a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Coming Down

Posted on: May 8, 2016

Convening participants were asked to write answers to the question "Why are you here?" Photo by Erika Davis

Convening participants were asked to write answers to the question “Why are you here?”
Photo by Erika Davis

Hello, Readers.

Many apologies for my completely non-existent blogging over the last year or more. As many of you know, many things have happened in my life which has made blogging take a bit of a back seat.

And then I went to the Jews of Color National Convening in NYC (after helping to plan and organize it for the better part of the year). I met several people this blog introduced me to and met several others who I’ve never met, but who know me because of this blog. And I decided that it was important to pick it back up. I’m not sure how frequently, but it’s a goal.

So, the Convening.

As I said, as part of my work with the Jewish Multiracial Network I did a lot of the organizing for the workshops of the #JOCConvening. To say that is was a labor of love is to put it lightly. If I’m keeping it 100, and this is my blog and I can do and say what I want in this space, I was extremely nervous going into it. The organizational process was difficult. There were many emotions and feelings flying around and at my fellow organizers because we were and are so passionate about the work that we do. To say that my organizational style is fiery is again an understatement. It was at time furious and ferocious and it was all out of 100% passion, devotion and love for the JOC community I hope to represent as a Board member, volunteer and organizer. And I had to come to the realization that while both organizing sponsors shared a same fiery passion for our constituency and the Convening, that we are very different organizations. And that’s okay.

That difference led to differences in opinions at times and also to a Convening that probably wasn’t exactly how we’d planned, but that worked because of that.

The Convening was able to bring together Jews from across the spectrum of political and religious perspective. It was able to bring together Jews who looked like me and Jews who I had to do a double take at because they seemed pretty white to me. I had to balance my desire to have space I deemed just for me with the realization that folks needed the same space, but weren’t just like me. And I felt a perpetuating and persistent sadness. That sadness is where I’ll focus this blog, since I’m writing about other aspects elsewhere.

The sadness was unexpected, I suppose, because I have been so … purposefully disconnected to Jews and my Judaism here in the PNW as a matter of survival and sanity. Despite the anxiety I felt walking into the space as an organizer, nothing can compare to the sense of home and homecoming I felt seeing so many black and brown Jewish faces in one Jewish space. It felt incredibly fulfilling and incredibly soul filling to be embraced in a hug by black Jewish women who in those embraces felt like they could be my mother or aunt. The feeling of saying my truth in a session and having two dozen black and brown faces nodding their solidarity and understanding. The feeling of being in a session and hearing those familial “church lady sounds”, loving affirmation; mmhmms, “say it”, “tell it”, “yes.” The feeling of not shying away from the louder “blacker” parts of my self and instead fully coming into my skin again as a loud, fierce, black, lesbian Jew. It was that feeling of coming into my full black Jewish self that I felt the penetrable sadness.

And despite what my friend Chava thinks, the tears didn’t come for me until I sat on a plane from LAX to SeaTac airport. I didn’t realize that here in the PNW I had had divided myself into identities; female, black, Jewish, lesbian dependent on spaces that I was in. And that in doing so, I haven’t truly been my authentic self. I realized that for three days I was my authentic self and I remembered what that felt like. I realized, once again, that I had taken for granted the wonderful spaces that I was able to occupy in NYC as my full self and that I did a huge disservice to Jews and potential Jews who reached out to me on this blog about the enormousness that is simply being our authentic selves as Jews of Color.

So I’m slowly coming down from the high that was the best parts of the Convening. Those moments when I sat next to another black, lesbian Jewish doula in a session and we saw one another. The moments when a woman stopped me in my tracks to make sure that I was okay. The moments around meals where I saw myself reflected in the folks besides me. And in those moments where folks asked, how can I do this if I am literally the only one in my community.

I don’t have the answer.

But I have goals. I am even more determined to make my Jewish home in the PNW an inclusive and diverse one, even if I am the diversity because our Jewish communities look like me and my family and we need to be validated in our Jewish spaces. I am determined to get more Jewish education and to make myself more of a vessel for greater diversity awareness in the Jewish communities of the PNW. I am determined to open my home for Shabbat meals and holidays and to bring Judaism back into our home.

To folks who are new to my blog and are wondering if you’re the only black Jewish person in the United States, I can honestly tell you that you are not. I can also tell you that I understand fully how it feels to be the only one. And I fully recognized that in your own Jewish spaces you may be the only one. And I can tell you that I met 140+ black, brown, and beige Jews and they promised to have my back. Which means they have your back, too.



2 Responses to "Coming Down"

First of all no to the Queen Bee idea. Secondly, it was amazing to meet you my sister I never wanted but glad I have now. I caught myself smiling a lot because of looking around at the faces of the people who look like me. I was honored to meet you and I love you, and I have your back.

I love you too, big brother 🙂

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