a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Just Jew it, Ya’ll!

Posted on: March 28, 2011

Yes, that’s me wearing a shirt with a Hasid playing basketball a la Michael Jordan.  I figured what was more black than basketball and what’s more Jewish than a Hasid?  That’s why I bought the shirt and wore it, as a black Jew.

I lied.

I stole the shirt from Mirs and well, I’m just a black Jew (who’s gay).

Happy Monday, friends!  I had the most amazing Shabbat and weekend and couldn’t wait to share it with you.  I had to wait until today, though, because I’ve been a working machine.  I think it best to start with Shabbat because, it’s the best part of the week.  Is it not?

Early last week my Modern Orthodox friend, A, sent me a facebook asking what I had planned for Friday and invited Mirs and I to her shul for service and to Shabbat dinner with friends.  I accepted gladly, of course, and sent her numerous e-mails and texts about what to wear.

On Friday evening Mirs and I joined A and her husband and friend for service at Congregation B’nai Avrahamin Brooklyn Heights.  I was assured by A that her shul was amazing and that no one would judge what we wore or who we were.  Still, I fussed over what to wear, especially because wearing skirts isn’t Mirs thing.  I fussed over whether I’d be outed as a non-Jew.  I fussed over if I’d understand what was going on or if people would stare at my giant hair.  I even debated wrapping it just to avoid looks.  I ended up wearing a skirt that was long, but exposed my knees when I sat down, my hair was full and out in all it’s glory, and had an amazing spiritual experience, even though I had no idea what was going on half the time.  Lucky for me, the service was short and A made a great guide.

Even without her assistance, it would have been an awesome experience.  Let me break away from Judaism to talk Baptist Church with you.  Black Baptist Churches are an experience that everyone should have at least once in their life.  There is nothing like a Baptist Church experience and it makes up so much of my religious past, even though I didn’t feel connected to it.  I loved going for the music but the message was where I was sometimes lost and angered.  I loved watching the love of God overcome people in a fit of the holy ghost but at the same time was frightened and convinced it was a hoax.  I loved watching people pray to God with their hands stretched towards the heavens, their eyes closed, and their lips moving in praise.  Movement in prayer, is what I love to see, even if it doesn’t come naturally to me.

One of the reasons my man crush on Noah Aronson is so strong is because of the way that he loves God through music.  His love of God is infectious and he can make a “buttoned up” Reform service into one that almost looks like a Baptist service.  Granted their aren’t shouts of praise to God’s name or dances of joy to God but there is movement and singing and praise of God.  I remember one service, in particular, where Noah told the congregation in an almost scolding way during Shalom Aleichem that they needed to sing with joy, it was Shabbat Kabbalat service, which is the joyful Shabbat.  He urged them to sing along, sing louder and welcome in the Sabbath Bride with happiness and joy.  They listened and sang with open hearts and joy and it was a moving spiritual experience.

Friday was like listening to a Noah service because the men (yes their was a partition) sang the prayers and psalms with joy and loud voices.  There wasn’t a cantor or an organ or piano or drum kit.  Just the voices of men and women singing and the beat kept by the pounding of fists on wooden tables.  I watched as the men davened with vigor and movement swaying and rocking side by side.  Mirs asked how Pathy, my mother, would like this experience vs. the Shabbat service she had when she visited me.  I thought for a moment and looked at the singing, the moving, the pounding of fists and thought she might not dislike it.

The service was comparatively shorter than Reform services I’m used to and was completely void of English except for when a person would shout out page numbers in the siddur.  My lack of Hebrew knowledge wasn’t a distraction, though, because the melodies of some of the prayers I recognized.  L’cha Dodi, one of my favorite songs to sing, was in a tune I’d never heard but LOVED.  It also helped that I sometimes listen to Siddur Radio which is either Hasidic or Orthodox.  I wouldn’t have needed any of it because the spiritual aspect was very comforting to me.

After service we walked to a friend’s home for Shabbat dinner.  These friends, the producer and artist featured in the documentary Punk Jews, were very gracious and I got to experience a Shabbat dinner filled with prayer, tradition, singing, and more l’chaims than I’ve ever experienced in my life.  I met a lot of new Jewish friends and when I glanced at my watch was shocked that it was almost midnight.

Monday and I am still buzzing from the experience.  It was nice to be in a room with young Jews who openly and passionately talk about Torah, prayer, and God.  It was amazing to experience prayer in a way that was engaging physically and spiritually.  It was awesome to experience an Orthodox shul that surpassed my expectations in a positive way, although I was told by all of the people present at Shabbat dinner that not all Orthodox shuls are like theirs.

I don’t know what it means that I felt at home and at peace in a space that I really had no clue what was going on.  I do know that having that experience is one that I won’t soon forget.  I know that when I feel spiritually void that I can go there.  I know while it was my first time in that shul, it won’t be my last.  On Friday night my love for Judaism was once again confirmed.  I am glad and proud to be a part of the Jewish people.



©Erika K. Davis

5 Responses to "Just Jew it, Ya’ll!"

Gosh I wanna live in NYC!!! Okay, no, I’d rather live in LA or Miami but you do make NYC sound awesome. I live in a entirely un-Jewish neighborhood. There is also serious lack of young Jews who are interested Judaism in this area.

Oh and I like the wrap 🙂

NYC totally trumps LA, any day! But that’s just the Brooklyn girl in me 😉 It really was a great experience and I cannot wait to go again soon.

I have a wrap on presently as well, I’ve been lazy in the hair-doing department!

I hate, loath and despise the cold even here so NY would be torturous 🙂

I’m thinking about trying to tye dye some wraps. Hopefully without making a HUGE mess. I might have a friend help. She loves tye dye and does it often.

[…] I’m excited to visit the Modern Orthodox shul I visted last fall with my friends Ayelet and the amazing and talented Elke at Congregation B’nai Avraham in […]

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