a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

The Messiah, Women wearing Kippot, and Other Things I learned in Conversion Class Tonight

Posted on: October 20, 2010

I just got back home from my second conversion class at Rodeph Sholom where we were able to ask the rabbi questions which she answered to the best of her ability, given the space, time and limitations of an hour and a half class with over 30 participants.

I stopped attending conversion classes at Central for varied reasons, mainly it had to do with the connection I felt with the rabbi at Rodeph Sholom.  I still have not attended Shabbat services there so perhaps jumping ship wasn’t the wisest choice but I’m sticking to my guns.  There’s also that teeny tiny factor that I can afford these classes a bit more easily.  While this class isn’t as structured with required reading and a syllabus, I still feel like I’m learning things I haven’t before while knowing the answers to some questions posed.  I actually surprised the rabbi tonight because I was able to answer a question about the Torah.

The thing I like about this rabbi is that she lays it on thick without pretense and without hesitation.  Some of our concerns as converts is that we will never, perhaps, “feel Jewish.  It’s something that I’m feeling better about, I do feel Jewish right now but as I said in my last post my Jewish may not feel the same as yours.  One of the things she brought up is her ability to “pass” in the world as a white person, but that at her core she is a Jew.  Historically speaking Jews were treated pretty shitty, let’s just be honest.  I loved how she made us potential converts know what it was like to feel like a Jew, and how it can sometimes feel, different-my words not hers.  As a black woman, I feel different because I look different but it was amazing to watch the faces of the white women around the table “get it”

When you’re a black person who marries a white person you can still pretty much blend into society if you’re not with your partner.  Know one really knows that you’re dating a person of another race if they’re not by your side and you can sort of skim the surface.  Say you have a child and, boom, that child is black.  People now know that you’re the mother of a black person and that changes the way that the world sees you but doesn’t change you, really.  When you become a Jew it changes who you are at your core.  I wondered if the weight of that is understood by potential converts who are white.  Sure, you’re white but you’re a Jew and your kids will be Jews and one day, one of them will come home crying because a friend called him a racist name.  The rabbi talked having someone say, with a look of disgust, “You’re a Jew?” and it reaching the core of her.  When you are a Jew you cannot escape it.  You cannot escape people’s perceptions of what it is to be a Jew.  You cannot escape the hatred, the bigotry, the ignorance, just as I cannot escape people’s hatred, bigotry, and ignorance as a black woman.  Lucky thing is, I get it because I’m black.  I am well aware of the injustices that come along with being both a black and a Jew but as a black person, I sort of have a leg up on other non-black converts.

People often say, you’re black, you’re a woman, you’re a lesbian.  Those three are hard enough as it is, why would you choose to be a Jew?  I had no choice in those other three matters, that was the hand that I was dealt by God.  I can make this choice because it is as much my identity as the other three identities. 

I just finished reading “From Ghetto to Ghetto” by Ernest H. Adams and I strongly suggest that you purchase it and read it as well whether you are a Jew or not.  So much of his identity both as a black man and a Jew I was able to relate to on a personal level and much more of it I learned from.  The joy of Judaism is that we can ask questions and we will always learn something new.  I love that we read Torah once a year.  I love that you will never learn everything about a story in one year, ten years, or thirty years-which is why we continue to read it.

The Jewish people, as varied as we are, are a people made up of so much diversity and a wealth of knowledge and new understandings if we open ourselves up to it, ask questions and listen to the answers.

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