a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Wait…You’re not a Jew yet?!

Posted on: May 23, 2011

“Nope, not a Jew yet.”

“Well, how long does it take?”

“It depends, really, usually at least a year.”

“So, how do they make you a Jew?”

Only a few days after pouring through Chicago Carless’ blog I found myself in that converation at work yesterday.  Two months ago my sister asked the same thing, “You’re not Jewish yet?  How long does it take?”

If you have ever attended a Baptist Church towards the end of the service the music will get a little lower, a little more somber, and the pastor will come down from the pulpit and ask if anyone listening to the service today would like to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.  I remember the day when my sister and I accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior-it wasn’t an option, it wasn’t a spiritual calling, I wasn’t moved by the message-it was discussed on the car ride to church.  That day, my mother informed us, we would be accepting Christ as our personal saviour.  When Mrs. Davis said something was so-it was.

Up we marched, along with crying men and women who’d felt something spiritual, emotional, a pull towards the divine to the front of the church.  After everyone who was going to decide to accept Christ had done so we were taken off to a seperate room.   I don’t remember what happened in that room but a few weeks later I was in the baptismal pool an hour before service waist-deep in the warm water with the pastor at my side asking me, once again, if I would accept Christ as my personal saviour.  I didn’t, and I wanted to say so but you’ve all read this part before.

Thing is, there is no year-long study to become a Christian.  Sure, if you want to become a Catholic there are a few hoops to jump through but you’re pretty much accepted as a Christian when you declare that Jesus is lord.  Growing up, my sister and witnessed at least a dozen or more people every week “become” Christian.  It’s not that easy to become a Jew, I like to remind everyone.  You don’t march up to the front of the synagogue declare yourself Jewish and get thrown into the mikvah after two weeks or so.  It takes time and it takes work.

The average time to convert to Judaism for a non-Orthodox conversion takes at least a year.  In some cases, like my buddy Mike, it only takes 9 months.  In that year you’ll read a lot.  You’ll study, and you should be actively involved in a Jewish community and living a Jewish life.  So where am I?  I don’t quite know what my rabbis think and some mornings I wake up and I don’t know what I think. 

Some of the things you’re asked by the beit din is if you will live a Jewish life, raise a Jewish family, and create a Jewish home.  I can confidently answer yes to all three of those questions.  I currently live a Jewish life.  When I pray to God, I pray to God and don’t feel like I’m missing out on Jesus.  Jesus holds a huge part of my past and will continue to hold a part of my future but not in the Christian way.  My idea of Jesus was always counter to the world’s opinion of Jesus for many reasons.  1.  I think Jesus married Mary Magdalen.  2.  I don’t think Jesus was an only child. 3.  I don’t think Jesus was the son of God, but rather a prophet with an important message.  4.  I don’t think Jesus was the messiah.  5.  I don’t think Jesus was white.  6.  I agree with the movie Dogma and pretty much think Jesus was a black man and there was a 13th apostle left out of the Bible because he was black.  Okay, that may be a bit far but the point is that my idea of who Jesus was and was not isn’t Christian.

The part that I struggle with, in terms of my Jewish identity, is the idea of Jewish community-specifically my Jewish synagogue community.  While I belong to the synagogue that I’m converting in, I tend to attend service at various other synagogues in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I actually like to go to several synagogues to get a better idea of what I’d like out of my Jewish community and to be frank-I haven’t found it yet and I might have to realize that it might not exist.  In my ideal Jewish Community, if I could create one, the message that “We accept all” would truly be embraced.  I would walk into a shul and see other brown faces.  I would see  queer couples.  People would be participants in worship and not spectators.   The music would be engaging, meaningful, and inspire you to sing along rather than listen.  There would be movement in prayer.  There would be children running around.  There would be people of color.  There would be young people engaged in their Judaism.  There would be old people.  People who wear kippahs and hair coverings would pray next to people with bare heads and arms.  It would be a space rather than a place where people connect with one another as well as with God.  It would be just as much about what happens outside of the 4 walls of the shul as what happens within its walls. 

Does this kind of Jewish Utopia exist?  I’m not sure.  Mirs keeps telling me to create it, and perhaps in the future I will.  When I sat down in Astoria, Queens to chat with Lucian from Schmekel we talked about different communities-both queer and Jewish.  The great thing about New York is that there is a large queer community, just as there is a large Jewish community.  Those are sort of blanket terms though.  Within the large Queer community of NYC there are smaller communities just like within the large bubble of Jewish Community you will find smaller sub-communities.  So you feel like, especially in NYC you’re part of something, when sometimes you’re not.  Lucian and I discussed how when you leave New York the communities become more tight-knit and lean on its members more because it’s really all that you have.  I don’t feel like I should have to wait until I leave New York to find my ideal Jewish community and I don’t.  My Jewish community is found in many spaces.  It’s in the back yard of a friend’s house plotting a garden.  It’s around a table in my apartment for Pesach.  It’s on Friday night in Shul and it’s on a Saturday morning with my partner.

14 Responses to "Wait…You’re not a Jew yet?!"

1. Thanks for reading my blog!

2. Wow. Just wow. Triple wow. You just described my shul! Kids running around. White, Black, Asian, other. Older, younger, singles, families. Straight. Queer (including couples), out, and accepted. Traditional music one day, contemporary music the next. Lots of participation. Lots of Hebrew. Longstanding respect for tradition. Connection to local community/urban tikkun olam. Totally comfortable mix of kippot (for men and women), bare heads, casual dress, dressing up, and even some shomer-tzniut women. Absolutely welcoming nature, to each other and to those on a Jewish journey.

I promise promise promise it exists! Keep looking! (My shul here in Chicago is Reform–Emanuel Congregation http://www.emanuelcong.org–though you might think it Conservative from the above description. There must be a cognate in modern Orthodoxy somewhere in NYC, too.)

It exists, I promise.

Oops, URL correction:


Thanks so much for the love, Mike! When ever I’m in Chicago, I will definitely check out your shul-it sounds Amazing! I’m sure that it exists here in NYC. Websites are so daunting to sift through, though!

I wish it was more taxing to become Christian. Honestly, until I just read this post and looked into it, I thought becoming Catholic took upwards to a year. The RC church has the RCIA program where people take classes, then get baptized on Easter. But… what if it’s the week before easter? I’ll have to look into that later.

I agree with books. Those who want to become Christian really should go about reading the Old and New Testaments, with in depth discussions on the possible meanings of the text, and then the official Catholic position. I hate that so many Christians are so ignorant of the book they hold so high. And I don’t mean grabbing bits of it and shoving it in people’s faces to try to prove a point, I mean understanding everything in context, historically and textually. Bugs the crap out of me.

In terms of Jesus, I personally don’t know if he married anyone. For the love of God, he may have been gay!!! I also doubt he was an only child, or even one born of a virgin birth. Can anyone say… premarital sex? Joseph and Mary could have had intercourse during their engagement. Jesus was just a mamzer.

I also have an issue with this ‘accepting Jesus as your personal savior.’ It makes him seem arrogant (accept me or you go to hell) and exclusive (this is a club, get out.) It also makes it too emotional– where’s the logic? where’s the tradition? Where’s the ability to think and feel simultaneously? That kind of Christianity bothers me. It leads to emotional manipulation of many people. That’s why a church of 50 people in a town near here paid for adspace on a billboard in Des Moines about the May 21 Rapture… so much money that should have gone to the poor. Damn Christianity on these counts.

Anyway…. this is why I like Judaism. Work, dedication, logic, learning, intellect, and years upon years of wisdom. Shalom.

I’m feeling you, babe! It’s all too much based on blind faith, do this or parish, my way or the highway rather than requiring that you read and ask questions, and turn things over and over and over again not to find the answer but to try to find an answer. With the expectation that an answer can change.

There are so many people who say that according to halacha this or according to halacha that but it’s still a discussion. The great books of study in Judaism are just commentaries and responses to Torah and they keep on getting written up to, well right now!

IMO, smart Christianity does allow for change. As much crap as the Catholic church gets and how frustratingly messed up it can get some times, it will allow for stubborn changes because it’s not just based on blind faith, but tradition and reason, too. Same for the Anglican/Episcopal scene.

Also, I could never move down south, the very idea scares the bujeebas out of me. IA is the furthest West and South I want to ever go. I’m working on my gf for us to get to Boston myself. 🙂

You would think these spaces would exist and be easier to find in a place like NY. All of us QJOC folk.. I have even found amazing shuls in the south so has to be something here!

Send me URLS to awesome southern shuls…my lady has this desire for us to move down south and I keep telling her that I’m willing to do so if there are people of color, queers, and Jews like us…I have to have all three!

Also, Welcome to to site:)

Mos Def! I’m sooo happy to have found your blog 🙂

My shul is all white people over the age of fifty (for the most part). I’m going to be in Chicago in a couple weeks but unfortunately I think Mike’s Synagogue is a bit out of the way. I planned on visiting Congregation Rodfei Zedek, if I am able to make it on time. I’ve only been to three congregations for services (and a fourth for classes). Two here and one in Georgia. It was all white, older people too for the most part.

Old white folks everywhere!! 🙂 What’s with that? Have all the young folks abandoned Judaism or are they just getting wasty-face on Shabbat? 😉

Around here I think they are either Orthodox or not all that interested. We do have a Hillel which I should probably visit. I know someone now who goes so I could go with her. We aren’t like friends but I could make an effort to get to know her better.

GREAT Rabbi and sweet awesome congregation.

LOL @ sweet awesome… thats a new one!

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