had to do a double take at because they seemed pretty white to me. I had to balance my desire to have space I deemed just for me with the realization that folks needed the same space, but weren’t just like me. And I felt a perpetuating and persistent sadness. That sadness is where I’ll focus this blog, since I’m writing about other aspects elsewhere.

The sadness was unexpected, I suppose, because I have been so … purposefully disconnected to Jews and my Judaism here in the PNW as a matter of survival and sanity. Despite the anxiety I felt walking into the space as an organizer, nothing can compare to the sense of home and homecoming I felt seeing so many black and brown Jewish faces in one Jewish space. It felt incredibly fulfilling and incredibly soul filling to be embraced in a hug by black Jewish women who in those embraces felt like they could be my mother or aunt. The feeling of saying my truth in a session and having two dozen black and brown faces nodding their solidarity and understanding. The feeling of being in a session and hearing those familial “church lady sounds”, loving affirmation; mmhmms, “say it”, “tell it”, “yes.” The feeling of not shying away from the louder “blacker” parts of my self and instead fully coming into my skin again as a loud, fierce, black, lesbian Jew. It was that feeling of coming into my full black Jewish self that I felt the penetrable sadness.

And despite what my friend Chava thinks, the tears didn’t come for me until I sat on a plane from LAX to SeaTac airport. I didn’t realize that here in the PNW I had had divided myself into identities; female, black, Jewish, lesbian dependent on spaces that I was in. And that in doing so, I haven’t truly been my authentic self. I realized that for three days I was my authentic self and I remembered what that felt like. I realized, once again, that I had taken for granted the wonderful spaces that I was able to occupy in NYC as my full self and that I did a huge disservice to Jews and potential Jews who reached out to me on this blog about the enormousness that is simply being our authentic selves as Jews of Color.

So I’m slowly coming down from the high that was the best parts of the Convening. Those moments when I sat next to another black, lesbian Jewish doula in a session and we saw one another. The moments when a woman stopped me in my tracks to make sure that I was okay. The moments around meals where I saw myself reflected in the folks besides me. And in those moments where folks asked, how can I do this if I am literally the only one in my community.

I don’t have the answer.

But I have goals. I am even more determined to make my Jewish home in the PNW an inclusive and diverse one, even if I am the diversity because our Jewish communities look like me and my family and we need to be validated in our Jewish spaces. I am determined to get more Jewish education and to make myself more of a vessel for greater diversity awareness in the Jewish communities of the PNW. I am determined to open my home for Shabbat meals and holidays and to bring Judaism back into our home.

To folks who are new to my blog and are wondering if you’re the only black Jewish person in the United States, I can honestly tell you that you are not. I can also tell you that I understand fully how it feels to be the only one. And I fully recognized that in your own Jewish spaces you may be the only one. And I can tell you that I met 140+ black, brown, and beige Jews and they promised to have my back. Which means they have your back, too.

 

 

All Hail Queen Bey

Posted on: February 9, 2016

Dear White People:

Beyoncé’s new “Formation” video is for you. There’s an article going around saying the opposite, and for very valid reasons, but as a black woman I would like to formally invite you to have some ownership over the “Formation” Video, under a few simple conditions.

beyonce-middle-fingers

  • Do not shy away from it’s unapologetic blackness. See it. See how Beyoncé owns it, claims it, loves it, honors it, flaunts it, raises it up.

For generations black people, and black women in particular, have been told that we are not beautiful. Our kinky hair is not beautiful, the dark shade of our skin is not beautiful, our full hips and large asses are not beautiful, our full lips are not beautiful.

Society and the media reinforces this standard by subtly and blatantly encouraging us to straighten our hair, loose weight, lighten our skin and tone down our blackness. And while the last few years have seen an re-emergence of black appreciation with #blackgirlmagic #melaninonfleek and the natural hair movement, our little girls are still asked to leave school because their hair is a distraction. All the while white women can fill their lips, lift and extend their asses and rock “afros”.

You can’t appropriate black culture and not be down with its blackness.

  • #BlackLivesMatter

Not all lives matter, BlackLivesMatter.

Maybe this movement has been scary for you and Bey is giving you permission to see it from a possibly different angle by setting this movement to an amazing song, but don’t  pretend to not see the not at all subtle message that Bey is giving us. The little boy wearing a hoodie dancing before a line of white police officers as the camera pans over to the graffiti-tagged wall with the words “Stop Shooting Us” is an in your face message and reminder that the fact remains that police shoot black men and boys (and women) more than they shoot white folks. Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice are obvious reminders, but also let’s keep in mind that when white, armed militants occupied land in Oregon only 1 was shot. And if that’s not a message enough, the fact that “Formation” is shot in New Orleans is an in your face reminder to what black folks in pre and post Hurricane Katrina NOLA realized a decade ago-Black Lives Don’t matter in America. And fifty years before Katrina in the segregated North and Jim Crow South and prior to that centuries of slavery. Black folks don’t need a new movement to remind us that our lives don’t matter. They never mattered, even with a black man as President, and Bey thought she’d remind you. The video (and the Super Bowl performance) aren’t anti-police. They’re anti-police brutality. There is a difference.

  • See her costume/outfit choices for what they are.

In the “Formation” video Bey rocks an entire Gucci outfit, to be sure, but she also is dressed in specific references to black/southern culture that can’t be missed. When I see Beyoncé and her squad in Victorian-era style dress in the parlors and hallways of what I’m assuming are plantations of the south, I see black women claiming spaces that they wouldn’t have had access to during Slavery. They may have been in those beautiful rooms serving their masters, but their status as non-human property wouldn’t have allowed them really own the space as Beyoncé does in the video. To me it’s a reclaiming of those rooms that were off-limits to blacks and a giant middle finger to the status quo that was the South (and America) at that time.

Throughout the video there are other nods to black fashions of the past-everything from the acid washed denim to the dancing to the long braids, big hoop earrings and wig store shots.

  • Let Beyoncé own her black sexuality

Black women and black girls are sexualized. We are seen as hyper sexual and as a result white folks seem to think that they have ownership over our black sexuality. Beyoncé sees you trying to put her sexuality in a box and she raises you 100.

Her flawless womanhood is own display, everything from the breasts that fed her baby to the thighs that hold her body up. And while commentators after the Super Bowl thought she should’ve been more “wholesome” I can’t help but think that by wholesome they mean digestible for white audiences who are uncomfortable with black women taking ownership over our bodies and sexuality in a way that the white majority has been trying to claim for centuries.

There is so much to love about the “Formation” video and her Super Bowl performance:

  • it’s unapologetic blackness
  • all the Afros
  • #blackgirlmagic all day
  • middle fingers in the air
  • mlk = more than a dream
  • that black hat
  • cops with their hands up
  • you know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
  • big Freeda
  • Nod to the Black Panther Movement and Malcolm X
  • black gay pride
  • babies with Afros
  • dancing all through the antebellum south

But it’s mostly the first item I listed, It’s unapologetic blackness.

If you can see “Formation” and the flawless performance that Bey served on Superbowl Sunday for what they are in the full doses that she’s serving it up in, then yes, this video is for you. If you can’t handle it. Can’t handle her black pride, her black power pride, her asking you to #staywoke (or wake up), her acknowledgement of #blacklivesmatter and the fact that racism is alive and well today. If you need to cut it into small, white sized portions that are easy to swallow, then, no. “Formation” is not for you.

 

 

 

George Santayana said that. I don’t know much about George, but I do remember the first time I heard that phrase. It was on a grade school trip, we were at a monument or a park or maybe neither of those places, but I took a picture of the words etched into marble because even at just 10 or 11 years old, the words were powerful.

There are a lot of complexities to my identity as a black person, as a woman, as a Jew, as a lesbian. And if I look to the past I am flooded with a history of oppression, segregation, discrimination, death and unjust laws meant to keep me and my identities down and separate from the mainstream. So, my heart strings are plucked when crisis exists in the world and an oppressed person or persons are criminalized simply for being who they are.

Because of the terror attacks in Paris, Facebook and other social media has been flooded with some of the most vile responses that I have read. I’ve steadily unfriended and unfollowed many of my “friends” because I don’t have time (or the desire) to engage their hate speech. I use my Facebook page, this blog and my Twitter accounts as my own personal Erikaland where what I say goes. I invite folks to engage in conversation, but won’t tolerate over simplifications and problematic language like “radical Muslims” or “Islamic terrorists.”

When a white man walked into a black church and opened fire the media didn’t call him a “Christian terrorist” or a “radical Christian”. So why does our media insist on using Muslim and Islam when speaking of attacks of terror carried out by psychopaths?

Since 9/11 American media has portrayed a religion of peace as a religion of hatred. And before you write a comment quoting some verse in the Quran that says otherwise, I ask you to open your Tanach or your King James Bible and you will find just as much violence and death. Our holy books aren’t perfect, they were written by men who lived in different times. And if we all followed our holiest of books to the letter, well, the world would be a different place. (Not a better place, mind you. A place where you could sell your daughter for goats) Yet, we’ve allowed a handful of very violent, very confused terrorist hiding under the name of Islam to paint broad strokes on a brother faith. Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of ISIS-related attacks and threats in the U.S weren’t carryied out by Syrians, but by Americans.

And while that fact pains me, it pains me even more that Jewish people cannot or do not want to see the Syrian refugee crisis as an eerily familiar and detrimental crisis that changed the very fabric of the Jewish people. Leading up to the WWII Europeans wondered what were to do with their “Jewish problem”. Pogroms terrorized communities, lucky ones escaped, and the unlucky ones died at the hands of the hatred of the Nazi party, but also by their neighbors and the neighboring countries who turned their backs on refugees fleeing the terror and violence of Europe. Jews say, Never Forget and Never Again, yet fall into the same verbal rhetoric that countries (including the United States) used as excusesô to turn away Jews and prevent them from entering their shores.

Saying that Syrian refugees deserve asylum in my country does not make me a bad Jew. It makes me a good Jew, because the idea of Tikkun Olam isn’t just Tikkun Olam for the Jews, it’s for the world.

L’Shanah Tovah! Ketivah v’chatima tovah!

Posted on: September 13, 2015

L’Shanah Tovah, BGJ readers! It’s so hard to believe that the year has already come and gone.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Jew. I’ve only been to shul three times in 5775!

5775 has been a rough year with the move, adjusting to a new Jewish community and our miscarriage. It’s hard to get excited about a new year, but there are a few things that I hope will happen in 5776

To be more involved in the Jewish community in either Seattle or Tacoma

To become a mother

To continue to be a good Jewish Diversity Advocate for JMN and in my personal life.

A few weeks ago I did a podcast for Treyf, a podcast based in Canada. I talked about race and racism and ways we as Jews can combat it in our own communities. Take a listen and be sure to like Treyf on Twitter and Facebook!

The Problem With Jewish Media

Posted on: August 8, 2015

About two years ago I was a regular writer for a major Jewish publication. I wrote roughly once or twice a month, mostly on the topics of race and racism, but also about my experience being a black Jewish lesbian woman. At the time I was the only black writer for the publication, and I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a regular black writer since. While the money was decent, I scaled back my writing for the publication, not wanting to be their token black writer. Before I left, I pitched my editor on an idea for a series about Jews of Color. I wanted to use this publication’s popularity and reach to educate the mainstream Jewish community about the many experiences of Jews of Color, particularly Jews of Color that had a different narrative than mine (as mine was the only reality discussed in the publication). Jews of Color who were straight, Orthodox, born Jewish. Jews of Color who were trying to find homes in Jewish communities, educating their children in Jewish schools, living in smaller Jewish communities, leading and creating Jewish college organizations, and/or participating in national social justice movements.

The publication wanted conversion stories. I reminded my editor a series about Jews of Color that focused solely on conversion further inflamed issues that JOCs face, and cements the assumption that we’re all converts. And while I am a convert, most of the folks I know who are JOCs are not (also, who the fuck cares if we’ve converted!?)

I pushed hard. While I was happy to share my conversion story, using conversion as the guide post for a series of Jews of Color would be counter-productive, I argued. While it was my story, it wasn’t everyone’s story. She told me that she would talk to the editor-in-chief and get back to me at the beginning of 2014.

I thanked her, letting her know that I would contact several Jews of Color groups I was a part of, and reach out to friends and acquaintances who I thought had strong voices and would be interested in lending them to the piece. I kept her informed of my progress from time to time, when I inquired again, I was told that the editor-in-chief wanted more of a hook, and without the conversion angle, it wouldn’t work.

I was hurt, confused, and furious. I’d been asked to give comment on everything from Trayvon Martin to the death of Maya Angelou, but to spearhead a series written for and by Jews of Color wasn’t significant because it didn’t have a hook? I reached out to the Jews of Color I’d been in contact with to let them know that the series wouldn’t be moving forward. I stopped writing for the publication and focused more on my personal blog and volunteering for the Jewish Multiracial Network.

Read the rest of this entry »

So excited that I can call Ilana Kaufman not just a colleague in this work of making the Jewish world a more inclusive space for Jews of Color, but a friend! #kvelling watching this and getting my black lady in church on with a few “mmhmms”

I woke up suddenly in the wee hours of the morning on March 5, 2014. It wasn’t my alarm that had woken me or my cell phone, which was next to my head and on vibrate. It was a feeling.

I believe that if you ask a doula or birth worker, most will tell you that they feel when their clients are in labor, even without knowing. Sure enough, when I checked my phone my clients had called several times.

I crept out of the room to not wake my partner and learned that my clients, who were weeks away from their estimated due date were, indeed, in the hospital and in active labor. I rushed to be with them and turned off my phone, as I do with all of my births. We watched the sun rise over Manhattan and as my clients continued settling into the rhythms of labor, I decided to check my phone. There were at least a dozen calls from my mother and I knew in an instant the urgent calls were about my sister.

The conversation I had with my mother is a blur. So is whatever I told my clients. All I knew is that I needed to get to Ohio and everything else just happened: the arrival of my back-up doula, the birth, packing, the flight.

The next day, March 6th, my partner and I joined my parents to say goodbye to my sister. Most of the day is a buried memory. The way she looked. The way her body heaved as she breathed through life-support machines. The sounds. The smells. My father crying. My mother holding her hand. The way everyone spoke to us in a whisper.

The hospital chaplain, a Catholic (I asked), was of little help to our family. Try as he may, his words didn’t seem to provide comfort. Instead, we found some solace in our family pastor who came to pray with us.

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