a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Back for Two Important Cross-Posts

Posted on: January 28, 2014

Every once in a while I’ll check to see what’s happening on the blog.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the continued support and readership-even in my sabbatical 🙂

I will say that I was shocked that my “Schvartze” piece from a few years ago was one of the most searched and read pieces. But given the activity of the blogosphere in the past few days, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

Two blogs, one from Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai, and the second by blogging newcomer, Zein Shver have been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. I applaud these two brown men for speaking their truths. I hope they both continue to share what it is to be brown and Jewish and that the Jewish world not only listens, but opens its collective heart and ears to our many, varied and valid stories.

I Hate This Word and So I Let A Man Write it on My Face

Image by Ganesh Photography

Image by Ganesh Photography

I want to write Schvartze on your face and then take a picture.

I was stunned and not stunned. This is what I was here for. It had to come down to this. I was sitting with photographer Steve Rosenfield, creator of the What I be Project. Steve offers people the opportunity to express their insecurities, by writing them on their faces. After a discussion about myself, Steve and I decided we would write Shvartze (yiddish/german for black) on my face.

Shvartze isn’t Yiddish for Black. Shvartze is Yiddish for Nigger.

Being a Jew with a black father, living in Crown Heights is a strange experience. There is always a strong undercurrent of racism. Jews and Blacks (the shvartzes to use the unfortunate local parlance) have always had tension between them.

Since moving to Crown Heights, I’ve heard the word flow like blessings. It drips out of the mouths of young and old alike. It can be stunning sometimes. You’ll be moving along just fine and then the “S-bomb” will come along and just ruin your day, or at the very least your hour and minute. It’s never nice when it’s said. No one ever says “I had a man do my taxes. He’s shvartze.” Nor do they say “my son is playing with the boys next door, they’re shvartze.” It’s always “a shvartze stole my bike;” or “if the shvartzes welfare why shouldn’t we.” So, this common excuse that shvartze merely means black doesn’t play well with me.

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“Why My Skin Color Means I’ll Never Feel Like I Belong”


Image from Pop Chassid

Image from Pop Chassid

That was a word I heard a lot in high school. I’m a sephardi Jew (three-quarters of me is, genetically speaking) and I was living in a very white (but Jewish) area near Chicago. And so the people made jokes, they made jokes in the way guys make jokes in high school, finding out what’s different about you and exploiting it.  Not exactly in a mean way, but in the way that people just did in high school, whether you were friends or enemies.

“Terrorist!” “Where were you last night, dude?  Blowing stuff up?”

Stuff like that. You kind of learn to just accept these things in high school.  You learn that, “Hey, if I laugh along with them, or don’t get angry, I won’t ostracize myself.  I won’t turn it into something they know they can get into my head with.” And so I laughed it off. But the truth was that it bothered me.  But maybe not for the reason you’d expect. It bothered me because I felt white.  Or, at least, I didn’t feel different than everyone else.

My whole life I had grown up in white areas.  My parents grew up in an Ashkenazi (primarily white) area of Israel.  Culturally, I think my parents and I didn’t feel so different from the people around us. I remember my mother even explaining to me when I was young that I was white.  Because it’s kind of true.  There’s no option on the Census for “Middle-Eastern” in the race area.  No scholarships or affirmative action.  Racially, I am technically white; caucasian. But kids, and people in general, don’t care about that.  They care about what they see. And I remember that time in first grade when we had a discussion about race and I mentioned to the class that I was white, as if it was nothing, as if it was a fact… and the whole class started telling me that I wasn’t, that there was no way that I was white.

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