a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self


Posted on: June 16, 2011

A few weeks ago the Salute to Israel parade went down Manhattan’s 5th Avenue.  I was in Ohio so missed it.  Lately I’ve been thinking more about Israel.  The more I think the less I actually come to a definite opinion about my views.   In my experience most Jewish people have definite opinions about the State of Israel.  I’ve been around many Shabbos tables in which someone turns to me with a smile and asks, “Have you been to Israel?”  I always tell them that I have not and they list off reasons why I should go.  I want to go, I’m just conflicted.  As converts there seems to be a division, of sorts, between your pre-Jewish thinking and Jewish thinking.  Before making the decison to convert I had very strong and very opposed feelings about the State of Israel.  Now…

In the late fall Mirs and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage .  I’ve been to several Holocaust remembrance museums, nearly every Jewish Museum has a Holocaust memorial but for some reason, being at this museum something clicked.   I’ve always had a pretty clear understanding of why there was need for a Jewish State after the War.  Neighbors and countries literally turned their backs on Jewish people who were displaced.  People were left without a home or a country and needed a place to live.  Without getting into the Biblical promises made of a Promise Land found in more than one Holy Book-the idea of “discovering” or “owning” land already occupied is a hard pill to swallow.  Especially when it happened so recently in history.  Sure 1948 was a long time ago-but it really isn’t.

It’s obvious that Columbus did not discover America.  The country that was named America was already occupied by people.  The land and the people thrived until it was “discovered” and “civilized.”  I have the same feeling about the land of Israel.  It existed with living breathing people before it was called Israel.  So this need for a home but acquisition of a home already home to another is definitely hard for me to comprehend and agree with.  I imagine what it must have been like in 1492 when Native Americans first saw the ships approaching their shores.  I can imagine what it was like for Palestinians to have waves of immigrants “coming home” to reclaim land.

It’s even more complex as a convert not doing an Orthodox conversion.  The powers that be in Israel today would most likely not grant me Israeli citizenship if I decided that I wanted to move to Israel.  My conversion as a Reform Jew would be deemed invalid.

There is still this pull towards Israel.  Not as a Jewish state and not even as a Jewish person, but because it makes up so much of my Christian history as well.  As a child when I discovered that I could find Bethlehem on a map I was surprised.  The Bible is one of the oldest books I’ve read surely the places in it were made up or washed away by time.  They aren’t.  I want to go to Jerusalem as a Jewish person but one cannot subtract the Muslim and Christian history seated in Jerusalem.  The stories of The Bible are fascinating because when you discover that the lands we read about thousands of years ago still exist you can’t help but get excited at the idea of walking on the same streets, cooling your feet in the same seas that those people.  Taking away the Bible the land itself is filled with so much human history.  The very seat of Monotheism is a place we can visit today.  In my Utopian idea of Judaism and religion as a whole the Holy Land, as it were, would be a bit like Switzerland or Costa Rica.

If you’re a Jewish youth you have the opportunity to visit Israel on a BirthRightTrip.  My ideas and thoughts around the trip and name will be saved for later but there is a bit of jealousy that there isn’t such a trip for Jews by Choice.  Yes, we can go to Israel, yes we can take trips with other Jews by Choice but where’s our free trip?  (Did you hear the whining?  I can’t seem to stop whining lately) I actually whined to one of my rabbis that converts are just as deserving, if not more deserving of a free or low-cost trip to Israel.  Will your average horny 18 year-old boy really appreciate a trip to Israel or will he appreciate the hot Israeli women?  Whining aside, there are options for Jews by Choice, LGBTQ Jews, Jews of Color, etc. to visit Israel.  Keshet is currently planning a November trip to Israel that I’m thinking about attending…I’d just like a free or low-cost trip. 

My thoughts on Israel in terms of the politics vs my desire to see and experience Israel always conflict.  I know that I will go, I hope to go sooner than later and I will go with no expectations but just to experience what Jews have experiences for thousands of years.  I want to go not because it’s my right as a Jew but because all of the land in that region is embedded in my religious history.  When I go to Israel I want to visit not just that country but surrounding countries.  I want to experience history and live a life removed from the life that I live.  The interesting thing about Israel vs the US is the division between state and religion.  I’m American, I don’t want politics in my religion.  I chose to become Jewish so there will always be politics in my religion.

31 Responses to "Israel…"

You don’t have to have an Orthodox conversion to become an Israeli citizen.

I too wish there was a low cost trip for converts. There is a group that does “highly subsidized” trips for women. I can’t think of the name now but I can check on it for you. I will apply eventually they are selective so there is no guarantee I would ever be chosen. I probably won’t get to Israel for a very long time, after I’ve had children and they are older.

Really? That’s a relief. I don’t know where I read that you had to have an Orthodox conversion in order to be an Israeli citizen…There are so many things that need to be done “by the book” I thought alyiah was one of them. Let me know if you find out which women’s trip that is! I’d love to go

Yep, really. I know someone who made aliyah on a Reform conversion and I’ve read blogs by others who had non-Orthodox conversions who are making aliyah. You just can’t get married or be buried.

http://www.jwrp.org/ – that is the organization of women that take trips.

I was told JBCs can go on the trip too…was I misinformed? If so, that’s B.S. 🙁

Birthright trips? Yes, Jews By Choice can go-this Jew by Choice is too old 🙂

I think that’s too bad. I feel on the fence about Israel, although I’m surrounded by zionists who keep shoving their thoughts, feelings, and views down my throat. It’s kind of annoying, actually.
But for starters, it would be nice to go there for a trip. Where are you finding all these planned trips to Israel?

Oh my goodness, Israel. I have no idea what to do with Israel either. I want to say, ‘yes! Jews have had a bad rap for most of Common Era history!’ and on the other side I want to say, ‘but what about the people already living there?’ Like you, I thought of the Native American population here in the US when Europeans arrived. I feel the Zionist move into Palestine was potentially just as detrimental, and frankly I don’t give a damn about biblical claims to ‘the right’ to any land. The world moves on from stuff like that; Jews in the first century changed the tide when they began rebelling against the Roman state. If they hadn’t, there was a potential they could have kept the Holy Land for themselves, at least through the first two centuries. Rome was perfectly willing to just leave them alone at that point.

It is clear to me, however, that the Holy Land is so for three major world religions. Like siblings of the same Father, they need to learn to coexist, or become hopelessly lost to competing with each other. That’s my real opinion on the Holy Land. I’ll pray and hope for that.

I guess that I am fairly Zionist in my thinking, though I don’t believe everything Israel does it ALWAYS right.

@ Jezel-They’re all over the interweb…if you’re young enough you could go on a BR trip…
@Dena-I totally feel you in a way. I understand the whys behind the formation of the state of Israel and I understand the need for a Jewish homeland, especially because we’ve been homeless for thousands of years. The ideals of Zionism are hard for me to swallow for many reasons, lack of a temple, lack of need for a homeland without a temple, lack of Messiah…to bring the temple in the land of Israel. Israel is the home of many people but it was someone elses home before…it could go back to the idea that humans shouldn’t own land in the first place. But that’s just Utopian Erika talking again
@Colleen-Your last statement is so right-on. The three have to coexist, not should or did, but they have to.

Jews have always lived in Judea. It is simply a lie that the Jews appeared after WWII.

Hey Anon and welcome to the world of BGJ! I agree with you 100%…I hope it doesn’t sound like I am under the impression that Jews magically appeared in 1948

Erika- First off I want to say I just saw your “make it better” project and I really loved it. I am a 3rd gender queer trans girl who has felt, in many ways, frustrated by the IGB project. And your message really spoke to many of my experiences. I just found your blog and I look forward to reading more of what you have to say. I hope you will check out mine too =) (saffolicious.blogspot.com)

I do want to say a couple things about Israel though. You are very right to point out the parallels between the genocide and colonization of Native people here and Zionism. While anon is right that there were Jewish people living in the land of Palestine before 1948, that is completely different from the creation of an ethnically homogenous nation-state. (For instance, there were many Jews in Palestine who were opposed to the creation of Israel.)

1948 is not a long time ago. Many Zionists will say that we should forget 1948 and move on, and yet still make reference to thousand-year-old history as a justification for the ethnic cleansing that is happening in the West Bank right now. The truth is, saying that people should “forget” about 1948 is like saying that people in the US should “forget” about slavery, or the genocide of Native people. It is easy for the privileged to want to move on and forget, but for the millions who are still living in refugee camps, longing to return to their homeland, it’s not so easy to forget.

Zionism from its outset was sent on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Ben Gurion and those around him were very well aware of that. That’s why in 1948 they wiped over 500 Palestinian vilages off the map, forced 700,000 Palestinians from their villages, and massacred thousands. (With the help of the British colonists, they identified who were the Palestinians who had led the uprising against the British in the 30s, and made sure to exterminate them.) It was a premeditated ethnic cleansing and was, from the beginning, a colonial project. If you would like to learn more about this history that has been intentionally erased (much like the way the genocide of Native people here has been erased) please check out Ilan Pappé’s book “The Ethnic Cleaning of Palestine.” Pappé is an Israeli historian who is very much hated by the Israeli government and is currently living in exile.

I think it is great that you want to go there and see for yourself. But please, if you do go, make sure to see the Palestinian perspective. There is a really great program called Birthright Unplugged: http://www.birthrightunplugged.org/ and I believe they even do queer visits. (I am queer and I hope to go someday.) I don’t know about free or low-cost because the resistance movement obviously has way less money than the Zionist groups. Groups like birthright are funded by the Zionist lobby and intentionally erase any history of Palestinians from the region. (I even heard from an ex-Zionist friend of mine who went on a trip like that that they made him and everyone else in the group wear blindfolds when they were driving through occupied Palestinian territory, so people wouldn’t witness the existence of Palestinians.)

For voices coming within the Jewish community who are critical of Zionism, I think you might like the Young Jewish and Proud group, part of Jewish Voice for Peace: http://www.youngjewishproud.org/about/ Also, check out the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network: http://www.ijsn.net/home/

Please be aware that while Jewish Americans have the privilege of being able to travel for free or cheep to Israel, the Palestinians living in refugee camps cannot even visit the villages they were kicked out of. This is a racist, apartheid system. Anti-apartheid leaders from South Africa have identified it as such– Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both recognize Israel as an apartheid state, as did white South African president Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid. (In fact Israel even tried to sell nuclear bombs to the South African apartheid regime.) In fact, the movement to recognize Israel as an apartheid state has grown out of solidarity between black South Africans and Palestinians. If you would like to learn more about the ways in which Israel is an apartheid state, please check out http://www.itisapartheid.org

Finally, I have to mention that what is happening in Palestine/Israel is not some far-off conflict. It is a conflict that is funded by the United States. In fact, 1/3 of all US aid money goes to Israel. (That’s more money than all of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa combined.) The United States is in no small part reponsible for this conflict, and that support is completely a result of political pressure from AIPAC– the most powerful lobbying group in the country.

I’m glad you’re asking these difficult questions and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

Much Love,

Quickly I will say thank you for your words. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I need time to respond to such a well-thought response! In the meantime, many thanks for your kind words about my IGB video and for taking the time to reach out. 🙂 Good Shabbos

I would like a reputable, government document or website that states that Israel receives 1/3 of all US aid. So far, I can only find websites that say, when combining military and development aid, that Israel AND Egypt *COMBINED* receive 1/3 of US Aid. I haven’t done the math to figure out what Israel’s individual percentage is, though I have no doubt it is quite high and undeservedly so.

I also find it funny that you fail to mention that Gaza/West Bank is the fifth highest recipient of development aid, right after, wait for it, Israel. Now we can argue all the live long day that Israel shouldn’t be receiving development aid at all given that it is a developed country, that this is just hush money, leave Israel alone money, etc, but fact is that they receive money too. And failure to mention this makes me disinclined to trust people who deliberately misconstrue facts in order to make their point.

It’s fascinating seeing the different responses to this issue here. I think, from the responses that I’m seeing is that extremity is never a good thing when it has to do with human relations.

Of course, Jews have been in Judea since before WWII. The Jewish population in Judea was completely devistated after the Bar Kosiba revolt in 135 CE and they were barred from Jerusalem, but some small Jewish populations survived. The Jews were allowed back into the Holy City by Muslims sometime in the Middle Ages, but I can’t remember when. I believe that some Jews went back, of course, but its really that the vast majority of Jews were in Diaspora until after WWII, when they came back to the Promised Land in numbers perhaps not seen since the Babylonian captivity.
The issue for me is really the 1900 years between these events and the people that settled there in that time. Do they really deserve to be pushed fromtheir homes? Did Jews deserve the hundreds of years of abuse for being Europe’s ‘them’?
It’s a crappy situation either way. I still hold that I have no idea what to do with this issue.

I love the commenting going on, too! I agree that it’s a crap situation which ever way you turn it. It’s hard to look at it from one perspective and not see it from the other. What I think is great about what’s going on here is that people aren’t trying to say that either way is ideal. It would be easy to say that one side is right and the other is wrong but when you’re talking about people rather than, say comparing apples to oranges, you can never have a right or wrong answer.

It’s sort of the reason that I posted-to get perspectives and to get information to help with how I feel about Israel. I honestly have no “answer” in terms of what I think…but I do feel something when I hear or read Israel on the news, in papers, or online. If I hear Israel I feel something-like nervousness that what I’m going to read will be bad and then feel that I for some reason have to defend Israel. Or on the opposite side when I’m around really Zionist folks I feel tongue-tied and a little flustered because I cannot articulate my opposition to occupation in a thoughtful way…

I hate moments like that too. I did the same thing with my mum when she would try to argue the gay thing with me. Beyond the hillarious moments like when she demanded to know how she could ever tell people her daughter was a ‘lesbo’ (lol), she would argue the same points I had heard for years against it, and though I knew my answers, I still found it hard to speak.

IMO, the hardest position to argue is the one that keeps all sides in mind. It’s so easy to argue the supremecy of your ideas, however. I say keepyour mindset and remember that we can’t take anyone’s problems for granted. 🙂

Before I start… An Ashkenazi Jew with a non-Jewish parent. (If you were wondering.)

The only thing I’d like to point out is that talking only of “Europe’s other” is a fallacy. About half of modern Israeli population themselves came or are descendants of Jews from Muslim/Arab countries. And it’s not like their life was much better than European Jews’. Sure, there was no European-scale Holocaust. But there were recurring anti-Jewish pogroms. And laws specifically directed against Jewish populations were instituted as well. (And while some maintain it was a reaction to Zionism, that simply isn’t the complete picture. Besides Zionism, there was also Arab nationalism that was on the rise at the same time and surely contributed to this as well.)

The problem, as I see it, has two parts. People only remembering “Europe’s other”, willingly or negligently 1) erase the non-Ashkenazi Jewish history and experience – which includes a long history of its own brand of Zionism; 2) disregard history of the Middle East – by that I mean recent existence of large Muslim empires – Ottoman and Persian, where there was a certain degree of mobility between areas.

Thanks for the identification (never needed but always appreciated) I agree…I have so many conflicting views and totally understand that the plight of the Arab Jews outside of the story of European Jews. For centuries we have been pushed out, marginalized, harassed and put to death for our faith. Which is why I think that a land, a homeland for a “homeless” people is necessary and needed. It’s always hard for my Jewish heart to wrestle with my pre-Jewish heart.

Zionism= Rascism! Saffo thank you for speaking the truth.


If you have such strong anti-Israeli feelings what are you doing here converting to Judaism? You’d fit in much better joining some Palestine liberation organization and perhaps converting to Islam… You’d feel much more at home there…

O’Malley-I generally have a hard time approving comments that are argumentative for the sake of argument but I felt the need to do so. The discussion isn’t anti-Israel as much as a discussion about human beings. As a convert, you have a duty to Judaism and the Jewish people. There are many people who are born Jews who oppose the occupation in Israel. I also think it’s important for people whether they be Jews by birth, Jews by choice, or non-Jews to understand the politics and what is happening in Israel/Palestine. I can be a Jewish person and feel towards human beings. Being a Jewish person doesn’t mean that I’m anti-human rights.

It’s a discussion, it is talking, it is commenting and creating a space in which one can express feelings about the Holy Land, as a whole, as it were. I have every intention of becoming Jewish and all that I am asked is that I consider Israel and what it means to me as a Jewish person. In asking that question, you cannot forget or negate the fact that in order for Israel to become and remain a Jewish state, it is denying basic human rights of Palestinians.

While I appreciate your comment, for the sake of argument, I think you’re missing the point, have not actually read my entire blog, or taken the time to read anything about me and my views on Israel. I’m still up in the air. I have complete intention on visiting it. God named Jacob Israel because he “Wrestled with God”. Israel refers to the people Israel it is the country Israel-while I understand and respect it, that I have issue with because, as I stated. When you make a country from a country that already existed it becomes complicated.

also, referring to women, especially this black woman, as “gal” is really disrespectfully. Respectfully reply but I try to keep my site free of debris.

What a ridiculous and useless comment except to exemplify an argument that is blind to the humanity of the other side. Erika is completely correct to defend and consider the rights of Palestinians pushed out of their homes. The Jews have endured a great deal through history– don’t let all of that negativity harden you to the Palestinian people, because that’s exactly what they are: people. Don’t forget that.

When you are saying “etnically cleansed”, “ethnically homogeneous”, what exactly do you mean?
20% of Israeli citizens are arab israelis and last I checked they have the same rights as jewish israelis, armenian israelis, cherkassian israelis, druze israelis and any other israelis.

Those palestinian refugees of 1948 mainy left voluntarily following the leaders who called on them to temporarily leave for several days until the invading arab armies are done with Israel and push the jewish state into the sea.

Now, the outcome was much much better for the Arabs who stayed put in 1948 and became Arab Israelis then for those who
left following their leaders’ call and live in refugee camps in Lebanon without citizenship, much access to education and healthcare and forbidden to work in most professions

But why do you blame Israel and not Arab states who agreed not to grant them citizenship?

When you are saying that Israel denies palestinians some kind of rights, what exactly do you mean?
The right to return? But that would mean suicide to Israel… You might as well demand the jews just jump into the sea…

And by the way, your analogy with native americans is incorrect… It is the jews who are the indigeneous population of the land…
True, there was Arab population who moved in in the 6th-10th century after the jews left…

The analogy would be, if native americans wanted to return to their land and establish a small (< 1% of the whole US territory), native american state on the territory of the US, bilingual and with equal rights to the English population…
And even this analogy is not quite correct, because before Israel there was no Arab state there, it was British mandate territory and before that – Ottoman empire…

When I say ethnic cleansing, I mean exactly that. Ben Gurion and his group had been planning to expel Palestinians from their homes for years before the end of the British Mandate– it was called Plan Dalet. No, Palestinians did not “voluntarily leave” and many of the massacres happened well before the first Arab soldiers arrived.

As for Palestinian citizens of Israel, I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from. Please check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpW409WOgwE

93% of the land in Israel is designated Jewish-only. Many Palestinians in Israel live in “unrecognized villages”– villages older than the state of Israel, but which are not recognized by the state of Israel as having a legal right to exist. These villages are denied the privileges that Jewish Israeli villages enjoy– such as utilities and mail service. Many of these villages are routinely and repeatedly subjected to home demolitions: http://www.icahd.org/?page_id=5508 There is a bill in the Knesset right now to force Palestinians to pay for the cost of demolishing their own homes.

Sorry for the “gals”, for me it is a female equivalent to the “guys”, and I personally dont mind beng addressed as “gals”.
Hope “ladies” is ok then…

“There are many people who are born Jews who oppose the occupation in Israel.”

There are many idiotic jews, there are many self-hating jews…

“negate the fact that in order for Israel to become and remain a Jewish state, it is denying basic human rights of Palestinians. ”

What exacty do you mean? Which human rights does it deny to the Palestinians? If you mean Arab Israelis they have the same rights as jewish israelis and any other Israelis…
If you mean palestinians – refugees who left the land in 1948 and some in 1967, Israel can not deny them any rights – they are not citizens of Israel…
If you mean the right to return, they do not want to become Israeli citizens, then want a Palestinian state instead of Israel and all the jews out…
After this Israel will cease to exist at all, as a jewish state, or as a non-jewish state and the jewish citizens of israel – physically… How many Jews, for example, live in Gaza now?

As much as I am enjoying going back and forth-it seems a bit futile, no? Let’s just agree to disagree.

Referring to anyone who disagrees with you as “idiotic” or “self-hating” is not an effective argument. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfbS2nubivI

Israel is denying human rights to Palestinians by creating an ethnically-homogenous nation-state that only grants rights to Jewish people. Here is some more information about apartheid within Israel: http://itisapartheid.org/facts01.html

For Israel to be a Jewish state means that non-Jews do not have the same rights.

Play nice everyone! 🙂

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