a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Op-Ed: For black Orthodox Jews, constant racism is exhausting-A Cross Post

Posted on: July 17, 2015

Not only is Chava one of my best friends, she’s one the President of the Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN), the organization I am an active volunteer for.

Below is an expert of the candid piece that Chava wrote for JTA about racism in the Orthodox Jewish community. I often hear that these experiences are to be “expected” of the Orthodox because they’re “backwards” or “insular”. But, the fact remains that all of the racism and micro-aggressions I have experienced have happened in “progressive” Jewish communal spaces. Being mistaken for the help, being asked to share my story at an oneg, stopped by security while others walk freely in, sitting alone in a pew at a shul on erev Shabbat. These things happened to me in Reform synagogues. 

Obviously not all Jews are racist, just like not all white folks are racist. Yet, it is our responsibility as Jews to call out our peers when we hear racist things being said in our presence. We need to call out our leaders when literature doesn’t reflect community. And we need to bite our tongues, resisting the urge to ask someone how they are Jewish and simply wish them a Gut Shabbos if they’re new to your community.

At JMN we don’t make movies, we don’t host variety shows and we don’t highlight brown Jews in other countries. Instead, we have a dedicated group of volunteers, Chava and I included, as well as dozens of Jews who care passionately about making their communities welcoming and inclusive places for Jews of Color and Multiracial Jewish families. We don’t have a big budget and we’re often passed over for other organizations that show movies and host shows when grant making season comes around. Valid work, for sure, but we’d rather get our hands dirty, work in our communities and create change in a grass-roots fashion. Help JMN do this work by making a donation, volunteering your time or liking us on Facebook.

Shabbat Shalom.

Chava Shervington says the Orthodox Jewish community is beautiful, and better than its racism suggests. (Courtesy: Chava Shervington)

NEW YORK (JTA) – When I was 24, an Orthodox matchmaker tried to set me up on a date with a man older than my parents. When I objected, she told me, “Stop being so picky. Not many guys are willing to consider a black girl.”

As an African-American Orthodox Jew, this was hardly my first encounter with the questionable treatment I and my fellow Jews of color endure.

“Why is the goy here?” one black Jewish parent overheard when taking her child to a Jewish children’s event.

At one yeshiva in Brooklyn, the mother of a biracial student was asked to stay away from the school because it made the other parents uncomfortable.

An African-American acquaintance told me he overheard a worshiper at morning minyan talk about how he didn’t want to daven with a “shvartze” – while my acquaintance was putting on his tefillin.

Orthodox society is a beautiful community dedicated to charity, Torah learning and growth through observance of mitzvahs – and I believe we’re better than this racism suggests.

As a racial minority, it’s possible to be an integrated member of the Orthodox community, find your spouse and successfully educate your children in yeshivas – but it requires an abundance of self-confidence, tact and tenacity.

It takes confidence to keep going to synagogues when every time you show up to a new minyan you’re not sure if they’ll count you for the required quorum. It takes tact to politely rebuff yet another inquiry about your “journey to Judaism” or “why you read Hebrew so well.” It takes tenacity to keep going to kosher restaurants and Orthodox-run stores when all eyes gravitate toward you the moment you walk through the door (and stay there).

Orthodox Jews of color constantly have to demonstrate our authenticity and belonging. It’s frustrating, exhausting and, frankly, heartbreaking.

keep reading. 

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