a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Travel bLog #4-Black and Jewish in the Holy Land

Posted on: July 15, 2016



I posted on FB earlier this week that Jerusalem has been a much welcomed (albeit slightly guilt-ridden) respite from the continuous killing of black bodies in the U.S. And while I would’ve loved to join friends across the States in protest, marches and demonstrations, the realities of the white “progressiveness” of the PNW would’ve inevitably irritated me. Just as many well-meaning posts on FB have irritated me this past week, the past months, the past three years of BLM (and frankly, longer). So, it was a sigh of relief to be here in Israel away from all of the drama.

And yet, I’m not.

I’m studying in a land and place that has been steeped with racial and ethnic drama since Torah times (as I’m learning by pouring over the first few chapters of בְּרֵאשִׁית and שְׁמוֹת at Pardes). We could say that the Jewish people have always been on the receiving end of hatred. And here I am. A black Jew studying about my Jewish history in a land where I can honestly walk around quite invisibly.

I do not pretend to know or comprehend the amount of racial discrimination that black Israelis face in this land. I am also not so naive to presume that there is no racism here. I’m only speaking of how I feel in this space in my skin. Right now. And that feeling is one of safety. Sure I feel overtly sexualized by Israeli men on the streets; never before have I received so many sexual advances, offers of marriage, “compliments” on my physical form. Let’s just put it this way, dudes in NYC have nothing on Israelis and I am thankful for the language barrier. And still I feel safer here in my black skin than I do back home.

When I am a black person walking the streets of Israel I am spoken to in Arabic in Muslim/Arabic neighborhoods and in Hebrew elsewhere because why would folks assume I’m anything other than what they want me to be? I found this to be striking the last time I visited and a sense of false safety this time around.

As the world spins violently out of control and terrorist attacks continue to make headline news and hundreds of thousands of the innocent die at the hands of terrorists, it feels to me in this land so filled with religious struggle, tension and hatred that for once in my life my skin isn’t seen as a threat. I blend in in the most neutral way.

Last night I was walking around the Jerusalem shuk with a friend and she was talking about the time when the shuk was a frequent target for terrorist attacks. I could hear in her voice the echos of worry from my mother and her urge for me to be safe. Could I be safe with a white Jew walking around a city often separated by skin color? Does her white skin make me in my brown skin unsafe?

This has been on my mind since being here.

The fact is that I have no greater risk of being killed here then I do back home or in France or in Belgium or in Baton Rouge. My skin color, my gender presentation, my religion, simply being in the “wrong” place at the “wrong” time, or walking down a street or playing on a playground could all result in death. The only thing that my sister’s untimely death has taught me is to live. So I do. I live my life as fully as possible and I do not set my mind to what “could” happen because it’s all out of my control.

But there is … something about being an anonymous black Jew in Jerusalem. I wonder if this is unique to me or do other JOCs feel this way in this land. So of course I will be conducting a super scientific study on Facebook. Results motzei Shabbes.

2 Responses to "Travel bLog #4-Black and Jewish in the Holy Land"

My ex husband is black and Jewish. We were in Israel together in 1992 and your description of your feelings is very similar to his, right down to the marriage proposals. The women are the same- quite bold. He was also invited for several Shabbat dinners until the inviter discovered he was already married

[…] a young woman currently living in Israel who is black, gay & Jewish. Her thoughts, in her blog (please check it out!), are […]

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