a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Awkward Black Jewish Cross-Post

Posted on: August 16, 2012

Maybe you’re at a restaurant, or at the grocery store, or just walking down the street and BAM! another Black Jew! Do you walk up to them and say hello, or is that weird? Do you wave hello? Do you exchange phone numbers and invite them to Shabbat dinner, or are you awkward?

I’ve often wondered what to do in these instances and am reminded of the time a few years ago when a black Orthodox woman walked my way on Avenue J(ew). She was with her young son, his tzitzit flapping behind him as he moved quickly to keep up with his mother. I don’t know what came over me, but I walked right up to her and was all, “Hi! I just wanted…” and she walked right by me like I was crazy because let’s face it, you never know in New York.

A friend of mine has started a new blog called Not a Contradiction and here’s her latest post on that sometimes awkward moment when you meet another black Jew.


Now I don’t generally consider myself an awkward person.  In real life, I tend to come across as socially competent, confident, and relatively normal (at least that’s what people tell me).  However, all that changes when I run into another Black Jew.  It’s like a tiny antenna perks up, sounding “Alert, Alert, Black Jew on the horizon!” and my social skills promptly go out of the window.

But why! What happens?  It’s not like I don’t see Jews all of the time, I live in NY, where observant Jews are a dime a dozen.  It’s not even like I don’t see Black Jews on a regular  basis.  Given my family, circle of friends, and my work with Jews of Color, other Black Jews are a constant part of my life.  So why is it that when I see an unknown Black Jew, inside I yell a quiet “Woohoo!” and promptly lose all social skills.  I’m not talking meeting another Black Jew at an event for Jews of Color or being introduced by a mutual friend, but what I’d like to call a “random sighting.”

A “random sighting” is when you see another Black Jew shopping on Ave J or 13th Ave, eating at a kosher restaurant, davening in your shul, or even just walking down the street.  It’s seeing a Black Jew in your “natural habitat” so to speak, where you’re not used to seeing another person (you don’t know) who looks like you.  Consciously, I’m aware that I’m not the only Black Jew and that regardless of all the Black Jews I know who live all over the United States and Israel, I don’t know them all.  However, I’m often the only person like me, whether I be in Jewish or non-Jewish settings.  A random sighting automatically expands your world, it means that there are even more of you than you thought.  It’s both comforting and intimidating…at least for me.

Each “random sighting” results in momentary paralysis.  What do I do?  What should I say?  Should I say or do anything?

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