I don’t have enough time or space to take anyone – including myself – quickly through the process of really unpacking my experience of The JOC Convening. Really. Unpacking. I’m still waking up at night reaching for my laptop to write some random thing. Connected, these “random things” comprise my living, intentional love letter to my Beloved JOC Community. In gratitude, really, for who we have been, who we are and who we have yet to become. Today, I can share what I can share; my thoughts are still flowing in a serious stream of consciousness. Hands often too slow to snatch the words. I hate it because I really love the beauty of ordered ideas expressed wonderfully, with stunning precision, on paper.
I am not alone.
Not that I’ve never encountered Jews of Color, but my isolated experiences would have me believe the illusion of aloneness. It is deception, this holding that I stand by myself in my Black Warrior Woman Fluid Jewishness. Yet, in Jewish spaces, I often stand alone or nearly alone. The feeling of otherness in white Jewish spaces, even when folks love you, is a “thing.” And that thing does something to you…
This illusion of aloneness is at the core of the modern day question of belonging for Am Yisrael; it is the sense of otherness we often feel when in the Jewish crowded room. The feeling of attempted excision from mainstream Jewish life. The normative positioning of the European Jewish experience in this country. The need to push, push, push our way into spaces still too tightly held to provide a comfortable fit and the need to remain in that discomfort until the community shuffles itself to make space. It is a question of fit and acceptance, of agency – of pure, unadulterated power of will to make our presence known and stake our claim to this ancestral, religious, cultural, political and social legacy. It is a question of connection, family, of bond.
Our Jewishness is ours to hold and vision. Ours to wrestle with. Ours to test. Ours to name. Ours to claim.
And I struggle. Hard. With all these things.
And in my struggle, I started talking about being consumed by my growing need to be in Jewish spaces that look and feel more like the home I grew up in. Like the home I go back to when I need simply to be loved, held and healed. Like the home that swirls shades of blackness, kink, wave and curl. Like the home where the landscape is made of memory and heartbeat, comfort and breath.
I walk down the stairs and find the makings of home. Jews of Color. We are. I am. Surrounded by the lushness of this particular Jewish instrumentation, tone and tenor, rising and falling around me. Melody. Symphony. Rhyme. Stories. Over one hundred and twenty stories of Jewishness. I close my eyes so I can see the the images dance and sing and speak in diasporic tongues of Torah.
Prophesy. My eyes are on how we behave as Beloved Community organizationally; specifically, how our organizations share power, knowledge, resources and access. In my mind, we are beautifully positioned to learn, stretch and grow together. We continue to leverage our power by working in highly collaborative, innovative ways. We access, build, encourage and uplift – refusing engagement with Beloved Community that works from a place of fear and lack, hoarding our organizational privilege and power. Depending on how you look at things, relatively empty or full, resources ARE available. And with those resources – five thousand or five million or five billion – we create processes and ways of working together that allow us to share and grow our capacity. We are mothers, organizers, teachers, doctors, fathers, lawyers, caretakers, leaders and healers – strong, questioning, struggling, brilliant. Old and young. With each other, we come to the table to do business with hands and hearts wide open. And as we reach to build relationships with mainstream and funding organizations, we do the same and call on our Star Players in development, management and business to train and guide us toward success.
Vision. We are like Eldad and Medad; we spit prophesy from the boardroom, the courtroom, the classroom, the bedroom, the operating room. We spit prophesy from inside and outside the tent. We spit prophesy from the borderlands and from the streets…
And our story never ends.
I am an Afro-American Jewish Woman. I am a strategist, thinker, student, leader, mother, daughter, healer, teacher, lover, sister, confidant and friend. I am a Warrior: Midwest born, Oakland raised. I live with my Ancestors and walk with Two Spirits.
My optimum experience? I live a long and healthy praxis-based life, focused on making racial and social justice the truth. I am stellar at what pleases me. I know surrender and the sound of my own voice. I value my life and I add value to the life experience of others. I share sweet love and joy before I leave…and I live my life free.
This is the dvar Torah read at Antoinette and Jay Deitcher’s wedding that was held at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, NY on June 19th, 2016.
Torah Portion: B’haalot’kha– Numbers 8:1-12:16
When preparing for Annie and my wedding, Rabbi Dan told me that I didn’t have to give a dvar Torah. Annie and I did everything else super Jewy for this wedding, Ashkenazi style—I rocked a kittel, we didn’t see each other the week prior to the ceremony, and we broke our fast with smoked salmon and noodle kugel. It was Jewy enough; I could back out on giving the dvar Torah at the tisch.
I decided that I should at least look at the Torah portion, and when I did, holy moly, it’s the portion where Miriam got in trouble for talking smack about her brother Moses’s marriage to a black woman.
Then I realized that Annie, AKA Aviva, is a black woman.
So I had to do a dvar Torah.
“He married a Cushite woman,” Miriam said to Aaron.
The commentary in Etz Hayim states that a Cushite was “from either Nubia or Ethiopia.” Kush is the old-school name for what is now Northern Sudan. Back in the day, before common era, Kush was one of the richest and most powerful kingdoms in the world. It even whooped Rome’s behind a couple times, plus, these cats had pyramids, loads and loads of pyramids.
Moses’s boo was a dark skinned beauty with a strong family background. Note that we’re not gonna get into Moses’s skin tone, even though there’s a good chance it didn’t resemble mine. (I’m hella pink, yo.)
So G-D caught Aaron and Miriam speaking lashon hara, AKA gossip, and asked, “How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!”
As punishment, Miriam was “stricken with snow-white scales!” “Aaron said to Moses, ‘O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly.” And even Moses “cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘O G-D, pray heal her.’”
But Miriam was “shut out of camp for seven days.” This took place during our big schlep from Egypt to Israel, so we all had to wait for her return before we could continue our trek.
I want to tell you that Miriam was punished for racism, but the way our society breaks down race is a modern construct. Over two thousand years ago, black and white wasn’t so black and white. Oy. That was a bad joke.
Some commentators say Aaron and Miriam gossiped about Moses neglecting his wife. Some say, the Cushite woman wasn’t his wife Zipporah, the Cushite woman was his second wife, and Aaron and Miriam didn’t approve of his polygamous relationship.
One message that I take from the text is that neglect and polygamy are things that I will try to avoid in my marriage.
Many commentators think that it doesn’t matter what they were gossiping about, Aaron and Miriam’s punishment occurred because they spoke lashon hara about the dude G-D made his highest leader. If they had something to say, they shoulda said it to Moses’s face. And the reason why the punishment was so severe—because Aaron and Miriam were prophets, yo. They were held to higher expectations.
I just thought of a few more things I’d like you to take from my spiel—for the purposes of Annie and I, don’t talk smack about us. Oh, and if you see her or any other black Jews in your shul, try not to ask him or her if he or she needs help finding anything, especially if he or she comes every single week to services. They may be married to the next great Jewish leader.
I meant, they might be the next great Jewish leader.
Also, don’t refer to Black Jews as Cushi. Although it sounds kinda cute, like a comfy couch, it has been used negatively at times, so unless you want to be struck with leprosy, avoid using it.
On the topic of ignorance in our communities, here’s a generalization that is completely incorrect, but Annie and I will allow. Feel free to invite us over for Shabbos dinner and feed us stereotypically black foods. Sure, you never took into account that Annie’s family comes from Jamaica and Nigeria and not the south. And yes, Annie may get a tad bit upset, but I love me some fried chicken. I hate collards, but they are way better than gefilte fish.
For the remainder of my dvar Torah, I want to talk about gratitude, something many Israelites lacked. During their trek from Egypt, G-D hooked the Israelites up with delicious sky bread that could taste like anything they wanted. The thing was, they were provided just enough sky bread for each meal, and they had to trust that G-D would provide it again for the next meal.
And these crazy guys and gals “weeped” and “whine[d]” about wanting meat. They were all, we liked it better in Egypt where we were given fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
Keep in mind, their time in Egypt was prior to them receiving G-D’s commandments, so they weren’t governed by morals.
Moses immediately went to G-d and said “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If you would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg you…” In the past, Moses pleaded with G-D to forgive the Israelites for the Golden Calf. In the past, Moses pleaded with G-D to forgive the Israelites for the spies fiasco. But when the Israelites glorified slavery, Moses told G-D to take his life ‘cause he couldn’t deal with those lunatics.
I am not mister gratitude. My favorite hobby is complaining. I only have gratitude when I am faced with losing something. Plus, I have difficulty having faith in the future.
This is Annie and my second wedding. Our first was a civil ceremony six months ago. It was big event at the New York State Museum. This was supposed to be a small function.
Prior to our first wedding, all I knew was anxiety. I told myself, Annie and I could never merge cultures, that Annie was better off with a different dude. The last thing the black community needs is some white dude taking one of their talented tenth. I catastrophized worse case scenarios, all leading to divorce. After we have kids, when we split, would they be raised Jewish? I carried the burden of 5,700 years of Jewish heritage, and I was letting my ancestors down. I turned on the TV and saw the media portraying couples in love and I asked, why don’t we act like them? Why do we bicker? What the heck is starry eyed?
Single life, I could do. I knew what to expect. I didn’t have anyone depending on me other than my immediate family. With Annie, the stakes were too high. I could really hurt someone I cared for. With Annie, I had to put off instant gratification and look out for a new tribe I was building.
But I didn’t have to. I could totally Peter Pan it and remain a bachelor. I could buy all the Kangols and New Era hats I wanted. I could eat fried food every day. I could read comics all night, and go to the casino on weekends. I could socialize with people on my terms, and not have to come home after a tough day at the insane asylum/school that I work at and have to think about someone else’s emotions.
Through my questioning, G-D continued to provide sky bread. If I took my relationship one day at a time, trying to be my best today instead of obsessing over the uncertainty of the future, me and Annie could continue to move forward. In our time together, we had both accomplished incredible things. We motivated each other. Even when we fought, we both looked up to the other. We were stubborn, sure, but there was respect. She got her master’s in marketing; I became a successful social worker. We both grew more spiritual together. We started a family, and like everything we do together, our family was better than we could have imagined. Our doggy Teddy is happy at all times and never barks. So G-D was providing the nourishment, but I worried about the future and glorified the past.
But after months of disturbed sleep, after months of painful conversations, after months of praying for guidance that would never be concrete enough to ease my nerves, Annie and I stood before a judge and said “I do.”
In the Torah portion, G-D provided the community with increased spirituality from their leaders. G-D also provided them with so much meat that it “[came] out [their] nostrils.” Many didn’t continue their journey. Many died from eating too much.
But I made it.
This wedding wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It was supposed to be small, and we were supposed to go out to lunch after.
Once Annie and I jumped the broom, everything changed. We worked on learning to actively listen to one another. I sought help for my anxiety and Annie practiced communicating when she was frustrated instead of telling me that I annoy her and then not talking to me for days. I worked on my obsession with schedules and controlling how things are done. I worked on trusting her and her spontaneity.
This wedding has become much more meaningful because today I can have faith and gratitude. I am ready to give up meat, not really, just symbolically. Remember to feed me fried chicken for Shabbos. I love Annie and love the future we are building. We are taking over, baby. A light unto the nations. I ain’t worried ‘bout falling apart because we have shown we are determined to work through things together.
I guess the lesson is that we should all have gratitude for the sky bread on our journey to Zion. And, of course, the sky bread is dark skinned.
Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, NY. His writing has appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal and his computer.
“Zipporah: Bible” by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
Found at: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/zipporah-bible
“Kushi’ is Not Demeaning” by Ibrahim M. Omer
Found at: http://www.jewishmag.com/180mag/kushi/kushi.htm
Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary edited by David L. Lieber, Chaim Potok, Jules Harlow, Elliot Dorff and Susan Grossman, with Haftarah Commentary by Michael Fishbane.
This past week I reveled in the joy of Shavuot. I imagined myself at Mt. Sinai with every other Jew dancing and celebrating the receiving of the Torah. Here in St. Louis, I participated in the community Shavuot night long celebration. The evening was sponsored by local Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox shuls. Various learning sessions were taught by members of the St. Louis Jewish community, individuals who were Black, White, Gay, Straight, Cis, and Trans. It was a wondrous snapshot of what the world should and could be. My joy, however, was saddened when I heard the news about Orlando.
I felt numb upon hearing the news. I wasn’t simply numb, I was outraged, angry, and felt truly vulnerable for the first time in my life. I was enraged because that could have been me, my friends, or a loved one. Hours before, I was experienced the profane and humanity at its best, only to be reminded that man is capable of horrible acts of violence against their fellow human being. I spent the next few hours haunted by the notion that no one should be targeted or die because of who they are.
I attended minyan the following morning and found myself running through the tefillot without thinking. My prayers didn’t feel sincere because I was going through the motions and could not concentrate. My rabbi,Rabbi Ari Kaiman, always tells me that one should always insert one’s own prayer in daily davening, only then is our prayer sincere. So, I did just that. I prayed so fervently that I probably looked like a madman. A question popped in my head (perhaps it was the voice of G-d, I don’t know). When prayer isn’t enough, what do you do?
I continued to pray long after the service was over and in a moment of clarity, I had an answer. When prayer isn’t enough, you act. You stand up and speak out. What that looks like, looks differently to different people. For some prayer alone is enough. For other activism is enough.
As a Jew, I believe that I have a responsibility to actively participate in the mitzvah of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. The Torah and our tradition are filled with examples of what to do in these situations. I know what it’s like to be the “other.” I know what it’s like to be targeted for living in my truth. We have a moral imperative to take action when we see this happen and to do all within our power to stop it. When you hear a homophobic or racist comment or joke, speak up! When you see someone treated differently, speak up! Speaking up is not easy, it is not fun, and pushes us out of our comfort zone, but when we speak up for others we acknowledge that what is happening is not right. We acknowledge our shared commonality of humanity. We acknowledge that we are all made in the image of G-d.
Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Clearwater, Florida recently penned a poignant poem in response to the Orlando shooting in which she prays, “G-d above, G-d of peace, Creator of all, bless your inhabitants on Earth to know that violence and bigotry are never truly in Your name.”
My prayer for Orlando and the World is similar to Rabbi Upbin’s prayer.
G-d above, G-d of peace, Creator of all, bless your inhabitants on Earth to know that violence and bigotry are never truly in Your name. Open the eyes of every man, woman, child, to see the humanity in their fellow human being. Give courage and strength to those who speak out against injustice whenever and wherever they encounter it. Give us all the courage and strength to create a world that is more just and equitable for all members of our community. Give us all the conviction to prevent tragedies like this one from ever happening again. When we say “never again,” may we sincerely work towards making those words a reality.
This is my prayer now and forever. I vow to work tirelessly to bring about real change so that people can live in their truth without fear of discrimination, violence, or worse. I am Orlando, you are Orlando, together, we are all Orlando. It is only through prayer and action that we can and will bring about real change.
In this period between Purim and Passover—between stories of passing and casting lots, and stories of miracles and redemption—I find myself thinking a lot about adoption, and about ways people think about adoption.
I am a white, Ashkenazi mom to two adopted children of color, both of African descent, both adopted as infants domestically, both in open adoptions with their birth families. As such, I cannot overstate what an awesome responsibility I feel my husband and I have taken on—to raise these incredible young people to become strong and confident in their racial identities (in a society that makes that hard in the best of circumstances), in their Jewish identities, and in themselves as individuals.
It is not an easy task, and we won’t know how we’ve done for years, but I am grateful to the Jewish Multiracial Network—and the growing numbers of adult Jews of Color involved over the last many years—for giving our children models of possibility for growing up as Jews of Color themselves.
A Different Kind of Chametz
Jews adopt at about twice the rate of the American general public, and are more inclined to adopt transracially. Yet when the subject of adoption is addressed in our community, the importance of our children’s backgrounds or race are topics that are often neglected, even dismissed. What’s important is that we’ve built a family and that we raise them Jewish. Right?
According to Drs. Jennifer Sartori and Jayne Guberman of the Adoption and Jewish Identity Project—who have spent the last five years interviewing Jewish adoptive parents and adult adoptees—it’s not so simple. What they’re finding is that by cutting off our children from the reality of their heritage—and for those who present as non-white, their racial identity—we may be doing Jewish continuity no favors. More than that, we’re doing our own children no favors, in terms of the integrity of their own sense of self and where they fit in the world. And that—apart from getting them safely to adulthood—is kind of job one.
So, in this season between Purim and Passover, I’d like to suggest that as we rid our homes of chametz, we rid our minds of the idea that adopted children owe it to us to just be “our kids,” or just be Jewish, and not worry about who they look like or where they came from. (If you’re on the JMN website, this isn’t probably a tough ask, but it seemed worth naming.)
Esther and Moses: Not Your Average Adoptees
This season also brings to mind Queen Esther and Moses, the Biblical figures most-often trotted out as icons of Jewish adoption.
Esther—the heroine of the Purim story—was raised by her Uncle Mordechai, according to tradition. Hers was a “kinship adoption,” a long-practiced, often-informal arrangement that historically made, and still does and can make, the modern model of adoption less necessary. So, it’s adoption—and an important model to hold up –but not a kind of adoption relevant to most Jewish adoptive families today.
Then there’s Moses, as great a hero as our tradition has to offer. But a tricky adoption story for Jews, no? A Jew raised by non-Jews? An adoptee who rejects his adoptive family and culture?
Moses—relinquished into the Nile by Yocheved—was drawn from the water by Batya, daughter of Pharaoh, the man directly responsible for the threat to Moses’ life and the oppression of his community. Growing up in the palace, unaware of this, Moses was probably a pretty happy kid. But as he grew to manhood, he discovered his society’s moral corruption—and the fact that his adoptive family was not “just” complicit or supportive, but the force behind that corruption. He became a hero (our hero) when he returned to the people of his birth and made their struggle his.
Standing Whole, and Together
As a Jewish adoptive mom, I certainly hope my children choose to play in the “palace” of the Jewish community all the days of their lives. But I also fully expect (and encourage) them to join in the struggles of the people of their birth, and in those of any people with whom they find common cause.
There’s a midrash that says that when Moses and the Israelites fled from the evils of Egypt, Moses’ adoptive mother, Batya, fled with them, casting her lot with theirs. I hope that neither our community, nor the tightness of our grasp, nor any unwillingness on anyone’s part to see them in their wholeness, forces our children to make a choice between one part of themselves and another. But whatever may come, I pray that, like Batya, I will stand with them.
JMN is thrilled to introduce our 2016 bloggers!
Last year we decided that it would be eye-opening to have Jews of Color and members of Multiracial Jewish families blog for our website. We hoped that it would give voice to individual bloggers, but also to provide voices for those in our communities who feel voiceless, either because of where they live in the world, as one of only a few Jews of Color in their community, and to more widely share the experiences of a Jews of Color and multiracial Jewish families. Our bloggers offered personal glimpses into their lives and we continue to be grateful to them for stepping forward to provide authentic and varied perspectives on the experiences Jews of Color and multiracial Jewish families.
This year we are pleased to introduce new bloggers! Like last year, the 2016 JMN Bloggers come from varied walks of life, and hope you, like us, are eager to hear their different perspectives and experiences. We hope that you are challenged and inspired by what they have to say. We’re certainly looking forward to it.
My name is Meies Matz, and am a Sephardic Creole Jew (with family that hails from Louisiana to the Oklahoma reservation) and I am blessed to be the mother of three beautiful college students (Emanuel, Samuel and Eliya) and wife of 26 years to my college sweetheart David. I currently work as a Research and Grant Coordinator for the Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations (OAAPI), for the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and am an MPH graduate student at the Oregon State Health & Sciences University (OHSU).
I was born in San Francisco, and moved to the Pacific NW (Portland) in 2001 and am excited to write this year for the JMN Blog to give voice to the beauty of family – both those we are born into, and those we create. The beauty of family is that it is a continuous interwoven relationship that transcends death, whose love becomes embedded in our hearts and souls, and my hope this year is to share some of our stories and show how we have transformed our light into “Teshuva (Return), Tefillah, (Prayer) and Tzedakah (Righteousness)” to support the larger Jewish communal family.
Dr. Joseph Pope
Dr. Joseph “Pope” is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Color the Room a prestigious diversity and inclusion boutique professional services firm. As a thought leader with roots of his foundation in many trees and gardens; he is best known for “bridging the gap” and his insightful perspective and courageous commentary on social, cultural and religious issues. He celebrates and embraces his unique identity as a Jewish African American. He teaches about the inclusion of interfaith families and black Jews being a part of the dialogue, history and the conversations around Jewish culture.
With a passion for writing and enthusiasm for education; he is excited about the opportunity to inspire and help someone on their journey through blogging for the Jewish Multiracial Network in 2016. As he is often quoted “I believe in education that teaches to embrace and include rather than separate and isolate. Let’s do the work to “bridge the gap”. Dr. Pope is a current fellow for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) and a member of a Reform community. When he isn’t found talking about race, diversity, and inclusion you can find him snuggled up on the couch reading a book, cooking or enjoying family time.
Tony Westbrook Jr.
Tony J. Westbrook, Jr. is a St. Louis based activist and community leader working to address issues of racial inequality, discrimination, diversity, and inclusion throughout the St. Louis community. He received his B.A. in Communication Studies-Interpersonal and Intercultural Communications from Fontbonne University. He is a 2014 I. E. Millstone Fellow through the St. Louis Jewish Federation, serves on the Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs Jewish Funds for Human Needs committee, and he currently serves as the Assistant Food and Beverage Director for a St. Louis retirement community.
Minna Scherlinder Morse has been part of JMN since 2006, after she and her husband, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, adopted their first child. They are now raising two amazing kids, 11 and 7, both of African descent, both adopted domestically, both in open adoptions. Minna has served as a JMN Board member, Executive Committee member, and Strategic Planning chair, and was responsible for garnering funding for the organization’s first retreat for young adult Jews of Color and allies. She more recently has helped organize JMN events in her home city of Washington, DC, including a JMN tour of the White House. Professionally, she has worked as a writer and editor, coach, and nonprofit director. While working part-time this last decade, she has been devoting her avocational energy to conversations and programs that help build a more just and inclusive world for her kids, other adoptees and families touched by adoption, Jews of Color, and those in our community and the larger society who have been historically marginalized.
Erika Davis is a JMN Board Member, writer, activist and blogger behind Black, Gay and Jewish, a blog that explores the intersectionality of race, sexual orientation and Judaism. She’s written for a variety of Jewish websites and newspaper, is an active JMN Volunteer, running JMN’s Social Media accounts and curating and editing the JMN Blog, as well as working on the planning committee for the Jews of Color National Convening in NYC. When she’s not talking or writing about Jewish Diversity Erika can be found in Tacoma, WA trying out her green thumb on her homestead with her wife, their cats and their new puppy.
When I was considering conversion to Judaism, one of my main concerns was whether I would be able to become Jewish as a black, lesbian woman. In fact, I naively thought if they let me go to the mikvah, I would be the first black, lesbian Jew on the planet. Obviously, I was wrong. This feeling of isolation is one shared by many queer Jews of Color as they may or not know about others who share their identity. Many of us have scoured the internet seeking community, particularly community that understands the complexity of our relationship with the Jewish community.
For me, the idea of juggling multiple identities, was, and continues to be a struggle. My skin color always signals that I’m different. That difference often inspires questions like “How are you Jewish?”, “Was I adopted?”, ”Have I met the other Jew of Color in the synagogue?” Many times I let these questions slide off my back, but other times I cannot, and am suddenly thrust into the role of educator. Add to that my lesbian identity, and it seemed that new Jewish spaces were often places not for me to reconnect to my faith and be swept away by familiar niggunim, but a place where I was on edge and defensive.
I’ll be honest. It has kept me away from synagogues in my new home town. Rather than deal with the stares due to being the black Jew compounded by more questions and inquiry due to also being the lesbian Jew, I’ve avoided going all together. But, working on this project with Keshet, helping other Queer Jews of Color possibly find comfort in knowing that they’re not alone has inspired to me to re-engage. And while I’m not the only black lesbian Jew on the planet, even if it can feel like I’m the only black lesbian Jew in the Pacific Northwest (if you’re a Queer Jew of Color in the PNW, hit me up!), it’s an identity I carry with pride.
We’re excited to offer this resource of blog posts, audio files, and articles written by and about Queer Jews of Color to showcase how varied our community is. We realize that we’ve only scratched the surface and are looking forward to it opening new pathways and doors to the experiences of LGBTQ Jews of Color we may have missed. Lastly, we hope that if a queer person of color is like I was almost 5 years ago, wondering how one can possibly be queer and a person of color and a Jew, we’re able to say, yes you can. It’s thrilling to me that I call some of these Queer Jews of Color my friends. We are all really different, to be sure. Some of us chose Judaism while others were born Jews. We are cis-gender and transgender. We are black, biracial, multiracial, Asian, brown, and some of us can even pass and while these can be seen as dividing lines, our joint identities still unite us.
Erika Davis is a black, lesbian Jew living the Pacific Northwest Life in Tacoma, Washington. She lives with her wife, their cats and their new puppy, Agnes. When not tending her garden or renovating her home, she can be found behind the scenes on the JMN Social media accounts. Her poorly maintained blog, Black, Gay and Jewish tells the story of her conversion to Judaism.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing for the Jewish Multiracial Network for an entire year. It’s been a year of deep introspection, reflection, and learning about whom I am as a person and who I want to become. While I am excited to continue contributing to this incredible organization and learning about Jews of Color, the end of 2015 signifies a milestone in my life.
In my first blog post, I talked about how excited I was to embark on this journey and add my unique perspective and insight on how the Jewish community treats Jews of Color. With many lessons and words of wisdom along the way, one stands above the rest. This past year has taught me the importance of exclaiming, “Hineni, here I am!” and being able to be fully present. To be able to see, hear, and understand what used to be invisible to me. To look beyond the things that life readily presents to me and explore what is in the shadows.
In 2015, we’ve had moments in the Jewish community that fill my heart with joy and pride, including marching with the NAACP’s Journey for Justice and increasing conversations and action around “audacious hospitality” and “radical inclusion”. And then we’ve also had moments that fill me with pure disgust and embarrassment, such as more stories of police officers following Jews of Color in synagogues and outright rejections of the merits of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This past year has taught me that while exclusion and racism may be happening in our community, I must be totally present, hineni, in order to see and grasp the effects these hurtful attitudes and actions have on people. I know that this insight and lesson will enormously enhance my reflection and preparation for the coming year.
In the process of taking action against a challenge, it always begins with ideas and conversations. Here are some questions to start these important and necessary conversations for the Jewish community in 2016:
What are the assumptions that people make about Jews of Color?
What should be the Jewish community’s role in fighting racism in the world?
What privileges do we hold in society?
How do we better demonstrate compassion, love, and understanding for everyone in our community?
What is our commitment to tikkun olam, or repairing the world?
Even among our successes, this year was an especially hard year for justice, love, and peace in the Jewish community. While progress begins with ideas and conversation, it must lead to meaningful action. Each and every one of us needs to exclaim, “Hineni, here I am” and be fully present as we move forward in future, walking boldly together, hand in hand.
“What do you think about Black Lives Matter? Should Jewish organizations support this movement?”
An audience member posed these questions to me earlier this summer as part of a panel discussion on creating inclusive communities at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York and within NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement. While I knew many members of the audience of more than 300 staff and participants, this was one of the first times that I was speaking with them about the challenges that confront Jews of Color. As I briefly considered these questions, I was still so nervous to receive this question and anxious to respond to it so that my true message would get across.
After thanking the audience member for their question, I took a deep breath and responded:
“The Black Lives Matter movement is an incredibly important component to talking about and addressing the issues that Black people must confront in this country. Additionally, I believe that all Jewish organizations should support the Black Lives Matter movement because 2-3% of Jews in America also identify as Black. If we are truly to be inclusive of Jews of Color in our communities, we must acknowledge, affirm, support, and celebrate their entire being, not just the Jewish part of their identity”.
Following the panel discussion, I had the opportunity to work with a breakout group of about 35 people and continue the conversation on creating inclusive communities for Jews of Color. We provided space for everyone to comment on how their racial and religious identity has influenced their connection to the Jewish community. We explored how Jews of Color may especially struggle with these questions of identity and how that can negatively affect their participation in congregations and Jewish organizations. And we brainstormed ways that our communities, at the URJ Kutz Camp and within NFTY youth groups and regions, we can be more inclusive of Jews of Color and ensure that they feel empowered to contribute to organized Jewish life.
Several weeks after this inspirational panel discussion and workshop, I find myself drawn to this conversation of Jewish organizations and institutions supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. While some people and groups may find its motives or tactics controversial, there is nothing controversial about affirming the value of people in our world. In addition to continuing our broader commitment to justice for people outside of our community, Jews must also consider that many members of our communities identify as Black and that by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we are supporting the inherent worth of our fellow congregants and community members.
A cornerstone of the Jewish faith and community is in the Talmudic passage, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” or “All of Israel is responsible for one another”. Having Jews of Color in our congregations and organization is an opportunity to enrich our already bright community. Now is the time for all Jewish institutions to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not an issue of politics; it is a decision to understand our commitment to justice and to truly see ourselves as responsible for every single member of our community.