a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Finding Jewish Relevance and Meaning in Rasta and Reggae Culture — A Personal Journey {Cross-Post}

Posted on: July 17, 2013

Ilana Kaufman on the intersections of race, religion and culture:

Just about the time I realized being brown and Jewish was to others more fascinating than fabulous, I was also an emerging adolescent, complete with the requisite knuckle headedness and edgy attitude that are hallmarks of the tween and teen years.  Being a young person is hard enough.  Being a young person at that time caught between two conflictual cultures was sometimes just plain hard.  I often sought relief from people who were neither Black nor Jewish. The outside perspective was welcome.  I would often end up at my neighbor Lotus’ house.  Lotus, the mother of a friend, seemed to understand exactly what I needed at the time—to be introduced to David Letterman and Bob Marley.   I started to listen to Reggae music and reflect on the words of Bob Marley, Steel Pulse and Israel Vibrations, and I knew I needed to know more about these mysterious Rastas who, from my Black Jewish perspective, seemed somehow related to me.

I asked my mom to buy me the book, Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari.  For the next several years that little hand-sized book lived on the shelf in the front bathroom, and was my personal retreat-reading anytime I needed to get closer to the symbols and images of Judaism that resonated with me.  Right there in the pages of one single text were images of the Magen David and Lion of Judah, denouncements of pork and admonishments to eat vegetables, and images of beautiful multiracial women–something I never, ever saw in Shul (and still don’t, unfortunately).  I needed to go all the way to Rastafarianism to find symbols and images that resonated with me as a Jew.   I must have been about thirteen at the time, and that year I become Bat Mitzvah and proclaimed to my mother that upon adulthood I would have Dreadlocks and tattoos.  My mom said, “fine…” She must have been distracted during that conversation, but I was serious.

Read the rest here.

If you’re in the Bay Area be sure to check out the premier of Awake Zion on August 9th.

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