a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Seattle Shul Shopping

Posted on: December 1, 2014

Two Fridays ago I decided to take the rainy trek to the shul in my neighborhood. It was about a 20 minute walk and as I got closer to the synagogue an old, yet familiar, sensation overwhelmed my body. Nervousness. Real, honest, pit in my stomach nervousness. I actually hadn’t felt that sick with nerves since my mikvah date, but it was the same. The same heaviness in my legs, the same realization that I should have eaten something. The same sort of dread.

All I wanted to do was sneak into the doors find a back pew and daven.

Things with the move are still rough. I’m feeling a loneliness unlike any other I’ve felt. I’m missing my Jewish community and my ¬†queer community, which were conveniently rolled into one most of the time. I’m missing my JMN family, seeing beautiful brown shades of Jews around a Shabbat table. I miss the MTA. (I know). I also really missed the connection I feel in Jewish spaces. There’s a wonderful calmness that washes over me when I start singing Yedid Nefesh with the Shir Ha Maalot minyan in NYC (seriously, if you’re in Brooklyn, check them out). I long for it and I hoped that I would find that peaceful silence on Friday night.

As I approached the synagogue I noticed a security guard and hoped that this new shul would pass my first “test”-equal treatment of everyone who entered. I watched as a woman entered the synagogue, unstopped and held my breath as I approached.

“Good evening,” the guard greeted me.

“Good evening.” I replied, relieved.

Now all I needed to do was find a siddur and a seat.

Instead, I was greeted with at least 50 people shmoozing; eating and drinking wine. I immediately panicked and found my way to the restroom. As I sat on the toilet I fished my phone out of my coat pocket to check the website again. Service was to start at 6PM, it was 5 til. Was the website not updated? How was it already oneg and how could I sneak back out? I remembered that I saw a person with name badge when I made my way through the thick crowd and instead of fleeing, decided to find someone with a name tag to ask if I’d missed service.

I went back into the crowd, looking for a name tag when I locked eyes with a wonderfully kind woman. She asked if I was looking for someone and I explained that I’d come for Shabbat evening service, but it seemed that I missed it. She chuckled and explained that they were officially installing a new rabbi, and that the party was for her.

The woman was sweet and asked basic and appropriate questions, was it my first time at the synagogue? Was I knew to town? With this kind woman, the synagogue passed my final test. There were no, Are you Jewish questions or presumptions about my ability to follow along the service, she was simply kind and introduced me to people we passed and asked me to join her for service.

The service was lovely and while I enjoyed being warmly greeted by everyone I encountered it wasn’t for me. It’s been over 3 years since I went to Shabbat evening services in a Reform synagogue, and, well I’m just not a Reform Jew. I much prefer egalitarian, traditional Hebrew-only services, which is what I hope to find this Shabbat evening.

I will happily give Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Capitol Hill a BG&J seal of approval. If you’re a ¬†Reform JOC and/or happen to be in Seattle this place was really awesome (for me). While I was the only person of color there, I felt welcomed by everyone who I encountered.

While it’s not my new synagogue, it was good to be in a Jewish prayer space. Now, on with the search.

5 Responses to "Seattle Shul Shopping"

Hello greetings from Virginia. I am lost and looking for help. Let me start by saying I have well had a Jewish grandfather from Syria. My mother’s dad, my mother’s mother was black. Although my mom grew up Jewish she does not practice. My father is Hispanic and Catholic. I am a grown woman whom is married with two children wanting to convert to Judaism how does one do this? I have heard stories that a rabbi turns you away.I am serious about wanting to study Judaism. Where do I start and what if there are no synagogues where I live?

Hi There!

Yes, some rabbis do turn you away-traditionally 3 times-to make sure that you’re serious about conversion to Judaism. This doesn’t happen as much in Reform, Reconstructionist or Renewal communities. Conservative rabbis may want to inquire more about your intensions and you’ll definitely have some questions of intent from the Orthodox community, not necessarily because of your race, but because taking on Judaism as a religion is a long and sometimes stressful and alienating process.

If you’re wanting to convert to the liberal movements, expect the process to take at least 1-2 years, if you’re interested in an Orthodox conversion you’re looking at a much longer process. Please check out my friend Skylar’s blog (linked in the blogroll) “You’re Not Crazy for Converting to Orthodox Judaism” for more on that conversion process and her journey.

In terms of being Jewish in a not so Jewish place, I bet you’ll find something. Chabad is everywhere and more liberal movements tend to be in areas and communities you’d least expect.

Finally, as a Jewish Multiracial Network Board member it’s my obligation to encourage you to check us out on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/JewishMultiracialNetwork?fref=ts We have members and families coast-to-coast.

Best of luck with your process. It is hard, that’s no lie, but it’s worth it.

Feel free to click around my blog as well. You can find all of my conversion posts by searching “conversion”

Hi! I live in Seattle and wanted to recommend a couple of other places you could attend as well where there are some congregants of “color” and where you would be welcomed. The first is Temple Beth Am and Congregation Beth Shalom. They are both located in North Seattle and are excellent shuls with a diverse population. You could also check out Bet Alef which is located on First Hill (between Broadway on Capital Hill and downtown Seattle). I am a convert of European descent with a son who has a father from West Africa and these places have all been very welcoming and I know are very open-minded and inclusive. – Celeste

Thanks, Celeste!

Hi Ericka,

There are several minyanim/alternative Jewish communities in Seattle that you might want to try as well. Here are a few I know about:

Selah in the CD – spirited services in the CD to a mostly 20-30s crowd

Kavana Cooperative in Queen Anne has services once a month and other events as well

Minyan Ohr Chadash – Modern Orthodox in Seward Park

Mercaz Seattle on the North End

Kol HaNeshama in West Seattle

And those are just the ones I know about. More are listed here with contact info as well: http://jewishjunction.net/around-seattle/synagogues-congregations/

Let us know how the shopping goes!

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