a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

When Hebrew Israelites Invade!

Posted on: February 17, 2014

I’ve written about Hebrew Israelites before and while I generally think that writing about Messianic Jews and Hebrew Israelites  gives these communities unnecessary press, I do have to share something that happened to me at Friday night service.

I’ve mentioned before that my beloved shul’s music director has left. It’s thrown me into another and more unexpected shul shopping frenzy, but thankfully I’ve found an independent minyan in Brooklyn that meets once a month and it’s fabulous. I’m still searching for an alternative for the other three weeks, but for now, the services at Shir HaMaalot are doing an amazing job of fueling my spiritual soul.

Last Friday was my second experience at Shir HaMaalot and like the first time there were a couple JOCs present. I remembered a topic that came up at the JMN Parlor Meeting; what happens when you notice a JOC in your shul. The other JOCs in the room talked about that slightly awkward feeling of noticing another JOC-you want to go say hi, but realize that doing so could be weird for you and the other person. So to avoid that awkward interaction, especially at a Shabbat service, I tend to greet people the exact same way: “Shabbat Shalom!” If they respond with a Shabbat Shalom and continue wishing others the same greeting I move on. If we’re waiting for kiddush to start or in the case of Shir HaMaalot, waiting for dinner to start, I’ll introduce myself in a natural way.

Which is what happened on Friday.

After kiddush and before hamotzi I was talking with a friend near the washing station and I felt  the presence in my personal space. I looked over my shoulder and a black man in a kippah was standing behind me. I’d noticed him during davening and figured he, like I, saw another JOC and wanted to say hello. I smiled and wished him good Shabbos, he did the same and sort of lingered. So I introduced myself and he introduced himself. Since I was in the middle of a conversation I continued with my friend and noticed that he wandered off. A few minutes later I finished up my conversation and chatted with a few more friends before heading home. As I was putting on my coat and chatting with the friends I came with he approached me.

“You’re very polite,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied.

I continued putting on my coat and he continued to linger like he did before. Thoughts entered my mind at rapid pace.

He’s single and wants to get my number

He’s a converted Jew and excited to see another JOC

He’s just kinda weird

He’s an Israelite

As he continued to linger and stare I did the classic hair brush with the left hand-aka Do you see the shiny ring on my left ring finger!?

Though, I’ve got to take a pause to explain what I was wearing: Black tights, black knee-length skirt, boots, long-sleeved sweater, scarf covering my cleavage and WRAPPED HAIR*! To every other Jew in the room I looked like a married lady! Which, to my mind, eliminated thought number 1.

“Do you think about Black History? “he asked me.

He’s an Israelite.


“What does that mean?”

“It means that in theory, I think about black history.”

He paused and continued to linger.

“Have you thought about black history in relation to the bible?”

At this point I knew for sure he was an Israelite, but for some reason; maybe because it was Shabbat, maybe because I wanted to avoid more awkward conversation, maybe because I wanted to avoid an argument and risk two black folks going off at shul I didn’t voice my suspicions assertions.

“No,” I said instead.

“Well, can I share a website with you?”

“I don’t know, do you write on Shabbos?” I asked

He scribbled down a website and of course, it was a Hebrew Israelite website.

Now, is this a thing!? Are Israelites so desperate for members to their … religion that they’re going to hippie egalitarian minyans in Brooklyn to troll?

I left shul feeling a range of emotions. I was angry at myself for not calling him out. Not for my own sake, but for the other black folks in service. What if they happen to be converts or wanting to convert and are more easily swayed by this “authentic” looking black “Jew” in a kippah? Lastly, why did this guy who represents an organization who calls Jews like me, my fiance, my friends, and Israel, the country that I love and struggle with so much, false, fake, liars? What makes this guy think that he can come into my shul and try to convince me to leave a religion that validates me and my faith for a religion that prevents me from the basic necessities for any Jew. Why would I leave authentic Judaism that allows me to make aliyah, to send my children to Hebrew school, to Jewish summer camps, to everything that is Jewish to a fake cult based on hatred of white people?

Two days later I’m still peeved, but I do know that if he happens to come back and approaches me again, my response will be different.

The reason I joined the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network is part communal-based and partially selfish. It’s communal because I’m sick and tired of Jewish organizations involving Hebrew Israelites and Commandment Keepers in their programming, especially when that programming is about actual Jews of Color. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again-when Israelites and Commandment Keepers are validated through mainstream Judaism in an effort for white Jews to avoid addressing Jewish diversity by taking shortcuts, it invalidates the work that many JOCs do to shed light on the actual diversity of Judaism. I sound like a broken record, but would a JCC or a synagogue or a Jewish organization invite a Messianic “Rabbi” to teach at a program,to lead Shabbat services or to speak at an event? Hell no!

But because Jewish organizations tend to shy away from the hard conversation of actual Jewish diversity, race and identity and racism within the Jewish community they don’t think it’s such a big deal to find someone who calls themselves “Ethiopian” when they are in fact black Americans, Hebrew Isrealites and have never been to Ethiopia and have clear connections with the Israelite community.

Selfishly, I want a Jewish community that not only recognizes Jewish diversity, but creates inclusive, truly welcoming communities for me and my family.

So, I suppose this means that I’m back to blogging. Going forward BG&J will be frank, honest, and real conversations about my Jewish experience as well as diversity and inclusion in the Jewish Community. No holds bar, I will be calling folks out not to be militant or angry, but to shed some much-needed light on the need for inclusion of all Jews.

Thank you all for being patient while I took my much-needed hiatus from the blog. I look forward to amazing, new adventures and hope you’ll stay  on for the ride.




*I’ve decided that when M and I get married that I will be covering my hair with a scarf, at least for service.

5 Responses to "When Hebrew Israelites Invade!"

I should look this up for who the Isrealites and Commandment keepers are, but including Messianic Jews in these organizations is a surprise to me. I’d think there’d be more suspicion… because its not the same. I don’t consider MJ’s Christian strictly, and they’re not Jewish… they’re completely separate from both.

It’s the same for Israelites and Commandment Keepers. Israelites are to Judaism what the Nation of Islam is to Muslims-a militant, pro-black, “white folks are the devil” sect that emerged from Christianity and decided that they were Jews without any conversion to Judaism.

I see. And you got singled out in hopes that you were ignorant of the topic and easily taken by it. That would be aggravating, I totally get it, because it’s subversive and manipulative… and assumptive. That’s my only issue with Messianic Christians- they use Jewish terms and troll Jewish websites talking about Christian ideas in Jewish terms to make it safe. Idgaf what they believe personally (I have no personal issue with Jesus) but don’t try to hide your true intentions! Just say, “I want to convert you to a different set of beliefs.”

Messianic Jews*

[…] written about why this is problematic a lot. Like a lot. Like, really a lot. And here’s the thing. I really don’t care about […]

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