a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

A Prayer for #Ferguson- Cross Post

Posted on: November 25, 2014

“I live in two worlds. I am Jewish and I am black, and I am calling out to the Jewish community to please take notice of these past events, not just the events in Ferguson but the number of black men and people of color in our society who are stopped by police, arrested by police and even killed by police. Many in the Jewish community believe that these issues do not concern us, but they do. American Jews are now more racially diverse than ever. Every Shabbat many of us sit next to a Jews of color in our synagogues. Many of us have children of color, many of us have people of color in our families and many of us are black. We as a Jewish community can no longer say these issues do not concern us.”- #Sandra Lawson

Around the U.S folks are taking to the streets to protest last night’s grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. While I can never understand the level of grief that the Brown family is feeling, or the frustration the community of Ferguson is feeling, Sandra Lawson’s words reached me deeply. I commented on my Facebook page that sometimes all you can do is pray, and I truly believe that.

Read the rest of the soon-to-be Rabbi Sandra Lawson’s prayer here.

First, let me just say that I really have no clue what an evangelical Christian is, really. I’m not sure if they’re the snake handling Christians or the subway (miss you, MTA) preachers. What I mean is that when someone comes to me to say that they’re thinking about converting to Judaism, I push encourage them to do so. Especially if they are a person of color.

I get about 6 emails a year from people, often people of color or LGBTQ folks, interested in converting to Judaism. They usually talk about their current Jewish experience, flack/concern they’re getting from their family members and partners, and sometimes a desire to quit trying to be a Jew. In my experience, it’s not generally a desire to quit because of the infamous three turn downs, or the length of time and commitment it takes to convert, but sometimes from self-doubt or loneliness. Can I really be a Jew and be gay? Can I really be a Jew and a person of color? Can I still be a Jew if my family doesn’t understand. Am I alienating myself from my family, friends, community if I adopt a new religion and culture?

I, of course, don’t have the answers, but I have come to realize what it must be like for these folks in a new way, living here in the Pacific Northwest. I would tell people to follow their path to Judaism, no matter what. I’d tell them my personal stories of overcoming the loneliness by immersing myself in my community. I now realize that it’s pretty hard to immerse yourself in a community, when you live in a community with limited Jewish community.

I’ve written about it before, and will continue to write about the difficulty I’ve found living in a space where the Jewish community is as present as it was back East. I’ve been reminded that being a Jew in NYC can make us complacent and lazy and I’ve been asked to think of my move as a move to a different country and not to compare NYC to Seattle. Thing is, I can’t not compare them, because being a Jew in NYC is all that I know. My expectations of the Jewish community here in Seattle aren’t to be the Jewish community back home, but I do have expectations, it’s only natural.

Tonight I’ll be taking my first venture into the Jewish community by visiting a synagogue in my neighborhood. Fingers crossed.

 

 

Erika and the Man With the Red Beard

Posted on: November 20, 2014

Since January 2, 2014 I have taken a picture of myself almost every single day. I’ve posted these pictures; sometimes flattering, sometimes not so flattering to my Instagram account. With the majority of the year behind us, only two of us remain under the hashtag #selfieaday2014. Me and a guy with a large, reddish beard, aka Red Beard Guy.

There are other daily selfie hashtags on Instagram, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything truly remarkable, but I do love that after screening #selffieaday2014, I’ve watched faces join and leave and now it’s just me and Red Beard Guy. For over 300 days I’ve seen his face. It’s round and freckled. He has a long-ish, narrow nose and his sometimes bespectacled eyes are evenly spaced on his face. He doesn’t have a widow’s peak and his hair seems full, if slightly receding on the sides. He doesn’t appear to have many (any?) tattoos and he seems to enjoy video games, comics, and Nirvana. I have no idea where he lives, if he’s partnered or single. I don’t know his sexual orientation or preference. I don’t know what he does, what makes him happy or what makes him sad.

I sometimes wonder if he wonders about me and I wonder if he continues to take selfies to “win” our own private competition, or if he, like I, have a slightly deeper reason for taking a daily picture.

Initially the reason for doing the #selfieaday2014 was selfish. Like everyone with Facebook I saw, liked and shared the cute viral montages of people who’d taken photographs of themselves daily, documenting their lives or the lives of loved one and I thought I’d give it a try, too.  I was looking for a way to move myself forward in this social-media obsessed world I’ve built around myself and my blog and who I am as “Black, Gay and Jewish.” I thought I would do my own photo collage at the end, I’d make a video and write a self-indulgent post about how amazing it was to “discover” who I was through my own eyes after taking my own photo every day for one year.

And then Patrice died. And then I lost my job. And then we went through a year of fertility treatment, tried to get pregnant 4 times and failed four times. And I had fertility surgery. And then we moved across the country, leaving everything we knew behind.

And through it all I kept taking selfies, and while it still feels really embarrassing and still quite self-involved, it felt important.

I wonder if it’s the same for Red Beard Guy. When I’m feeling more voyeuristic, I’ll click back through his selfies and he, like me, sometimes doesn’t post much about the day or why the selfie is being taken. And on other days, he’s incredibly honest and vulnerably open with his current situation or state of mind. Sometimes I’m taken aback and worry about him, and then I’m reminded that the reason I, too, am taking pictures through streaming tears, puffy eyes and blank stares is because I want to be honest.

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook the current state of affairs of my new life in Seattle. I prefaced it with something to the effect of not “Facebook-happying” and wanting to be “honest.” I told my truth. The move sucked, absolutely nothing went right and while I could keep posting pictures of our road trip or plaster a smile on my face. I was tired of lying and I wanted to tell the truth. And after I told the truth I got votes of confidence from friends appreciating my honesty on a social platform built on illusions of happiness. I also got really concerned phone calls of worry, which I’m sure were meant to be in comfort, but they felt like I’d done something that had made someone else uncomfortable. I always wonder why it is that we’re more comfortable to like happiness than it is to reach out to people when they’re at their lowest points in their life. There’s another post about social media “happying” but I’ll stop for now.

Last night I did calculations and realized that even if I continue to take a selfie for the rest of the year, I’ve missed 15 days and there are 39 days left in the year. I had big plans for myself this year; goals and things I wanted to prioritize, but life and death side tracked most of my aspirations. As slightly pathetic as this next sentence is, doing #selfieaday2014 feels like the thing I’m most proud of this year.

 

 

A Black, Gay Jew … In Seattle

Posted on: October 29, 2014

eeyoreThings I miss about NYC:

My friends, my neighborhood, getting anything delivered at any time (and I mean anything), the vibrant Jewish community, the  vibrant ethnic communities, shit ethnicity. Period. The fact that watching a Muslim pray next to his Halal cart is a thing that doesn’t bother people (more on that later). Religion period, and the expressiveness of it on display. I miss being near my family; calling my mom at 10PM and knowing she’d be awake to talk to me. I miss talking to my nephews and seeing my pregnant friend’s bellies grow. I miss my doula community. I miss the weather.

We left New York for a variety of reasons; it was getting expensive to live, we want to start a family and we want to raise our children in a place where they can just go to kindergarden without a barrage of tests, where they can play in the street without fear of getting shot (two shootings on my block in one week) and where we can look out the back window to them playing in the yard.

Baltimore

Portland

San Francisco

L.A and Seattle were also on the list, but much further down. Still, an amazing job opportunity came up and we wanted to move to the West Coast and we did. We’re lucky because we both had jobs, we thought we also had a house, but unfortunately that was the first bit of … trouble … we ran up against.

It seriously all fell into place; the jobs, the housing, the car, fostering for our cats even fell into place-until things started to fall apart.

Read the rest of this entry »

This was written by Sarah Barasch-Hagans, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is a rabbinic intern at T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights for The Jewish Exponent

Why did I go to Ferguson? I went as a rabbinical student, as someone raised in St. Louis and as someone in a multiracial family. But mostly I went because it seemed to be my Jewish duty not to stand by while the blood of my neighbor cried out from the pavement.
Ever since Michael Brown was shot on Aug. 9, and left in the street for four hours and 32 minutes, and ever since the police showed up in riot gear to patrol what was beginning as a peaceful memorial, I have been listening for the time to return and the way to engage. The mourning and subsequent cries for justice have been sustained in Ferguson and spread across the nation.

I have used my social media presence to highlight this story and its broader context. I have donated to local organizations, and been in touch with my rabbi, Susan Talve, who goes to the protests most nights. Many times I started to buy a plane ticket to go back, but stopped, wondering how my presence could help. When the call came from Hands Up United to join in Ferguson October’s Weekend of Resistance Oct. 10-13, the time had come.

I needed to see the situation for myself, in order to confirm my friends’ reports that the media was not telling the entire story. They were not wrong. I did not meet rioters; rather, I met protesters who were thoughtful, engaged, focused and incredibly disciplined. I heard them telling moving and heartbreaking stories and joined in their inspiring chants for justice.

Read the rest here. 

I moved. To Seattle.

Posted on: October 17, 2014

Space_Needle002That’s right, folks I moved across the country by car with my partner, all of our possessions from Brooklyn to Seattle.

We’ve been here for a little over a week and while we’ve been given suggestions of where to go to meet people, we’re a mighty team of two bravely making our way in a new city.

I only got to spend Rosh Hashanah in NYC, which was amazing. Yom Kippur was in Milwaukee, WI (there’s a story) and unfortunately I had to work during Sukkot and my favorite holiday, Simchat Torah. I’m excited and a bit anxious to be the new girl in shul again, especially in a part of the world that is not quite as brown as the East Coast.

In exciting writing news, I’ll be blogging for RitualWell soon on a variety of topics; everything from my move, navigating a new Jewish community as a Jew of Color (again) and more. Stay tuned! and Shana Tovah!

 

Mixed Multitudes Mix Up

Posted on: September 9, 2014

Today Tablet posted an article about Commandment Keepers/Hebrew Israelites/”Black Jews”

I read the first paragraph and was instantly upset, again, that another “mainstream, left-leaning” Jewish online journal was doing sloppy reporting.

I’ve written about why this is problematic a lot. Like a lot. Like, really a lot. And here’s the thing. I really don’t care about Hebrew Israelites or their claim to be or not be Jewish. I would, however, like to remind you that they’re not Jewish and that some Hebrew Israelites feel very strongly that white Jews are basically the devil, but that’s another post. I’d also like to remind everyone that whenever liberal, lefty Jewish publications write about white Messianic Jews they generally agree that they’re not Jewish, because they’re not. Jesus is all right by me, but belief in him (as the son of G-d) makes you not a Jew.

I’m also aware that when talking about race and Judaism some people (read most white people) get very … authoritative. They like to assume that they know who is and who is not Jewish simply based on how someone looks. (See also white guilt. Also white privilege.) It very much opens the door to the very sensitive topic of who is and who is not Jewish, which as a Black Jew who converted under Reform Rabbinical authority, I understand.  It’s a touchy topic and having one’s Jewishness questioned really effing sucks. Of course we can turn to halacha to guide us as to who is and who is not Jewish, and since halacha is law to us Jews the answer of who is and who is not Jewish is pretty clear. It’s also pretty clear how one can become Jewish if one is not a Jew. (See also conversion).

It is not my place to say who is and who is not Jewish and I don’t think that’s why the Tablet article and articles that have been published in the past about the Commandment Keepers and their off-shoot communities is bothersome. What always bothers me is the lack of distinction between who Black Jews are and are not, but mostly about how white Jews view them/Jews of Color/Multiracial Jew/me.

What I see happening, and what I’ve personally experienced is laziness on the part of white, mainstream Judaism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meanwhile…

Posted on: August 4, 2014

one g-dI think of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as three rivers. If you are on either of the three, you run into some good spots and some rough currents. You sometimes float down lazily just to get to a stretch of water seemingly impossible to traverse. The three rivers run separately, of course. But, if you are brave and decide to go upstream, against the current to the source, you will find that your one river connects to two others, that the three rivers come from the same source. These three rivers, or branches of faith, aren’t so different because they all started from the same place.

This sameness is how I became interested in studying Judaism. It’s how I found myself downstream as a Jew, though I once floated down another river. It was this source, this beginning that gave me the strength and the courage to paddle upstream to find the beginning and I made the choice to become a Jew.

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Shalom/Salaam/Peace

Posted on: July 23, 2014

IsraelPalestine“And among the people of Moses is a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice.”

- Qur’an 7:159

For over three weeks I’ve been sending prayers to Gaza, Israel and Palestine.

~~~

According to my  Facebook and Twitter feed (which is getting thinner and thinner the more I unfriend and unfollow) it would seem that all of the problems in the world are because of the Jews (or the Arabs) depending on which banner you’re camped under. While I’m still hanging out somewhere in the middle, I find it incredibly interesting that with the rest of the horrors happening in the world people aren’t out protesting other embassies or joining rally cries against other countries, even our own.

For instance, this weekend over 700 people were killed this weekend in Syria in what activists are calling the deadliest 48 hours to date. As Syrians fight on either side of the conflict hundreds of people are dying each day. 700 people, and it’s not even a blip … because Jews aren’t involved?

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Where is Gd? Part Two

Posted on: July 20, 2014

Make Peace, Not WarWhen I sat before my beit din, before going to the mikvah, one of the rabbis asked me if my views on Israel had changed. I told her that they had not; I still thought Israel was a horrible place, that Israelis were racist, that Jews were treating Palestinians like southern (and northern and western and eastern) whites treated blacks in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s (today). I even compared Israel to Nazi Germany. I was “educated” by western papers and news media outlets. I’d never met an Israeli or a Palestinian for that matter, but I had a lot of Muslim friends and felt a sort of allegiance to the people of Palestine.

All of these thoughts came to my head when she asked me if my views on Israel had changed and I answered her honestly, they had not. She then asked if I could learn to think more holistically about Israel, if I would do some learning on my own and then make a decision on how I felt. I told her I could, because I was still learning so much and that is what I did.

A few months later I found myself getting off of a plane in Israel. I looked around Ben Gurion airport, it looked the same as any other airport, but then I noticed a mezzuzah at the end of the corridor I was walking down, and another and another and it hit me, I was in a Jewish country. The only place in the world where I was with my chosen people, where the language was that of my people, where the customs were the customs of my people. I saw women in hijab looking for bags next to women in shietels and tichels. Men with large-brimmed hats and men wearing keffiyeh. As I gathered my things and looked for my Israeli friend who had opened her home to me, it all clicked. The need and right for Israel to exist.

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