a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Love the stranger-Black Jewish Relations

Posted on: September 14, 2010

I’m going to try to not jump to conclusions and give a certain website the benefit of the doubt before I delete them from my list serve and name names.  I’m a little angry, if I’m being frank I’m down right pissed.  I was browsing one of the regular Jewish websites I frequent late last week and noticed an interesting article about “looking” Jewish.  The author wrote a wonderfully written passage about her struggles about “looking” or “not looking” Jewish and I related to her.

She is a born Jew finding her way back home, I am in the process of converting.  For all intensive purposes she’s white and I’m black.  Still, I understood her story and like I do on so many websites I made a comment.  Now, days later and many comments later mine is no where to be found.

Often when going to websites I reference this blog in my comments.  I do so to bring readers here but also to let other Jews who may be converts, may be queer, or may be of color know that there is a website where they can read about a black, gay, Jewish journey.  I don’t like to segment things because I think that we can always learn something from someone.  Still, in this journey towards Judaism it’s important that other Jews of Color or other converts, or other queer Jews know that there’s someone out there, some one listening, some one “like them” on some level.

Was the webmaster offended that I was a woman, were they offended that I was a convert, that I’m gay, that I’m black, that I’m opinionated…It could either be all of the above, or they haven’t made it to my comment yet.  I’d like to think that they haven’t made it to my comment yet, although new comments have been posted since.

The Torah teaches us to love the stranger, reminding us that we, Jews, were strangers in Egypt.  Easier said than done.  There are clear indicators that make me a stranger in a Jewish environment given the view of what a Jew looks like in the US.  Americans view Jews as white when Jews come in all different shades.  Still, walking into a synagogue I look different and therefore are treated differently when in fact, since I am a stranger, I should be made to feel welcomed.  This is not to say that I’m not welcomed but there are always wondering eyes, expressions, curiosity.  Am I lost?  Have I come here by accident?  Is she really singing the same song I am?   Did she pronounce that Hebrew word better than I?  She wished me a Shabbat Shalom?

Over my last burger Mirs asked me if I thought that people of color could be racist.  She reasoned that people of color could definitely be prejudiced but wondered could we really be racist when our skin color has never made us the majority.  Therefore,  we never really get to feel superior, like a person with white skin. So, could we be racist?  I countered what were racists Jews excuses, then?  As Jews we were driven out of our lands from Biblical times and even now yet racism exists in Jewish culture.

I remember reading accounts of born Jews of color, that is that wonderful phenomenon that is a person of color being born a Jew rather than a convert.  Don’t get me wrong, it makes perfect sense to me because, you know Jerusalem is on the continent of Africa but I digress.  I’ve read in “The Color of Jews” and accounts online of Jews of color experiencing out right racism and their peers responding, “well we don’t mean you, we mean them.”  referring to other blacks or blacks outside of their Jewish community.

Historically speaking, I cannot think of two other minority groups that have more in common.  Blacks were stripped from their home land, they were forced into slavery, they had to give up their religion (which could have been Jewish) they were treated as second class citizens and a group of people, who could be compared to Moses being guided through the wilderness by G-d, helped guide them out of the bonds of slavery to freedom.  Yet there is clear hatred and clear misunderstanding between the two groups.

Over the summer, Mirs and I were riding our bikes back to her old neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  There is a pretty substantial Hasidic population there closely neighbored with blacks.  There were a group of black boys, about 3 or so and a group of Hasidic boys about 6 or so.  I don’t know what occurred before we rode by, but one black boy, in particular, was being held back by his friends yelling insults and hatred to a Hasidic boy who was saying equally ugly things while trying to walk away.  Both of their friends were urging the two to leave the situation while the eyes of other blacks and Hasids looked on.

I rode by and shook my head but felt torn.  Should I side with this black person who I have nothing in common with except for the color of my skin, or the Jew who I have nothing in common with except for my religion.  Yet, I exist, to quote Rebecca Walker.  I’m a black Jew (to be).  To the black people watching it’s easy to say, “those Jews”  to a Hasidic person watching it’s easy to say, “those blacks” but what of a white supremest would they say, “let them kill each other”

I don’t have an answer to Mirs’ question because I personally feel that minority groups should respect and learn from one another.  As a black woman I try to relate to other minority groups and their struggles.  I don’t tolerate racism on any level.  It makes sense to me that minority groups “stick together”  even if you’re not the same, or if you don’t agree on all issues, the common denominator is that we’re a minority.

I don’t know, I don’t even know how to end this post except to wonder …if that website will post my comment or if I’m going to have to call them out.

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