Posted on: October 28, 2010
I had an idea to invite friends over to go over my Be’chol Lashon talk on Sunday night until I realized that Sunday was Halloween. In most parts of the US Halloween is a time for children. Most parts with the exception of NYC. I actually hate Halloween because it’s such a creep holiday in New York. Imagine, if you will, boarding a subway and finding the Scream guy sitting across from you. He sits there, with the fake knife (you hope) the creepy mask that once looked funny but is now scaring the shit out of you and he just sits, watching you. That’s what happens on Halloween in NYC. People get really dressed up and most ladies end up looking like floosies and there are the few really terrible, really scary costumes. Still, it’s a time for an adult to dress up and act crazy and it’s perfectly acceptable, therefore most people go out.
I’m still going to send out an e-mail blast and hope that people come to our apartment so I can go over it a few times with a live audience. You’re lucky because you get to hear my first draft. Enjoy!
To start, let me just say that I’m not a Jew, yet. I don’t stand before you holding all the answers of what it’s like to be a Black, Gay, Jew. I can only give you a bit of insight into who I am and how I’ve come to identify as such.
My path to Judaism cannot necessarily be called organic because it didn’t happen naturally. Rather, it took a lot of searching and researching for me to stand here, self-identifing as a Jew. Sometimes I say Jew-to-be and sometimes I say Jew-in-Training but just the other day when one of my work associates asked what I would be giving my girlfriend for Christmas I said, without thinking, “Oh we’re Jewish” She was another black woman, and a New Yorker so the polite quietness that often follows when you say something that seems curious was lost on this, in-your-face Brooklyn girl.
“Wait, you’re a Jew?” She said in disbelief, “I didn’t know there were black Jews”
I shot a similar look back to her, “You’ve never seen a black Jew? you’re a New Yorker!”
She, of course, wanted to know “how” I could be a Jew and I explained that I was in the process of converting, that my girlfriend was a born Jew but not observant, and that I was not converting for her sake rather because it was where I came after what seemed like years of looking for what felt right.
I was baptised as an infant and then again around 12, forcibly by my mother. It wasn’t an option. As I stood in the warm water wearing a gown with Pastor Tisdale at my side he asked me if I took Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I didn’t but I looked out of the baptismal pool at my mother who gave me the “look” and my little sister who would have her turn after me. I was supposed to say yes, even though, I wanted to scream no. I opened my mouth to protest and before I could speak I was dunked backwards, without warning, into the water. I gasped and choked on water before being brought up and welcomed into the world as a Christian. I felt confused, angry, and scared. I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling in a way that would matter to my parents or Pastor Tisdale so instead I glided on an ocean of confused Christianity for another 4 years.
About sophomore year of high school, my 7th year in Catholic school I learned about the three monotheistic religions from Ms. Luculio, a squat religious teacher of my high school. Here I was in a Catholic School, run by Catholic nuns learning that Judaism started it all. I learned that it gave birth to Christianity and Islam. Ms L, as we called her, told us, “they’re all the same, give or take a few texts” When I brought this to Bible Study at Friendship Baptist church Pastor Tisdale told me that Jews and Muslims did not worship his god and damned them both to hell. For me, that was the end of attending church with my mother. I told her I couldn’t be in a place where the man running it was so hateful and discriminating, not to mention he drove a different Cadillac every Sunday. For the most part she no longer required me to attend with her, except for the occasional revival or on Easter.
When I left high school I stopped believing in the monotheistic idea of God all together. I’d been taught by strong women who encouraged us to be strong women. We learned to ask questions, to open our mouths, to be heard as well as seen. I decided that it was all sexist, with the image of female holiness completely obliterated for male ego and learned about Earth-based and Eastern practices. Like the light bulb that turned on in Ms. L’s class, I was almost shocked to learn that many major Christian holidays were created from Pagan ones. There’s no mistaking that Christmas celebrations and the pagan Yule Holiday are strikingly similar. One cannot deny that Easter with its eggs doesn’t sound a lot like pagan Fertility Holidays. I made friends with Wiccan girls and together we celebrated the beauty of a full moon or new moon in outdoor and I felt God there. I loved the duality of male and female but mostly, I loved the earth; feeling the wind on my skin or the hum of an old tree as I sat and meditated under had me yearning for something more. I couldn’t figure out what it was so I became a lazy atheist.
I just didn’t “do” religion again until I moved to New York. This is where my story gets intertwined. We only have an hour, and I’m writing a book so when you read it, you’ll get the whole thing. Let me just say this. As a black woman, as a “straight” woman, as a lazy atheist I was very miserable. I didn’t fit into those molds. To my family, and throughout my childhood I was told that I wasn’t black enough. I got engaged and started planning a marriage when I knew I wasn’t happy because I’d picked the wrong guy, I wasn’t happy because he was a guy. And while I tried to believe that I was god-less, I felt a longing for God. Moving to New York, alone, allowed me to spend a lot of time with me and discover that I am a Black Woman, I am a Gay Woman, and I need God.
I knew I didn’t want to go back to a Baptist church because it always seemed too theatrical, too chaotic, and too contrived. It couldn’t be denied that the music was much better than any I’d heard, but I couldn’t sit in a place where Christ was my key to salvation when I wasn’t sure it was true. The same was true of Catholicism. If I decided to be a Catholic, there was no un-doing it. The idea of the host at communion becoming Jesus’ body and blood never made sense at all, and the resurrection? I still call Easter “Zombie Jesus” day and sing Kanye West, “Je-sus Walks” Still, I loved knowing exactly how long Mass would take and what would happen next. The ritual, the familiarity, the expectation, and beauty was comforting to me. So I entered an Episcopal Church, Catholic-lite, and attended for a year.
After taking communion, just symbols not flesh and blood, there is a time to go back to your pew to pray and reflect. Whenever I would pray I would cry and in those few moments while the whole of Saint John the Divine or St. Barts would take communion, I felt close to God. Everything else, the other 45 minutes of service I was just going through the motions. It didn’t feel right. So when I missed a week I didn’t miss it. I missed two weeks and didn’t miss it and then I missed several months at a time and it was like it didn’t happen. I still missed God, though.
I decided to go back to the “source” of it all and picked up my first Jewish book from Barnes and Noble, “Being Jewish” by Ari L. Goldman…
That’s as far as I’ve gotten. What do you think, interesting? Questions? I’m having issues with adding the Gay part and may need to rework it so that it’s more prevalent. Then again, this only reads at 15 minutes and I still have 30 more minutes to fill up! There will be a movie clip, “Trembling before G-d”, a movie about gay Orthodox and non-Orthodoz Jews around the world. If you haven’t seen it and have Netflix I encourage you to watch it. It is moving, touching, and so good! I also want to show “A Jihad for Love” but since it’s about gay Muslims rather than gay Jews I won’t. So feedback is great! Send it my way!