a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Not So Special

Posted on: December 3, 2014

There’s something quite precious about naivety. There’s an innocence that sometimes boarders on delusion, but it’s sweet. Well, that’s at least how I like to think about my own naivety in relation to becoming Jewish. I had so many questions; first and foremost was how I, a black, gay woman, could be a Jew. I named my blog, Black, Gay and Jews partially because I love Rebecca Walker, partially because I thought it fit me perfectly, and partially because I thought I was special. Thinking I was special is the naivety. 

Of course, I am not special. Or rather, there’s nothing inherently special about being a black, Gay Jew. In fact I know a lot of black gay, trans, bi Jews that I almost (not really) think my blog name should be “One Woman Who is Black, Gay and Jewish.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Ilana Kaufman, another black, gay Jewish woman, about a year ago with my JMN hat on, though we realized we’d spoken via email for some time. She’s been profiled in Haaretz, which is pretty cool in and of itself. It’s also pretty cool that Ilana is pretty amazing.

Photo from JTA.com

Photo from JTA.com

(JTA) — When Ilana Kaufman, a program officer at the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, arrived at San Quentin State Prison for a meeting with the Jewish chaplain at California’s oldest correctional facility, the chaplain couldn’t seem to find her — even though Kaufman was standing in plain sight.

As Kaufman waited in the receiving area, a security officer by her side, the spiritual leader of the prison community — largely composed of men of color — turned her head left and right trying to locate the federation representative whose name she knew but whose face she had never seen.

“Finally the officer says, ‘Chaplain, this person standing right next to me,’” Kaufman recalled. “And the chaplain says, ‘You know, you are not who I expected.’”

It wasn’t the first time that Kaufman, 42, had heard such a comment.

In her two years as the federation officer responsible for regional grant making in Marin and Sonoma counties, Kaufman had seen her fair share of jaws drop when she walked into a Jewish communal space. Kaufman is black — the daughter of an Ashkenazic Jewish mother and an African-American father.

Keep reading on Haaretz. 

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