a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Yay, Gay Marriage!

Posted on: June 26, 2015

KeshetFlag2_0Today the Supreme Court of the United States declared gay marriage legal in all 50 states. I’ve spent the day looking at friends and strangers wedding photos, crying happy tears. Which feels great after the bitter and angry tears I’ve been crying lately.

Yet, just as much as my Facebook feed is overflowing with happiness and relief that friends and family members marriages are now protected under the U.S constitution, I’m also seeing people complaining that it’s just one thing, that it doesn’t apply to others, that it was only a few days ago when the President (fucking call him the President, and not “Obama” people!) kicked a heckler out of the White House.

And I get it.

In case you haven’t  noticed, in many ways our country is circling the shitter. On the same day that the SCOTUS decision was brought down, a community in Charleston mourned their loved ones killed by hate. Black folks are being killed and incarcerated at alarming rates. Undocumented immigrants are being deported. Racism, while never dead, is boldly re-emerging in violent ways. Not to mention that women still make less money than men, that parental leave is non-existent and that I will be paying off student loan debts until the day that I die. And folks have a right to grumble; this decision doesn’t help queer homeless youth, doesn’t end work place discrimination, doesn’t help the trans folks who are abused while awaiting deportation or the countless trans folks of color who are targeted and beaten regularly.

It’s fucked up. The world is fucked up. In many ways our country is fucked up. And in many (many) ways, like today, it’s really awesome. So today I celebrate this victory because for me and my family it is a victory. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have an immense amount of work to still do to get our country out of the shitter, but it’s a win. So let’s celebrate it!

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Miscarriage and Judaism

Posted on: June 25, 2015

pregnacy lossMy wonderful partner and I have been together going on 8 years. And for the last year or so we’ve been quietly trying to conceive, or TTC as us TTCers call it (oh the abbreviations). A bit over one month ago our first successful pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 8 weeks and 6 days. To say that I was heartbroken is to put it lightly.

Devastated.

Depressed.

Angry.

Sad.

(slightly) Suicidal.

Alone.

Scared.

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I’m not an Anti-Zionist!

Posted on: June 24, 2015

boycottI’m not a Zionist either, well at least not in the modern view of the word.

Do I think Israel should exist? Yes.

Do I think Israel is a country void of problems? No.

~

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve received email and Facebook messages inviting me to “lefty-Jewish” events. Everything from Shabbat dinners to Havdalah celebrations. And in these emails it is presumed that I, too, am a lefty-Jewish queer anti-Zionist, radical activist. These invitations are often linked to articles about anti-Zionism and pink washing. If they would have caught me about 4 years ago, I would’ve been game, but today I’m a bit more hesitant.

(also, they’re clearly not reading my blog)

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Ask Erika-Do You Miss Jesus?

Posted on: February 23, 2015

 I got the following email over on Facebook and have permission from the author to share it with all of ya’ll!

Hi Erika I’m considering conversion. I was raised Christian but have since stopped attending a Christian church. I went to a Orthodox temple but found it too rigid. Now I am attending a Reform synagogue and feel very happy there. I’m learning Torah and even starting to learn the Jewish holidays. I feel like I belong here and have been told I have Jewish soul. Still not sure what that means.

Sorry for long intro but wanted you to know why I’m asking you this question. What advice could u give me on “Jesus” giving up I guess. I mean if u were a new testament believer did u just stop or did u find more truth in the Torah? Oh and how did u feel about the mikvah. Was it strange I’m not thete yet but hopefully one day I will. Have an awesome rest of your day.

-K

Dear K.

Thanks so much for reaching out to me and congrats on the decision to consider a Jewish conversion. To answer your questions, I never had a “personal relationship with Jesus” as Christians say. As a kid, I did, but as a teenager and an adult I did not. For me, it was easy to forgo the idea of Jesus as G-d or the son of G-d because I felt that I didn’t need a go-between figure separating me and my relationship with G-d.

I think the stories of the Christian Bible are fascinating accounts of Jesus the man, and of the newly formed Jewish sect he formed-because they weren’t yet Christians at that point, but rather just an off-shoot of Judaism.

Honestly, I think every person is different and letting go of Jesus will depend on the individual. The bottom line is that to be a Jew is to give up Jesus as the son of G-d. Jesus was a Jew, and I think if you ask most Jewish folks, they would acknowledge that. But was Jesus the messiah? A Jewish person will tell you absolutely no and that the Messiah has not yet come. Which is why you’ll often find Chabad on the streets during holidays encouraging Jews to fulfill mitzvot. 

In terms of the mikvah-it was awesome! and crazy and scary and underwhelming. I write a lot about the mikvah on my blog and recently wrote a post about it for RitualWell. You can also read some mikvah posts here on my blog.

Feel free to drop me a line anytime and best of luck!

Erika

 

Thoughts, readers? Anyone else have advice for K?

If you have a question to ask, send me an email at blackgayandjewish@gmail.com

What Do I Wear on My Head?-A Cross-Post

Posted on: February 21, 2015

When I was still in the process of converting to Judaism I found Jew in the City and her post about why Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair. The vlog didn’t speak to me. I don’t have a husband and I don’t find hair to be particularly sexual. Yet, I was intrigued and clicked my way through her channel to Wrapunzel to hajibis. All the while fascinated and in awe at the reverence to religion these women exhibited. And while I loved them all (and watched them ALL) I still couldn’t quite picture myself converting to Orthodox Judaism and because it was clear that Reform Jews didn’t cover, I shelved it.

As I started to meet women who wore pants and wore head covering I started to ask questions. It was this time that I realized that covering wasn’t (or didn’t have to be about a sexual thing, but rather a connection to G-d and the realization that putting something on my head could, perhaps, remind me that there was something above me. I reconsidered the idea and have tentatively decided that when M and I tie the knot that I will cover my head both wigs (who doesn’t want straight hair they don’t have to straighten) scarves.

Below is the piece I wrote for RitualWell about head covering.

A few days ago while wasting a rainy Seattle day indoors, I flipped to E!, one of my guilty pleasure channels. The show Christina Milian Turned Up was on. It is not something I normally watch, but I was intrigued when Liz Milian, Christina’s younger sister, mentioned Judaism. She was preparing for the rabbi to come to her house to help her kasher the home she shares with her family.

I was, of course, instantly drawn and quickly Googled my way to her Facebook and Instagram pages which I am now enthusiastically enjoying.

It is not just that Liz Milian is a woman of color in the public eye converting to Orthodox Judaism, it’s that she’s doing so in a real, passionate, and committed way.

I’ve always been drawn to Orthodox Judaism; there’s a level of commitment to mitzvot, to be sure, but what really piques my interest is the tradition, joy in Jewish life and practice, and the communal norms and expectations. There are aspects of Orthodox Judaism, specifically hair covering and ideas of modest dressing, that are intriguing and seemingly easy mitzvot for me to introduce into my life.

In Orthodox Jewish communities it’s expected that when a woman is married that she will cover her hair. What she covers her hair with varies from community to community. Some favor long, amazing (albeit expensive) wigs, while others favor shorter wigs and still other communities use scarves and hats. These head coverings mark a woman as married, and it’s also presumed that when a woman (or man for that matter) wears something on their head that they’re probably a bit more religious than the person who’s head remains naked. This presumption may or not be true, but it’s been my experience that a person who covers their hair and dresses modestly is likely to be living a more halakhically observant Jewish life.

So what happens when you’re a Jew like me—a Jew who doesn’t identify with any particular religious denomination and instead picks and chooses?

Read more here. 

Who is a Jew of Color?

Posted on: February 19, 2015

PopChassidA few years ago I sent out a tweet looking for Jews of Color for a project I wanted to pursue. I got a Twitter response from Elad Nehori, the author of one of my favorite blogs, Pop Chassid. He asked, I think I’m a Jew of Color, am I? And I replied, if you think you’re a person of Color, and identify as such in the world, then you’re a Jew of Color. He published a piece down the line about how his skin color always makes him feel like an other which you should read. Feeling like an other simply for the color or hue of your skin, is a good indication that you are a Jew of Color.

Specifically speaking, a Jew of Color is someone who in non-Jewish environments would be considered a person of Color. Someone who is black, African American, bi-racial, Asian, Indian, Latin or of bi-racial or multi-ethnic heritage. While Mizrahi Jews and Sephardic Jews may not be Ashkenazi, I don’t think that most would consider themselves to be people of Color, therefore it is my opinion that they are not Jews of Color. Side note, if you are Mizrahi or Sephardic and consider yourself to be a Jew of Color, please comment below!

Lastly, if you’re stopped before entering a synagogue, if your Jewish identity has even been questioned, if you’ve had a difficult time finding a Jewish partner, if you’ve had a difficult time getting your children into religious schools, if you’re asked if you were raised Jewish, if you’re constantly asked to tell “your story”, if you hear, “you don’t look Jewish“, if you’re mistaken for the help rather than a member of a Jewish community, if you’re a member of a bi-racial relationship and it’s assumed that you have converted for your partner -you’re a Jew of Color. It should be noted that with the exception of religious school-I have experienced all of these things.

Jews of Color have always been and will always be members of the Jewish community, and while I am a Jew of Color who chose Judaism, historically Jews have always been multi-ethnic and multiracial. For the Torah tells us so.

So how is it that when someone thinks of who a Jew is or what a Jew looks like my face is the last image that comes to mind?

 

The Vlog is Back!

Posted on: February 14, 2015

In this vlog I ask the questions: How is too much diversity a bag thing? Also, do you know a literary agent.

 

Our Stories Our Voices

Posted on: February 13, 2015

My friend, Michael Twitty, writes a completely perfect response to the balagan of a new series, koshersoul on Lifetime TV. 

I read his words and felt his anger and frustration because it seems that we Jews of Color, Jews of Color who are working towards Jewish Diversity Awareness, recognition and a seat at the table lift our voices they are often silenced by well meaning Jewish white folks, networks, agents, and the broader Jewish community as a whole.

Well, we won’t remain silent. We have and will always be a part of the Jewish community. We are not a joke. We are not a pawn. We are not the speck of brown on your lily white calendar that let’s you say that you did something diverse. Our voices are unique, our voices are loud, our voices are soft, and our voices will be heard.

 

michael twitty

Michael Twitty at the Torah. Copyright photo by Jerome Colt

I was mortified. It’s official, the thing I have railed against in my crusade for culinary and cultural justice had come for me: my name, established long before someone got the bright idea for a merger of ethnic stereotypes, has been compromised by your “sense” of “koshersoul.”

Appropriation—the big word that seems to have been repeatedly hurled from London to Tokyo (thank ya I-G-G-Y)—un-reciprocated and unwelcome borrowing, or if you will outright theft of the cultural and artistic production of “others” seems too obvious to even whisper here so I will leave it up to my readers to decide whether you in bad faith decided to nab my moniker for your own purposes or if you just carelessly decided to ignore my work when naming your program.

The “others” I mention above are we the people who in our struggles to make this a more perfect Union, are often marginalized and robbed of our ability to rise and achieve by being denied the same platform as those appropriating our creations. There is a difference between respectful quoting, acknowledging sources and origins and sharing words, genres, styles and modes on the one hand and lifting them wholesale and using them in ways that diminish and demean originators.

The promo trailer for “Kosher Soul” shows a classic collision of cultures- and who could be more different than “the Blacks” and “the Jews?” What could be funnier than a Black man passing out from the sacred ritual of hatafat-dam-brit (blood drop circumcision)? Ooh his baseball cap says “Kosher” in thug motif! Her mother is skeptical, the Jews and their customs are so bizarre that it’s a guilty pleasure you can’t wait to shmear your eyes with. Goodness gracious glory be to Hashem–this TV show sho’ do “look so funny.” (How easy the sarcasm flows…)

 

keep reading. 

If you ask any convert to Judaism, they will likely tell you that as daunting as the conversion process can sometimes be, actually being a Jew can be harder that becoming one.

Picking a rabbi and a community to anchor my conversion was the first step. After several months of shul shopping and ongoing conversations with rabbis about conversion, I settled on the rabbi that made me cry when I left her office. She posed hard questions about my commitment to Judaism, and challenged me to think long and hard about how my relationship with my partner might change after my conversion. After I attended my first conversion class, I knew that I’d made the right decision.

On August 17th, 2012 at around ten o’clock in the morning on the upper west side of Manhattan, I became a Jew. After years of spiritual searching followed by a year of Jewish study, the work of becoming Jewish was finally complete. I destinctly remember laughing while in the warm waters of the Upper West Side Mikvah. It was amusing to be bouncing up and down naked in the mikvah water before a woman I’d never met. It was invigorating to hear the shouts of my rabbis and friends outside the doors of the mikvah room everytime the mikvah lady, Gita, shouted, “kasher!” As the days after my conversion melted away into weeks and months and finally years, the routines of being Jewish and actually considering what that means in my life took hold. I felt restless and unmotivated and sometimes a spiritual void in a place I once found so much connection.

Keep reading on Ritualwell. 

On erev Shabbat last week I gave the below (sermon?) on MLK Day, #blacklivesmatter and Jewish responsibility. As I sat on the bimah with the rabbinical staff at Congregation Rodeph Sholom I started to feel uneasy. The congregation, from what I could see from my vantage point, was comprised of mostly white adults in their mid-thirties to mid-sixties. I wondered if my message would be heard and if it would be understood. I also wondered if they did hear me, would the words that I had to say “stick.”

I’ve been fretting over the evening since I stepped out of the synagogue into the cool (okay really effing cold) night that erev Shabbat with some of my friends; three Jews of Color, one who knows me and my point of view well.

“You were really … nice,” she said taking a long pause before saying the word nice.

“Nice?” I asked her as we walked down W83rd Street

“Yeah, nice. You could’ve been a lot more direct, you said everything you needed to say in the nicest way possible.”

This friend and I agreed that for the audience my message did it’s job and an email I received from the rabbi and friend who invited me agreed. The words that I said that night were powerful and effective. There’s already buzzing in the synagogue about “what’s next” and that makes me happy.

MLK Day, The Civil Rights Movement and Jewish Responsibility 

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