a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Chag Samach-A Sukkot Rant.

Posted on: October 13, 2011

Sukkot.  Hmm…what to say, what to say.  Do you remember my Sukkotlast year?  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  Even after the asshole on the street racially profiled and tried to over-sell me the holiday left a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s the season where we are commanded, in Torah, to welcome the stranger.  We say that a lot, welcome the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.  Yet, when I’ve try walking into a “community sukkah” I never get greeted, I never get welcomed to a table, I do not feel welcome-I feel awkward.  I’m bitter, I know, but it’s infuriating!  Sukkot, in my mind, has all the potential wonderfulness (yes I said wonderfulness) of Purim or Pesach.  Where Pesach is great for the history and tradition and Purim is great for the booze, Sukkot is kind of like the best of both worlds.  We sleep in booths to remind us of when we were in the dessert + lots of food, alcohol and friends.  If I had a back yard, I’d be in my sukkah now.  But I don’t and I’m not and I’m pissed.

I am well aware that there tons of community sukkahs all across the city and in every borough.  There’s a sukkah at Occupy Wallstreet, CBE is having a Sukkah Block Party, the “little shul that could” has a sukkah, and I’ll be spending the weekend with diverse Jews of varying ages for a Sukkot Retreat.  I’m gonna get my Sukkot on, no doubt.  All I’m saying is that it would be nice to have a Chasid approach me in Union Square to ask if I’d like to shake the lulav.  It would be nice to roll into the Chabad Sukkah in Bryant Park and not have twenty wigged heads all turn to see what I’m up to. 

Ranting aside, Sukkot is the only holiday I have not celebrated.  Rosh Hashanah was beginning of 5772 but also marked the year-long observance of Jewish holidays, minus Sukkot. I’d just like to be able to go into a Sukkah, eat lots of food, talk about Torah and get all pagany shaking trees in four corners.  Is that so much to ask?

9 Responses to "Chag Samach-A Sukkot Rant."

hey erika,

i think you just had bad experiences. the guy in union square maybe didn’t walk up to you because he doesn’t know that you are jewish. i doubt he would walk up to random people. also in the other sukkah with the people with wigs on that sounds like chassids and sometimes they may give looks to people, anyone, without a wig on or who doesn’t look like them. try a conservative, reform, or modern orthodox shul if you don’t feel comfortable with chassids. i didn’t ever feel comfortable at chabad. then i got over it and realized im pretty much culturally jewish at least at this point and told that to myself over and over and realized the awkwardness was all in my head. just convince yourself that you belong and they will sense your confidence and not treat you any differently. hope this year is better, and, as always, you’re invited to greenpoint:)

You’re so sweet, Kylie! Last year was just dumb. The etrog thing happened in Ditmas Park/Midwood and the Chabad stuff was last year, too. This year, I haven’t tried! I’m leaving tomorrow morning for a Sukkot retreat/Family Camp event with Be’chol Lashon so I’ll be able to have a good first Sukkot/Shabbat experience-which I’m totally looking forward to. Can I take you up on Simchat Torah for Greenpoint? Simchat Torah is one of my favorite Holidays and I want to be in an Orthodox shul for it…Do you know Celia, by chance? She goes to Greenpoint shul and is converting Orthodox as well.

I think living in Brooklyn your expectations are drastically different than mine. Nobody around here is going to ask me to sit in a sukkah. They’ve probably never even heard of it! 🙂 I have to drive at least 10 miles to find one and like you, they aren’t going to invite me in for lunch (it’s Chabad). After a 20 minute drive I would finally find one where I am welcome but I’d probably be alone because nobody else cares that much. Such is life in the Midwest.

Anyway, I think my point (and I’m not even quite sure?) is that you should appreciate being in NYC, having Jews everywhere, shuls everywhere and, kosher shops and all that jazz. It sucks to feel like you don’t belong and it sucks to feel like people are staring but don’t forget there is a ton of opportunity to be found in that city. Be grateful for it 🙂

Gosh I sound like a mom!

Oh and have fun at your retreat. I’ve never heard of it but it seems like it could be really neat.

I can’t even imagine living any where other than NYC, Dena for all of the reasons that you name. It’s just infuriating that we aren’t more welcoming. Kylie makes the point that I don’t look Chabad so it’s true that I don’t fit the “mold” but inviting people into your Sukkah is a mitzvah! I rant a lot about equality and diverse spaces and acceptance because it’s sad that living in such a diverse place there is still division.

Religions beliefs/dominations are definitely barriers and I do understand why my pants vs skirt don’t appear Jewish enough for an “excuse me, are you Jewish?” but on the other hand if you’re trying to bring the Messiah by making sure all Jews are observing mitzvot and you’re only choosing to ask people who “look” a certain way to observe those mitzvot then how will the Messiah ever come? Futhermore, what if the Messiah looks like me? And you’ve ignored him/her because he/she doesn’t look like you want him/her to look…It’s a stretch, yes. Am I asking a lot, no.

I am incredibly grateful to live in New York and I have literally hundreds of places to go to be Jewish-but my one-woman mission to open the eyes of all Jews to the vast and rich ethnic and racial diversity of our people often results in frustration and adversity to which-I rant 😉

Hi! Long-time listener, first-time caller. Strange to say, I derived some small–extremely minute–amount of comfort from reading your posts, both last year’s and this year’s as well, as they adhered so closely to my own experience as a Jew; I had begun to fear it was only me who experienced and felt these things. I’m an African-American gay man who formally converted in January but has been observing for the past 4 years and has had a very deep interest in Judaism for the past 20+ years. The kind of experiences we’ve both shared–the ones in your posts–always evoke a dual emotional response in me: excessive disappoinment in myself for deluding myself into thinking that Jews–any Jews at this point–will see me and see a fellow Jew, especially after expressing a shared custom and belief (ie, your etrog question last year). Then I consider, somewhat sadly, that a world in which this would consistently happen would surely be one in which the Moshiach would be right around the corner….but then, I personally believe African-Americans are hard-wired for messianic thinking. I feel your rant–your rant is my own–and yet, why should asking to be acknowledged as Jews be termed a “rant”? It should just be. Chag semach, and yasher koach. P.S. I’m rather often in the NY Metro area–we should meet sometime.

You’re right A. Russel! It shouldn’t be a “rant” but when I go off the handle like in this post was, rather than taking my time to articulate myself better I call it a rant. Not that I don’t think I articulated myself well, I think I did, I’m still very much effected by my experience last year. I haven’t actually even tried to go into a Sukkah this year and probably will not try to go into the giant once like last year.

I defintely see your point, though. I shouldn’t have to qualify anything that is based on simple facts. Kylie makes a good point that without “dressing the part” going into a Chabad sukkah in pants would probably get anyone looked at strangely, though I can’t help but think that I’d get stranger looks than Kylie would. We should do an experiement.

I’m with you on so many levels. My conversion wasn’t “kosher” for a number of reasons, in the eyes of some and though I’d like to say that I can just let things roll off my back, I refuse to. I don’t say things to people just to piss them off, but I will call you on your shit. (Not you, the community.)

I think that many of my frustrations as a black gay convert to Judaism could be “in my head”, (are they looking at me?) but I also think that because I’ve walked in my black skin for 32 years I know when something is off and I’m with you- I don’t think I’m over reacting for having those feelings.

My hope and my long-term goal is to bring an awareness of the rich diversity there is within the Jewish community. There are so many different kinds of Jews in the world and people for various reasons only see Jews from within the scope of their community-which is fine, but the possibilities and opportunities to actually learn new things? Why give that up chance to learn?

I’m so glad you decided to call the show 😉

tuesday – oct. 18 – bj is having a wine and dessert something the in the sukkah for 20’s and 30’s. i know it’s manhattan..but i’m thinking of checking it out…come!

Hey Erika,

You are invited to my popup sukkah next year! I’m the only Jew in the family and my husband has no interest in eating there. I’ll admit to eating breakfast there then bringing my coffee up to Beth Elohim’s to shake the trees, but lacking chairs, it isn’t great for eating and I’m not going to sit on the ground on 8th Ave. Still a holiday that enforces picnics is something that attracted me to convert.

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