a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self


Posted on: March 12, 2011

It’s so interesting blogging here because it looks the same in so many ways and in so many ways it’s very different.  Wednesday night was my last night of conversion class until April.  Rabbi S. lead our conversion students chat before hand and asked us, very generally, what was going on in our lives and in the previous week.  One of my fellow classmates mentioned that she was feeling something because of the horrid remarks made recently by Charlie Sheen and John Galliano.  It was the first time, she said, that she felt what it feels like to be a minority.  Another one of my fellow classmates mentioned that in her dating life she found herself becoming more particular when choosing a man to date.  She wondered what it meant that having a Jewish partner was now a priority to her.

It’s a feeling that I think we’re all getting to.  It’s exciting, it’s unsettling, it’s alarming-we’re beginning to feel like Jews.  I’d like to think that I’ve been feeling Jewish for a few months now but it’s one of those things that always surprises me.  I’ll have a day where I’m feeling really connected to my Jewish identity praying Shema or reading Torah and then I’ll have another day where I still feel like an outsider.  When I sit in a room of Jews to be and hear women who “look” more Jewish than I feel the same things that I sometimes feel it brings me back down to earth, so to speak.  I feel sort of silly comparing this transition to my blog but it works, as this is my first official post.

Rabbi S reminded us, using the Torah and the book of Leviticus and it’s small alef (yeah, I didn’t notice it either), that we all need to remember and hold onto where we’ve come from.  I’m going to be a little snarky here but I love it when rabbis, our teachers, say things that I’ve already said.  In my analogies of how coming to Judaism feels I like to say and write that it’s not about forgetting my past but incorporating everything I’ve known and loved for 30 years into my Jewish identity.  He told us that the early rabbis noticed the small alef at the beginning of Leviticus and believed it was put there to remind us, as God reminded Moses, of were he’d come.  It was not Moses who lead the people out of Egypt, it was God.  Moses didn’t provide food and water in the desert, God did.  Moses did not part the Sea of Reeds, God did.  While Moses had become close to God and some could argue, “god-like” he wasn’t God.  He was an Israelite raised as an Egyptian with a gentile wife.  He sometimes needed to be brought down to earth and reminded of who he was and where he came from.

There are some things will be set aside as I make the official transition from gentile to Jew.  So many things have already happened.  For instance I didn’t realize that it was the beginning of Lent until I saw the ashes on the foreheads of Christians.  Historically seeing the ashes compelled me to enter a church and pray and think about what I’d give up for Lent.  I’d forget about it, more often than not, but still be drawn into a church.  Last year, even, seeing black crosses on the foreheads of strangers reminded me that I had a duty to God.  This year I found them a bit disturbing and off-putting.  Instead, on Tuesday I tried covering my hair for an entire day as a reminder to think about a “higher” power. 

There are most definitely traditions that I have set aside and they being replaced by other, more meaningful traditions.  While I will be a Jew soon, I spent the majority of my adult life as a pseudo-Christian.  They are not years, memories, smells, sounds, and tastes that I want to forget.  They’re not things I will forget and let’s be honest, there are things I’ll probably continue.  Easter Ham will clearly not be on my Seder table but so much of who I am and how I identify will be added to my Jewish identity.

The weeks between trimesters are always a bit like being in limbo.  The routine and comfort of going to a place where you’re surrounded by people going through the conversion process is put on hold and instead, you sort of have to “deal” with things, issues, thoughts, changes by yourself.

I’m excited for the next Trimester where we’ll be looking at the books of Judaism; the Torah, Talmud, etc. I’m excited for this new site to be up an running!  This transition is a powerful one.  I’ve always known it and Rabbi S. always says this but I’m at a place where it doesn’t feel like I’m “trying on” Judaism.  I’m starting to feel like a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom.

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