a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Understanding #Racism as a Jewish Engagement Issue-A Cross Post

Posted on: January 8, 2015

When I walk in the world I am seen first as black and second as a woman. I don’t necessarily “present” as a lesbian and when I identify myself as a Jew, I’m met with disbelief. Once the shock of being a black, lesbian Jew has settled people feel entitled to my story and want me to tell it to them. As a friend recently posted in a blog I’ll cross-post later, it’s exhausting.

It’s exhausting being the black Jew reminding white Jews to stop being racist. It’s exhausting to call out people on their crap. And it’s exhausting infuriating for folks to demand I tell them “story”. 

As a Jew of Color, I knew that I would be faced with adversity from within my own community. Before converting I read the book From Ghetto to Ghetto by Ernest H. Adams, I spoke with other JOCs and I prepared myself for an uphill battle of ignorance, and yes, racism. I don’t think that all Jews are racist. In fact, I think that most Jews consider themselves to be, and are, quite liberal and open-minded. But liberal open-mindedness doesn’t mean that subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and assumptions based on race exist.

We have a lot of work to do as a Jewish Community (here comes a plug for The Jewish Multiracial Network). As Ilana Kaufman points out in the piece below Federations are pouring millions of dollars into research on how to engage Jews, but why are they not also reaching out to work with Jews of Color and organizations like JMN to help them talk with, engage with and realize a Jewish community model that includes Jews of Color and Multiracial Jewish families.

Ilana’s piece is outstanding and thought provoking for sure, but like all pieces I write or share having to do with race in relation to Judaism I ask those of you who are white and Jewish to ask questions of your leadership, push for more inclusive programing, invite organizations in to help your communities be the best and most inclusive communities they can be.

by Ilana Kaufman

It was early fall and my friend’s daughter Gabi had just started a new religious school program. Gabi was excited; bunches of friends from her public school, and piles of pals from Jewish summer camp were also in her religious school classes. Gabi’s mom, a member of the religious school’s Shul arrived a few minutes before 6:00 pm to pick up her daughter. Swarms of kids and parents milled about looking for one another. Some of the teachers were also out and strolling, trying to meet parents for the first time.
“Are you Gabi’s Mom?” sailed a voice from across the courtyard and over the heads of dozens and dozens of other parents in between the teacher and the destination of the teacher’s question. My friend looked around. “Who is this lady yelling at?” she wondered. Again, from across the expanse came the question, “Excuse me. Are you Gabi’s Mom?” My friend ignored the teacher. Sure, she was Gabi’s mom, but she didn’t know this woman, and was perplexed by the teacher’s approach to meeting her for the first time. Yelling across a courtyard seemed a bit rude to Gabi’s mom, and didn’t exactly make her want to respond to the teacher. There was Gabi’s mom – the only African American adult in the courtyard, looking for her daughter who also happened to be Black. And the teacher, using visual cues made an assumption about who belonged to whom. In this case, the teacher happened to be right. But what if the teacher’s race-based assumption had been wrong? What if my friend had been someone else’s mom?

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