a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Why I do What I do

Posted on: June 21, 2012

Aliza Hausman, a Dominican-American Jewish woman, cyber-friend (hopefully real-live friend) and activist asked a question that I’ve been thinking about for a few days.  She asked, “if we stop saying it, then where will we be, where will our children and grandchildren be?” She was commenting on a recent post I wrote about race/racism and the Jewish community. Her question resonates deeply.  It reminds me that there is so much work to be done.  It reminds me that I have to keep doing this work so that when I have a child they feel accepted into the community.

This is important on so many different levels, not just in terms of race, but more broadly a more inclusive and accepting Jewish community is vital to the health of our people. Jews of color, Jews by choice and LGBTQ make up a significant percentage of the Jewish community-if we’re not reflecting on ways we can me the community open to this group of Jews we could lose them.  Granted, Jews by choice aren’t really going anywhere, but if we’re not accepted as full-Jews in some communities, will that feeling of rejection be passed on to our children?  If LGBTQ Jews cannot find communities where they are celebrated will they turn to a faith community that is more accepting?  If Jews of color aren’t represented in Hebrew Day Schools, why would I want to send my child there?

Having conversations about race relations and racism in the Jewish community is a conversation that needs to continue to happen everyday-or at least until we get to the point where the idea of who a Jew is isn’t determined by the color of their skin,(but by the strength of their character). I’d love to see a Jewish community that is alive, inclusive and accepting of all Jews no matter their race, ethnicity or Jewish affiliation.  It shouldn’t matter if someone is black or white, Asian or Mexican, Indian or Syrian if we’re all.  Just as it shouldn’t matter if we’re gay, straight, bisexual or transgender, it shouldn’t matter if we’re single, married, divorced or widowed.  It shouldn’t matter what or who we are, the only thing that should matter is that we’re all Jews.  I feel blessed that so many people have read my posts on The Sisterhood and the RJ Blog, but not for acclaim or even to say that I wrote it.  I’m glad people have read it and are talking about it because it matters.

I write because there is something to learned by sharing space, sharing experiences, sharing stories. I write because I can.  I write because it’s important.  I write because I have a voice.  I write for those who do not have a voice, though I don’t claim their stories as my own.

I’ve asked countless people to tell me their ideal, Utopian Jewish community and they’ve all said the same thing-a community in which all Jews pray together.  Black hats next to bare heads, brown Jews next to white Jews. Families of two moms, a mom and a dad, a single dad, a single mom, two dads. Tortillas on the Shabbat table next to the challah, Hanukkah songs from around the globe and multiple languages, melodies, and hymns being sung on Shabbat. The idea that one way is not the only way.  The idea that we’re all welcome and equal.  The idea that Torah unites us and everything else is extra.  We’re flawed, not because of some Biblical curse, but because it is in human nature to one-up someone else, to place ourselves in a position of power over another.  What if, instead, we lifted them up?  What if every person who walked into a synagogue on Saturday morning was presumed to be Jewish and treated as such. What if the idea of what a Jew look like reflected the diversity that is our people.

In order to do this we have to talk about where we’re doing a disservice. We can’t hope to make it better, if we don’t identify where it’s wrong.

 

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