a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

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.



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.

We still have jobs, thank G-d, and we now have a place to stay, but everything else feels … off. And incredibly hard. I feel defeated, sad and depressed at least once a day and I’ve cried at least once a week since we got here.

And I know it will get better, shit Dan Savage says so and he lives here. So, apparently, does Dave Matthews, these things seem like good mojo. (Amazingly cheap, good local beer and wine also seem like good signs…that I shouldn’t drink too much.)

And I know we made the right decision, it’s not a matter of regret, but everything here is, well different. A difference, I frankly, wasn’t prepared for.

M was. She was feeling a lot of sadness around the move before we left New York, I simply was over it. It felt like a good breakup. New York and I dated for almost ten years and we mutually decided to go our separate ways. It feels sort of like I’m stalking New York on Facebook, expecting it to be as sad and lonely as I am, and instead New York is out there having a good time with someone else.

And while I’m dating a new City, and like all new relationships things are starting off a little rocky.

For instance, I had to come out as a Jew at work because I was tired of people asking me if I was excited about Christmas and in general talking about Christmas in a way that assumed I was also a Christmas celebrating gal. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was a thing I had to do.

Another thing is is that there are NO JEWS. Not any I can see at least.

In Brooklyn I’d get on the Q Train at Cortelyou Road and see at least 3 men studying Talmud, another 4-5 women reciting Tehillim and a handful of guys in jeans rocking a kippah. Not to mention Muslim men and women praying, sometimes right next to Jewish counterparts. A few stops later the crazy evangelical Christian woman would get on and shout about salvation through Jesus Christ and the damnation of all our souls who didn’t believe. I’d get out of the train to some Jehovah’s Witnesses and if I was lucky I’d see a Sikh and maybe a Mormon or two as I pushed passed the Har Krishna folks in Union Square, all before work. I’d give anything to see a guy in a kippah.

So here I am. A gay, black Jew … in Seattle.

As I mentioned before, I will be writing for RitualWell about a variety of things, including navigating the Jewish community in a place where there are seemingly no Jews. And I know there are Jews here (people tell me). Joking aside, I’ve even met some really awesome queer Jewish folks, but it feels like I’m going to have to up my Jewgame. I’m actually kind of nervous about putting a mezuzah on my door because I’ve never lived in an apartment building where my door is the only one with a mezuzah affixed.

It’s been less than a month, and I know the first month is always the hardest, but I can’t help but whine-Are we there yet?

5 Responses to "A Black, Gay Jew … In Seattle"

I’ve never quite gotten used to some of this and I’ve been in Seattle for years. Every year major events (including major food events) get scheduled on Yom Kippur. The idea of someone following a different calendar of holidays is baffling to a lot of people, or at least not intuitive to them. Seattle is so culturally different from NYC in so many ways. I miss NYC’s cultural mix and the way New Yorkers are familiar with sharing and navigating a densely diverse city.
I’ve also never stopped missing being able to get any food at any hour, and I long for a real subway.
But the mountains are really, really nice. There are so many mountainy and non-mountainy spots in nature around here that are so restorative for my sanity.

I think once we are settled and able to spend weekends visiting mountains and and non-mountainy places we’ll feel better. Space is definitely one of the things we were excited about, and getting back into camping and hiking.

And you’re totally right. I took everything in NYC for granted, my Judaism especially, but also the closeness to other ethnicities and religions and YES, in NY you say Yom Kippur and people are like, obviously. I’m sort of glad I was in NYC for HHs, but can only imagine what it’s going to be like to navigate holidays.

Also, challah. I’ve gotten a few recommendations, do you have any?

I’m from NYC and have lived in New England for most of the past 30+ years. Even though I live in a suburb with a sizable Jewish population, there are still surprises – like when I moved into my condo, put up my mezuzah, and the owner of the other side of the house asked “What is that? Some kind of security system?” 🙂

The general rule of thumb I’ve been given is that it takes about 18 months for a new city to feel like home. That fits with my experience moving for grad school, etc.

This is one thing I don’t think East Coast Jews fully understand about life out here on the West Coast and I’m never quite sure how to articulate it to them. Things are absolutely different out here, and, excuse my not so polite opinion, I think the East Coast makes a lot of Jews intellectually and spiritually lazy because of how “easy” it is to be Jewish there. Synagogues are everywhere, eruvim are everywhere (and as a result, Jewish neighborhoods!), kosher food galore, some of the holidays off school… it makes Jewish life easy, natural.

That infrastructure just isn’t available out here, so we’re forced to individually wrestle with our identities in a way that isn’t required elsewhere. Chavivah recently wrote about it on her blog, about Shabbat shopping in Trader Joe’s and someone bageled her. Bageling drives me crazy, but I never show it because I understand that how here, we all have to work to define our Judaisms, to make Jewish connections.

If you’re still looking for Jewish roots up there, I’ve heard great things about Beth Shalom. The Albertson’s on Mercer Island has a kosher bakery and deli, and there are lots of restaurants under the Vaad’s supervision. There’s a huge Sephardic population in the southern of the eruvim in Seattle proper, a Jewish choir that gives amazing shows in near UW. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, I’d be happy to ask my inlaws.

You’re definitely right, Natalie.

Being in NYC has allowed me to be not only lazy, but incredibly picky. My music director left my synagogue and I was able to just leave that synagogue and find another community that I enjoyed better.

Here, it’s almost desperate. I’ve literally approached strangers to ask them about the Jewish community. I was ringing out a customer at my store the other day and her name was something like Rachel Stein (not her real name) but something obviously Jewish and it took everything in me to not ask her if she was Jewish, where she lived, where she davened and if I could come for Shabbat.

A guy walked by the store another time with a full beard and hat and I very literally ran to the window to peer out to see if I could get a glimpse of tzitzit, he was just a hipster 🙂

It’s also allowed me to re-examine my commitment to my Judasim and my Jewish practice, which I’m appreciating, even though all of it seems hard and like an effort.

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