a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Hey, How Are You?

Posted on: December 29, 2011

I realized I haven’t done a hey, how are you-post in a long while.  I’m going to give ya’ll an update on what’s going on in my life and in my Jewish life and then you should post a comment that says hi how are you too, okay?

Israel.

Word cannot express how wonderful my trip was.    And how grateful I am to everyone who made my trip possible.  Thank yous aren’t enough, I know but I’ll forever say thank you.  I still (still!) wake up about every third night on Israeli time.  I kind of hope it continues until I make it back.  It’s a great, albeit kind of annoying, reminder that Israel is still in my heart.

I had a great opportunity to return to Israel and do amazing work with an amazing organization.  Unfortunately, you’ll recall that four-month stint without a job.  It’s still rearing it’s ugly head in bills that are months behind and leaving for Israel for five months while amazing, feels like I’m running away from responsibility. 

I hope to return in 2012, rather, I’m confident that I will return in 2012 in some capacity with the hopes of staying for two or more weeks and visiting places and people I didn’t get to see on my first trip.  I let A Wider Bridge quote me on something I’ll share with you, Israel was “the single most life-altering experience of my life.”  I’m sure I’ll post little memories of Israel as time goes on, but I had to stop posting about it because I felt like my thoughts were really scattered and all over the place.

It’s a complicated place filled with conflicts, truths, pain, joy, beauty and ugliness.  At the suggestion of one of my friends I’m reading a non-fiction book on Israel in between Jewish Wisdom.  It’s good, it’s frank, it’s honest.  It’s complicated because that’s what Israel is. 

I will say this, I didn’t expect Israel to be so white.  Perhaps it’s where we were and the people we met verses the people we didn’t, but it felt a lot like being in Brooklyn at times, but with better food.  I’m hoping that when I go back and do more exploring I’ll get to see more diversity.

Judaism.

Can you believe I’m Jewish?  Sometimes it feel like I’ve always been Jewish and sometimes it feels like I’m trying to keep my head above water.  When I got off the plane from Israel (after crying again) I decided I wanted to go back to school.  It was the first thing I told my gf when I saw her.  I told her I wanted to get a Masters in Middle Eastern Languages or Middle Eastern Religion with a focus on Islam and Judaism or Conflict Resolution with a Focus on Israel/Palestine or Religious Studies and look at the Middle Eastern Roots of Monotheism.  Granted those are four different, but similar areas to get my masters in.  It’s really a matter of finding a program in NYC, the rest is just studying, reading, and hopefully traveling to the Middle East a lot.  Something sparked in Israel.

Yesterday a blog on CNN about Jewish Diversity (don’t read the comments) reinforced the fact that who we are as Jews is seriously misconstrued in the eyes of Jews and gentiles alike.  It’s been said on this blog before and it’s the slogan of Be’chol Lashon, but it needs to be heard louder.  We are a Global People.  Jews come in all hues, and more importantly we’re not the same. 

My new metaphor for how I’ve started to think about Judaism and how I fit into Judaism isn’t about fitting.  It’s about molding Judaism around me, rather than trying to fit into a box.  Judaism has a set of rule, to be sure  We have the wonderful gift of Torah, but we’re also given free-will and encouraged to wrestle with that Torah.  Israel was named such because he wrestled with God.  It has been the Jewish way to wrestle since Torah times.  One of the first metaphors I used to describe Judaism was like being in a room, and it’s still like that for me.  It’s also about making it my own, and not being afraid of it not being kosher. 

This rumbling with the Haredi community in Israel is so painful.  It’s painful to see Jews tormenting other Jews.  It’s painful to see Judaism at these extremes and it’s painful to see men without the realization that they are not God.  Men cannot judge us truly, only God can do that.  It’s in human nature to judge, and we find ways of putting ourselves above others so that we’re on top.  But, that’s not our purpose and it will definitely not bring the Messiah.

This blog is small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it matters.  It matters because it’s personal to me, but it matters because it tells a truth.  Jews aren’t one thing, one kind of person, one practice.  We’re as varied as the people who make us up.  Sometimes we’re complacent and let things just sort of glide by and that’s okay.  I’m not the kind of Jew who let’s things just go by.

Erika.

I’m a real person, not just “Black, Gay and Jewish.”  If I were to make t-shirts (oh, maybe I should make t-shirts) BG&J would be my brand.  It’s my online persona, it’s how you reach me on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s not Erika.  The real Erika is a girl from Ohio who lives in Brooklyn with a pain in the ass cat.  She’s a new Jew and she’s going back to school.  She’s also really grateful to have you come to this little place in the cybersphere to read about my journey.

So say hi.

 

or just read.

9 Responses to "Hey, How Are You?"

Are you going to Rabbinical School?

I don’t know…It’s on the back burner right now. I have a friend and rabbi who thinks it best for me to go because having the title of Rabbi helps people to hear you more clearly. Meaning, if I’m a Rabbi, I’ve got the title and it gives me cred. But, I don’t want that to be the only reason I become a Rabbi. I feel a connection to Judaism and I want to be a Jewish educator, but I don’t know if that means being a Rabbi. At least not right now? Maybe after a Masters?

Ah, so what do you think you’ll do for your Master’s? I would love love love the Judaic Studies/Social Work Combination through JTS and Columbia but that isn’t going to happen :-)

Hey love your blog. I came across it by searching for black gay and Jewish. I wanted to know like how did you begin to transition from Christianity to Judaism? Also, any good reads you would recommend for someone interested in learning more about becoming Jewish.
Thank you

Hey Erika,

I don’t mean to offend, but…. in the photo on the Temple Mount, it kind of looks like you’re in one of those places which Jews are not allowed to go to according to halacha? (as far as I’m informed) :-) If you (did you?) went with a Jewish group, like I did, they sort of take you around the perimetre of the temple mount, and you don’t go up on the platform, because when the Temple stood, Yisrael couldn’t go up there, only the Cohanim could. (or something like that lol)

Sophia :)

Hey Sophia,
You’re not offending! I did go to Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount. I took a picture of the sign saying that Jews aren’t supposed to go there, but nothing about me is “halachic” :) I’m reform and I’m a lesbian.

Israel and the Holy Land as a whole isn’t about my duty to go there as a Jew or about it being my right to go, it’s more about the fact that it is the seat of all monotheistic religions. I wish Dome of the Rock would be open again (the inside) to Jews and Christians because of the spiritual significance of the place.

Hey,
Good luck with your studies. I spent three years studying in Israel and loved every moment of it. I am still tempted to go back to school and to do a doctorate in Bible or some modern Jewish stuff… but I feel I am too old sometimes ;) the rabbinic studies is tempting as well, many people told me I could be a good rabbi, and I feel the place I live in needs progressive (and queer!) rabbi, but I am not sure.
If you want, you can check out my blog, but don’t be scared – it’s in Polish :) (but hey, that’s what google translate is for, right?).
Good luck with your choices, I am glad I found your blog.

Google Translate is like a gift from Gd!
Figuring out what to study and who will give me the most flexibility to let me do what I want is definitely hard. I, too, considered and am still considering rabbinical school. In my head I’d create an incredibly open egalitarian traditional spiritual queer-friend, pet-friendly, kid-friendly racially and ethically diverse synagogue that doubles as a homeless shelter and has a garden out back and some chickens…ha! :)

One thing I know is this-we’re NEVER too old.

Thanks so much for reading my blog and for your comment.

If it weren’t for the ocean between, you could count me in your minyan! :D

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