By Tonda Case
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.