erika davis is a washington state-based writer, blogger and jewish diversity advocate. For almost 8 years she recorded her journey to judaism in her popular blog, Black Gay and Jewish. Today she blogs about her life in the PNW and occasionally writes in third person

In Which I give my first talk as a Black, Gay Jew

Shabbat Shalom!
Please enjoy this collection of pre-conversion blog posts. This lot is basically a lot of me processing conversion class, my intersecting identities as a black, gay jewish woman and feeling super pumped/special that I gave a talk to a bunch of other brown jews about my brown jewish existence.
enjoy!

You don't know what it is to be...

Mon, 18 Oct 2010 23:57:02, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: things-to-think-on, category: uncategorized, category: what-color-is-a-jew, category: who-is-a-jew, category: yavilah-mccoy]

[caption id="attachment_142" align="aligncenter" width="279" caption="A picture of Yavilah McCoy and her family on Shabbat that I found on Google"][/caption]

Black.

Gay.

a Jew.

I'm working on my memoir and am struggling with it.  To help  get some inspiration I've re-read bits of Rebecca Walker's "Black, White, and Jewish" as well as bits of Stacyann Chin's "The Other Side of Paradise".  I'm only one train ride away from completing Ernest Adam's memoir, "From Ghetto to Ghetto" and in reading these three amazing memoirs by Black people I feel like I'm missing the "Black Card."

Let's just keep in mind that I can dance (or at least I could when dancing was the norm on a weekend)  I don't take shit from anyone, and when I look in the mirror I'm very clearly Black.  Yet, and this is where I'm struggling, I don't feel black when I walk down the street and never have.  That is to say, I've never felt prying, questioning, concerned, skeptical eyes on me when I, say, enter a store.  I haven't been subject to racism by anyone other than other Blacks who just don't "get" my Blackness.

I've never been able to pull off certain words, sayings, slang in the way that it's done by cool Black youth.  My years of private school education and my obsession with the perfection of the English language prevents it.  When I do try to say something "cool" I sound more like Carlton Banks rather than Will.  Remember that episode of Fresh Prince of Belair when Will and Carlton are trying to pledge a fraternity and the brothers want Will and not Carlton because he's not "black" enough.  I was Carlton.  I am Carlton.  I don't, and haven't ever fit into the mold of what Black is supposed to be.  I only know my own reality of Blackness.

It sounds silly to say I don't feel Black because I do.  As I watch my dark brown fingers glide across my keyboard in my sight line I know that they are my Black hands.  When I look at myself in the mirror and notice my aging face I see the dark brown circles under my eyes.  When I go shopping and notice a yellow, orange, or hot pink garment without trying it on I know that it will look good on me.  I see the eyes of Black men on me on the street trying to figure out if they have a chance.  I hear people compliment my skin tone, my hair.  My Blackness is what I make of it, and what I want to make of it.  I don't let anyone's opinion of what is and is not Black affect me but in truth, at times it does.

I wonder if I'd feel differently if I grew up in the 70s rather than as a child of the 80s.  My experience would surely be different if my parents didn't shield their financial woes from us and instead told us the burdens our life was having on their bank accounts. 

When I finally admitted to myself that I was a lesbian I jumped into my newly admitted identity feet-first.  I embraced the culture and learned all I could and was able to pick and choose what suited me.  As a Jew-to-be I already feel like a Jew even though I may not "look" like one.  I wonder, though, if this expectation of what a Jew is and is not is something that I will be able to weather as comfortably as I have the expectation of what a Black woman is and is not.  Whether I chose to ignore the stares that may have been directed my way at any given time or I legitimately did not see them is not a question but more a fact.  I didn't see them because I was brought up by my parents to never second guess anything.  I was taught that I was entitled to everything and the world was what I made of it.  I never wanted for anything and every door was opened for me.  I didn't see those eyes of a white person, Asian shop keeper, or Indian bodega owner on me because in my mind, they were not.  I have every right to walk into any establishment of my choosing, whether it be a corner store or Louis Vuitton.  Had I been born in 1959 rather than 1979 it would be different.  If I grew up in a small town in Mississippi rather than a big-small town in Ohio it would be different. 

I don't know what it is to be anyone other than Erika.  I don't know what anyone else's Blackness is because I didn't live it.  I can learn about it, understand it, absorb it but I can't own it.  Just as I don't own anyone else's Gayness or Jewishness.

Last night the clarity of my identity as a Black Woman, which is how I will always self-identify first, became clear when Mirs and I had a casual conversation about ancestry.  Her mother, a genealogy maven, is digging deeper into her family tree on both sides.  I commented that it must  be easy for white folks to find their roots because they have a paper trail.  Black folks, on the other hand, can usually only go back so far before the names turn into numbers and we lose track.  I made a comment referencing cargo (African slaves) rather than names and noticed she wasn't actively listening.  Did I think she was brushing off tragedy that is the inability for me to find my lineage, no.  Was I furious, yes.  I felt the "Angry Black Woman" boiling up and sort of laughed inward because it's times like those when I know I'm Black.  We were able to get on the same page and in the end, I challenged her to ask her mother to root around in my family tree. 

Thankfully Texas and North Carolina are far enough away that we shouldn't find out that her people owned my people back in the day.  It is this people-ness that is the connector for me.  I'll never feel the Jewish that you feel but I feel Jewish.  I don't feel the same Gay that you feel but I'm gay.  I don't feel the same Black that you feel, but I'm Black.  As a Black, Gay, Jew there are things that I won't always understand but there are the lessons of my people that I will always be able to bring to the table.

The Messiah, Women wearing Kippot, and Other Things I learned in Conversion Class Tonight

Wed, 20 Oct 2010 22:55:50, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: shul-shopping, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you]

I just got back home from my second conversion class at Rodeph Sholom where we were able to ask the rabbi questions which she answered to the best of her ability, given the space, time and limitations of an hour and a half class with over 30 participants.

I stopped attending conversion classes at Central for varied reasons, mainly it had to do with the connection I felt with the rabbi at Rodeph Sholom.  I still have not attended Shabbat services there so perhaps jumping ship wasn't the wisest choice but I'm sticking to my guns.  There's also that teeny tiny factor that I can afford these classes a bit more easily.  While this class isn't as structured with required reading and a syllabus, I still feel like I'm learning things I haven't before while knowing the answers to some questions posed.  I actually surprised the rabbi tonight because I was able to answer a question about the Torah.

The thing I like about this rabbi is that she lays it on thick without pretense and without hesitation.  Some of our concerns as converts is that we will never, perhaps, "feel Jewish.  It's something that I'm feeling better about, I do feel Jewish right now but as I said in my last post my Jewish may not feel the same as yours.  One of the things she brought up is her ability to "pass" in the world as a white person, but that at her core she is a Jew.  Historically speaking Jews were treated pretty shitty, let's just be honest.  I loved how she made us potential converts know what it was like to feel like a Jew, and how it can sometimes feel, different-my words not hers.  As a black woman, I feel different because I look different but it was amazing to watch the faces of the white women around the table "get it"

When you're a black person who marries a white person you can still pretty much blend into society if you're not with your partner.  Know one really knows that you're dating a person of another race if they're not by your side and you can sort of skim the surface.  Say you have a child and, boom, that child is black.  People now know that you're the mother of a black person and that changes the way that the world sees you but doesn't change you, really.  When you become a Jew it changes who you are at your core.  I wondered if the weight of that is understood by potential converts who are white.  Sure, you're white but you're a Jew and your kids will be Jews and one day, one of them will come home crying because a friend called him a racist name.  The rabbi talked having someone say, with a look of disgust, "You're a Jew?" and it reaching the core of her.  When you are a Jew you cannot escape it.  You cannot escape people's perceptions of what it is to be a Jew.  You cannot escape the hatred, the bigotry, the ignorance, just as I cannot escape people's hatred, bigotry, and ignorance as a black woman.  Lucky thing is, I get it because I'm black.  I am well aware of the injustices that come along with being both a black and a Jew but as a black person, I sort of have a leg up on other non-black converts.

People often say, you're black, you're a woman, you're a lesbian.  Those three are hard enough as it is, why would you choose to be a Jew?  I had no choice in those other three matters, that was the hand that I was dealt by God.  I can make this choice because it is as much my identity as the other three identities. 

I just finished reading "From Ghetto to Ghetto" by Ernest H. Adams and I strongly suggest that you purchase it and read it as well whether you are a Jew or not.  So much of his identity both as a black man and a Jew I was able to relate to on a personal level and much more of it I learned from.  The joy of Judaism is that we can ask questions and we will always learn something new.  I love that we read Torah once a year.  I love that you will never learn everything about a story in one year, ten years, or thirty years-which is why we continue to read it.

The Jewish people, as varied as we are, are a people made up of so much diversity and a wealth of knowledge and new understandings if we open ourselves up to it, ask questions and listen to the answers.

Why'd I Open My Big Mouth?

Mon, 25 Oct 2010 19:40:25, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism]

Hey There readers!  I'm back from Ohio and into the groove of NYC life again.  It doesn't matter if I'm gone for one day or one week I can always snap back to reality when I touch down in New York.  The traffic is actual traffic as opposed to some small little delay on the express way.  Strolling is reserved for the pleasant streets of Ditmas Park only, not even Central Park, and the knowledge that you're one of millions of people on a teeny tiny island much smaller than an actual state is comforting and maddening at the same time.

Yes, Mirs and I survived Meeting the Parents and it went well!  I also outed myself (again) to my parents regarding my Judaism, well my Mom.  She pulled a Mc Cain (or was it Bush) and told me I was a "flip-flopper" with my religion as a child and said that she still expects Christmas presents.  I was put off by the "flip-flop" statement and assured her that I would, indeed, send Christmas presents as long as she remembered my Chanukkah presents. 

On my long commute into the city this morning, because of a delayed train rather than an actual long commute, I checked my Blackberry reminders and noticed that Next Wednesday I'm giving my talk, "Black, Gay and Jewish" for Be'chol Lashon.  I've sort of been putting it off because I'm having some reservations about the whole deal.  It's not the public speaking thing.  I've got 4 years of high school speech and drama and 2 years of theater in college, not to mention my ability to talk to anyone about anything with ease-it's not the public speaking that has me concerned.  It's the fact that I'm not a Jew yet.  Sure, I can tell everyone until I'm blue in the face that I feel Jewish and the fact of the matter is that I am not yet a Jew.  I normally don't have a problem talking about Judaism and the many varying reasons I've decided to convert but I'll be giving a structured talk about my gayness to a room full of Jews. 

What if they read Torah as is and truly believe that I'm sinning?  What if they're republicans and think that my right to marriage isn't as important because I'm not a real couple in the eyes of God.  What if they resent anything that I say because I will say it with conviction, yet lack the time, frustrations, anger, joy, and happiness that is being a Jew of Color.  What if they just don't like me?

I know what I want to talk about (I think) and I know what how I want to structure it (I'm pretty sure)  I'm planning on showing a movie clip (reminder to fix Netflix que) and I wanted to talk to other LGBT Jews but sadly, no one answered my plea.

So I've got 16 days to finalize everything, including a read-through with supportive friends a week prior.  I'm feeling good, for the most part, but the rest of me is scared shitless.  (That's the New York in me)

in 7 Days...

Tue, 26 Oct 2010 23:52:50, erika, [category: bechol-lashon]

Seven days!  SEVEN DAYS!  One Week from tomorrow I will be standing in front of a room of Jews of Color to talk about my experience as a black gay woman on the road to Judaism.  I've decided that I'm going to work it as a sort-of outline to my memoir. 

That's all for today, a break through, though!

Night.

Bris, Finding a Hebrew Name and other things I learned in conversion class tonight...

Wed, 27 Oct 2010 23:58:24, erika, [post_tag: baby-naming, category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: blessings, post_tag: brisbrit-malah, category: conversion-classes, post_tag: jewish-home, post_tag: jewish-traditions, category: judaism, category: julie-geller, post_tag: julie-geller, post_tag: prayers, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: whats-in-a-hebrew-name]

Tonight in conversion class we learned all about the Bris ceremony, baby naming, and the whys behind them all.  On the way home I decided to listen to my Jewish/Hebrew music playlist on my iPod.  I haven't been to synagogue in almost a month and honestly, I miss it a lot.  I wanted to listen to my playlist so that I could test myself to see if I remembered some songs, to see if I could recite the Candle Blessing ( I can) and to just enjoy the enchanting melodies of L'Cha Dodi, my favorite Shabbat song.  As I listened a song came on that brought tears to my eyes.  It's not that I've never heard it before, because I have yet it still made me ...verklempt.  If you have the chance, download Blessing of Children on Julie Geller's CD "Step into Shabbat"  you will LOVE it.

I've found several versions of the blessing online, with and without transliterations.  I've combined what I found on My Jewish Learning and About.com into the following transliteration, English, and Hebrew.  Forgive me if it's not accurate.

Introduction for Boys:

Ye'simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve'chi-Menashe

May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.

For girls, the introductory line is:

Ye'simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Ra-chel ve-Lay'ah

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.

For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:

Ye'varech'echa Adonoy ve'yish'merecha.
May God bless you and watch over you

וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה

Ya'ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.

May God shine his face towards and be gracious to you.
וִיחֻנֶּךָּ אֵלֶיךָ יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו

Yisa Adonoy panav eilecha, ve'yasim lecha shalom.

May God turn his face to you, and grant you peace.
וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Shabbat_The_Sabbath/At_Home/Friday_Night/Blessing_the_Children.shtml

http://judaism.about.com/od/sabbathdayshabb2/qt/bless_children.htm

In the song, though, the line that moved me most was this:

Ya'ir Adonoy panav eilecha viy-chuneka.
May God shine his face towards you and be gracious to you

I played it several times and actually allowed two tears to escape my eyes.  In my entire life of church-going I was never blessed in this way.  As a non-Catholic in a Catholic school I was given the option to go up to the front of the church while the others received communion to receive a blessing.  I attended mass every Friday from 6th-8th Grade and about once a month from 9-12th and cannot remember a single blessing I received.  Can you imagine the impact and the feeling of awe, wonder, and sense of uniqueness of receiving such a blessing, and from your parents?  I love that it's not a priest, a nun, or a rabbi who gives this Shabbat blessings to children, but the parent.  Listening to the song over and over again I tried to put the Hebrew to memory.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of honor, hope, and longing for the time when I'll be able to say this blessing to my sons and daughters.

I attended Catholic school from 4th-12th grades and while the sermons were never inspirational, the order of service and the ritual of them were captivating.  Baptist church, where I attended with my mother, seemed chaotic and theatrical.  The message in both was that of repentance, damnation, and salvation.  When I attended church as a child and young adult the thing that drew me to both Catholic and Episcopal church was the prayers that were sung.  There is something terribly beautiful, almost haunting about liturgical melodies.  I love how they change during the seasons and how they allow you to not only learn the words more easily but to make a "joyful noise unto the Lord."  It is written in Torah that Miriam sang a song of praise to God when they made it through the Sea of Reeds and while I cannot sing well, I love to sing.  The melodies of Sh'ma, L'Cha Dodi, and even the melody for candle lighting on Shabbat take me back to that familiar place where music and godliness mix.

Being home recently with my family and my nephews I inevitably think of my own future family.  I'm excited to raise a Jewish family.  The idea of having a bris is exciting for me.  Granted, I'm a new Jew and everything is shiny and new but learning about why we do Brit Milah, the importance of a baby naming for girls, as well as all of the superstitions and traditions around pregnancy and planning for a baby have knocked me off my rocker.  I'm having many "a-ha" moments the more I learn about Judaism and it's not that I'd never considered them before, but they make more sense now.

For instance, I completely understand why Jewish tradition says you don't do a baby shower or set up a baby's room before the birth.  I cannot imagine the pain of having to take it all down if the unthinkable were to happen.  While things like red ribbons to ward of Lilith seem a little far-fetched but then again, there are two creation stories in Torah and you can never be too cautious.

More pressing than thinking about who would come to my future son's bris is my naming.  Choosing a Hebrew name is a huge step and one that I've been thinking about lightly for a few months but after tonight's class I'm thinking about it more seriously.  Obviously, I wouldn't just pick one because it sounds pretty, the reasons behind the name are important to me.

Today we learned that most Hebrew names are chosen for children in honor of family members.  Clearly, I wouldn't be able to choose a Hebrew name for myself based on a family member but there are ways around that.  My favorite uncle, for instance, was funny so I could find the Hebrew name for humor.  My mother's mother, the grandmother I never met but who predicted my looks while in the womb was a kind woman, I'm told.  I could find a name that means kindness or strength.

We start our Class with the Rabbi asking us a question.  It has been things like "How are you feeling today about Judaism" to today's question, where are you in the Jewish Life Cycle; Birth, Naming, Preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah (Hebrew School), Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Preparing for Confirmation, Confirmation...Around the room people said "Birth" and when it came to my turn I said birth, too.  The rabbi looked at me and squished her nose, displeased at my answer.  "Hebrew School," I answered again.  She smiled and went to the next person.

Hebrew School.  That's after birth, after the naming; I'm preparing for my Bar Mitzvah!  That's not to say that she thinks I'm ready to read from the Torah, I can barely remember the order of service in a siddur, but it's a great feeling.  After this trimester of classes, in 5 weeks, I'll start meeting one-on-one with a rabbi at the synagogue on a weekly basis to determine where I'm at.  I can't begin to explain how excited I am, and funny thing is, I'm not nervous at all.  I'm EXCITED, anxious, but not in a bad way.  Rather, I'm anxious in a "When does it happen" way.  I have it in my head that I will be fluent in Hebrew by the time I'm a convert and I know without a doubt that it will not be true.  Still, I'm preparing for my Bar Mitzvah!

Sometimes you have to talk it out.

Thu, 28 Oct 2010 11:26:08, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism]

I had an idea to invite friends over to go over my Be'chol Lashon talk on Sunday night until I realized that Sunday was Halloween.  In most parts of the US Halloween is a time for children.  Most parts with the exception of NYC.  I actually hate Halloween because it's such a creep holiday in New York.  Imagine, if you will, boarding a subway and finding the Scream guy sitting across from you.  He sits there, with the fake knife (you hope) the creepy mask that once looked funny but is now scaring the shit out of you and he just sits, watching you.  That's what happens on Halloween in NYC.  People get really dressed up and most ladies end up looking like floosies and there are the few really terrible, really scary costumes.  Still, it's a time for an adult to dress up and act crazy and it's perfectly acceptable, therefore most people go out.

I'm still going to send out an e-mail blast and hope that people come to our apartment so I can go over it a few times with a live audience.  You're lucky because you get to hear my first draft.  Enjoy!

To start, let me just say that I'm not a Jew, yet.  I don't stand before you holding all the answers of what it's like to be a Black, Gay, Jew.  I can only give you a bit of insight into who I am and how I've come to identify as such.

My path to Judaism cannot necessarily be called organic because it didn't happen naturally.  Rather, it took a lot of searching and researching for me to stand here, self-identifing as a Jew.  Sometimes I say Jew-to-be and sometimes I say Jew-in-Training but just the other day when one of my work associates asked what I would be giving my girlfriend for Christmas I said, without thinking, "Oh we're Jewish"  She was another black woman, and a New Yorker so the polite quietness that often follows when you say something that seems curious was lost on this, in-your-face Brooklyn girl.

"Wait, you're a Jew?"  She said in disbelief, "I didn't know there were black Jews"

I shot a similar look back to her, "You've never seen a black Jew?  you're a New Yorker!"

She, of course, wanted to know "how" I could be a Jew and I explained that I was in the process of converting, that my girlfriend was a born Jew but not observant, and that I was not converting for her sake rather because it was where I came after what seemed like years of looking for what felt right.

I was baptised as an infant and then again around 12, forcibly by my mother.  It wasn't an option. As I stood in the warm water wearing a gown with Pastor Tisdale at my side he asked me if I took Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  I didn't but I looked out of the baptismal pool at my mother who gave me the "look" and my little sister who would have her turn after me.  I was supposed to say yes, even though, I wanted to scream no.  I opened my mouth to protest and before I could speak I was dunked backwards, without warning, into the water.  I gasped and choked on water before being brought up and welcomed into the world as a Christian.  I felt confused, angry, and scared.  I couldn't articulate what I was feeling in a way that would matter to my parents or Pastor Tisdale so instead I glided on an ocean of confused Christianity for another 4 years.

About sophomore year of high school, my 7th year in Catholic school I learned about the three monotheistic religions from Ms. Luculio, a squat religious teacher of my high school.  Here I was in a Catholic School, run by Catholic nuns learning that Judaism started it all. I learned that it gave birth to Christianity and Islam.  Ms L, as we called her, told us, "they're all the same, give or take a few texts" When I brought this to Bible Study at Friendship Baptist church Pastor Tisdale told me that Jews and Muslims did not worship his god and damned them both to hell.  For me, that was the end of attending church with my mother.   I told her I couldn't be in a place where the man running it was so hateful and discriminating, not to mention he drove a different Cadillac every Sunday.  For the most part she no longer required me to attend with her, except for the occasional revival or on Easter.

When I left high school I stopped believing in the monotheistic idea of God all together.  I'd been taught by strong women who encouraged us to be strong women.  We learned to ask questions, to open our mouths, to be heard as well as seen.  I decided that it was all sexist, with the image of female holiness completely obliterated for male ego and learned about Earth-based and Eastern practices.  Like the light bulb that turned on in Ms. L's class, I was almost shocked to learn that many major Christian holidays were created from Pagan ones.  There's no mistaking that Christmas celebrations and the pagan Yule Holiday are strikingly similar.  One cannot deny that Easter with its eggs doesn't sound a lot like pagan Fertility Holidays.  I made friends with Wiccan girls and together we celebrated the beauty of a full moon or new moon in outdoor and I felt God there.  I loved the duality of male and female but mostly, I loved the earth;  feeling the wind on my skin or the hum of an old tree as I sat and meditated under had me yearning for something more.  I couldn't figure out what it was so I became a lazy atheist.

I just didn't "do" religion again until I moved to New York.  This is where my story gets intertwined.  We only have an hour, and I'm writing a book so when you read it, you'll get the whole thing.  Let me just say this.  As a black woman, as a "straight" woman, as a lazy atheist I was very miserable.  I didn't fit into those molds.  To my family, and throughout my childhood I was told that I wasn't black enough.  I got engaged and started planning a marriage when I knew I wasn't happy because I'd picked the wrong guy, I wasn't happy because he was a guy.  And while I tried to believe that I was god-less, I felt a longing for God.  Moving to New York, alone, allowed me to spend a lot of time with me and discover that I am a Black Woman, I am a Gay Woman, and I need God.

I knew I didn't want to go back to a Baptist church because it always seemed too theatrical, too chaotic, and too contrived.  It couldn't be denied that the music was much better than any I'd heard, but I couldn't sit in a place where Christ was my key to salvation when I wasn't sure it was true.  The same was true of Catholicism.  If I decided to be a Catholic, there was no un-doing it.  The idea of the host at communion becoming Jesus' body and blood never made sense at all, and the resurrection?  I still call Easter "Zombie Jesus" day and sing Kanye  West, "Je-sus Walks"  Still, I loved knowing exactly how long Mass would take and what would happen next.  The ritual, the familiarity, the expectation, and beauty was comforting to me.  So I entered an Episcopal Church, Catholic-lite, and attended for a year.

After taking communion, just symbols not flesh and blood, there is a time to go back to your pew to pray and reflect.  Whenever I would pray I would cry and in those few moments while the whole of Saint John the Divine or St. Barts would take communion, I felt close to God.  Everything else, the other 45 minutes of service I was just going through the motions.  It didn't feel right.  So when I missed a week I didn't miss it.  I missed two weeks and didn't miss it and then I missed several months at a time and it was like it didn't happen.  I still missed God, though.

I decided to go back to the "source" of it all and picked up my first Jewish book from Barnes and Noble, "Being Jewish" by Ari L. Goldman...

That's as far as I've gotten.  What do you think, interesting?  Questions?  I'm having issues with adding the Gay part and may need to rework it so that it's more prevalent.  Then again, this only reads at 15 minutes and I still have 30 more minutes to fill up!  There will be a movie clip, "Trembling before G-d", a movie about gay Orthodox and non-Orthodoz Jews around the world.  If you haven't seen  it and have Netflix I encourage you to watch it.  It is moving, touching,  and so good!  I also want to show "A Jihad for Love" but since it's about gay Muslims rather than gay Jews I won't.  So feedback is great!  Send it my way!

New Shabbat Candles, a bedroom Mezuzah, and other Hiddur Mitzvah

Sun, 31 Oct 2010 11:06:48, erika, [post_tag: avenue-jew-in-brooklyn, category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, post_tag: judaica-shops, category: judaism, post_tag: mezuzzah, post_tag: mitzvot-2, post_tag: pre-conversion-mitzvot, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, post_tag: shabbat-2, category: shul-shopping]

בָּרוּך אַתָּה אַדָנָ-י אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶׁר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶל שַבָּת קודֶש

 

Transliteration: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat

 

Translation: Blessed are you, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Holy Shabbat.


While I was home in Ohio I purchased some pewter candle sticks at my favorite antique shop at the Erie Street Market.  They're simple candle sticks with nice weight and until now I'm not sure what they were used for.  From here on out, they will be my Shabbat candle sticks.  If you're a New Yorker, you know we are lucky enough to have a wide array of Judaica stores at our disposal.  I've shopped at West Side Judaica and of course, Eichler's in Ditmas Park/Midwood is one of my favorites.  To be frank, they can be really expensive for Shabbat items.  For books, mezuzah, or even kippah it's totally worth the trip; the experience alone is amazing.  So much so, my conversion rabbi encouraged us to visit Judaica stores if only for the experience and I love browsing the many books wishing that I knew Hebrew so I could read them.

For me, though, finding these simple pewter candle sticks was a coup.  I'd been searching for them since I made the decision to convert to Judaism.  I've scoured online Judaica shops, silver shops on Avenue J(ew), and of course my favorite stores to no avail.  I was thinking of buying some simple glass candle sticks at my job but didn't feel like they would be my Shabbat candles.  I didn't picture them to be engraved, gilded, or magnificent, but I knew what I wanted them to look like.  In my mind's eye I knew what I was looking for.

[caption id="attachment_162" align="aligncenter" width="300"] My new Shabbat Candle sticks[/caption]

So Friday afternoon Mirs and I go on our weekly Shabbat shopping.  We went to our favorite bakery for challah, we searched for Kosher wine, and browsed some Judaica shops.  We went to Hecht's, on Coney Island Avenue and 30 minutes later I walked out $80 lighter.  Unlike the larger Judaica stores in Ditmas Park/Midwood, Hecht's is a small, slightly cramped store filled to the gills with many Judaica objects from Hamsas, to Mezuzah, to kippah, to books, and of course, Shabbat Candles.  I purchased a mezuzah for my bedroom, a home Hamsa, and several other things to help with Hiddur Mitzvah, or the beautification of a mitzvah.  Hmm, take one shopaholic and add hiddur mitzah and you get a BIG problem.  It's an actual mitzvah, commandment, to beautify your home.

The plan was to light the Shabbat candles for the first time in my life, head to Shabbat service at Congregation Beth Elohim with friends, and have dinner before returning home.  I opened the box of 72 candles "made in Israel", the sales lady told me, "not china" with the excitement and expectation that can only be likened to opening a present ...

...just to find that they were the wrong size.  She told me they'd fit any Shabbat candle holder but they do not fit my candle sticks.  Maybe it's because I went for really affordable antique candlesticks vs made-to-fit Shabbat candlesticks but I was heartbroken.  My candles are squat little nubs of candles and my pewter bases demand large candles.

Long story short, I did not get to light Shabbat Candles on Friday and I was upset.  I'd been so proud that I could finally sing the whole blessing, in two melodies, and didn't get the opportunity to do so.  The beauty of Shabbat is that it comes around every week so there's always next week.  For now, my focus is on preparing my talk for Be'chol Lashon affixing my new mezuzah, and finding new candles that fit the stick.

Just in case you want the blessing for affixing a mezuzah, here it is thanks to About.com and Anita Diament's book Living a Jewish Life.



Baruch atah Adonai  Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu likboa mezuzah.

Blessed be the Eternal One, Source of Life, by Whose power we sanctify life with the mitzvah of affixing this mezuzah.


2 DAYS

Mon, 01 Nov 2010 19:51:44, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: what-color-is-a-jew]

On Wednesday, November 3rd at 7PM I will be giving a talk entitled, "Black, Gay, and Jewish" to a room of Jews of Color as part of Be'chol Lashon's monthly meeting.  I was told that my talk should be about 45 minutes and afterwards there would be a question and answer section.  I've spent the last month trying to piece together my talk using my Velvet Park Posts as well as my blog posts and pieces of my memoir to help.  Last night I had a run through with some of my closest friends and today, I'm feeling a bit nervous.  Okay, it's a complete lie I'm fucking scared shit less.  There, I've said it.
 
Let's just remember that while my blog, my Velvet Park Blog, and my memoir are all called, "Black, Gay, and Jewish" I'M NOT A JEW (yet).  So what's this black dyke gonna talk about??  Being a black dyke who's converting to Judaism, of course.  It sounds easy.   It sounds painfully easy but the fact of the matter is that I'm not yet a Jew.  It's the only thing that I'm hung up and the reason is that my audience is comprised of Jewish people of Color.  They know what it's like to live in the world as a Jew, as a person of color and the card that I bring to the table is the fact that I'm a lesbian.
 
When I gave my talk last night to my friends the feedback they gave me was that the "Gay" section needed to be longer.  My black section, the section that has given me so much personal heartache as well of strength is the section that I've lived the longest.  The Gay thing only came out 3 years ago and the Jewish thing?  Only seriously studying since March.  We circle right back around to the part where I'm gay.  So, I wanted to ask you, my faithful readers who are religious, in any way, what's it like to be a Gay Christian, a Gay Muslim, a Gay Mormon, a Gay Catholic, a Gay Buddhist a Gay Jew?  Were you accepted in your religious community as a lesbian and if you were not, have you found a religious community that has?  I promise to add you to my speech and your help is MUCH appreciated!

Black, Gay, and Jewish is getting popular

Tue, 02 Nov 2010 10:40:15, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish]

Yesterday my editor from Velvet Park e-mailed me to let me know that the pieces I'm writing for them have gained some attention.  The article written on Theology Degrees Online note that my blog for Velvet Park is one of 50 Very Insightful Blogs on LGBTQ Spirituality.  The author writes of my blog,   "Black, Jewish lesbians are something of a rarity, but Erika Davis possesses the inspiring intelligence to accept who she is and press on with courage, faith and spunk."

Last week, a Jewish Online Newspaper, who will remain anonymous for now, inquired about my blog and wondered if I'd be interested in writing for them.  I of course said that I would be delighted.  In actuality I screamed and terrified my cat and my neighbors.   I'm just waiting to hear their response.  Tomorrow I'm giving my talk at Be'chol Lashon and although I'm still very nervous I'm feeling very confident and blessed by this outreach towards me, my work, my life, and my writing.

So thank you, to all of you who continue to read my blog.  Thank you for telling your friends and spreading the word.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

http://theologydegreesonline.com/50-very-insightful-blog-posts-on-glbtq-spirituality/

http://www.velvetparkmedia.com/

Tonight's the Night!

Wed, 03 Nov 2010 15:05:12, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews]

After one month of re-reading my blog posts, re-reading really inspirational books by Ernest H. Adams, Rebecca Walker, Staceyann Chin, and James Mc Bride as well as wonderful words of wisdom from readers and friends,  My. Talk. Is. Finished!

I'm currently waiting for the mail to deliver the Netflix video that I'm showing, Trembling before G-d and I think I'm going to buy myself a new sweater before the talk..  I think I deserve it, right?!  Or I just need an excuse to go shopping.  Whatever the case, I'm getting a sweater.

It's been a wonderful whirlwind of emotions and now that I'm only 4 and a half hours away from giving the talk I'm feeling really great.  I have a bit more revisions to do, and I need to watch the movie again to find the clip that I think will be the most important to show, but other than that, I'm ready!

I will be posting the entire talk, with the pages of the books I'm quoting and the time of the video clip from Trembling Before G-d for you tomorrow.  Thanks again, for all of the words of inspiration, the truly helped.

My Talk for Be'Chol Lashon New York Part One

Thu, 04 Nov 2010 21:02:30, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews]

Let me just say that my talk went really well.  I was well-received and afterwards in the Q and A I got a lot of positive feedback.  I ended up "winging" most of it so that I was giving a talk rather than just reading the words off of my computer screen.  Everyone was engaged and I felt amazing afterwards.  Before hand is another story completely.

Around 3 PM I checked my mail to see if my Netflix movie had arrived because I wanted to show clips of it for the presentation.  The mail arrived and in it tucked between bills and catalogues was my Netflix.  I opened the package carefully and pulled the DVD out of the sleeve to find it CRACKED IN HALF.  I stuck it in my computer anyway and hoped that it would play.  It didn't.  I called Barnes and Noble to see if they had a copy that I could purchase.    They didn't and instead referred me to a video store in Manhattan that specialises in hard-to-find DVDs.  I called to see if they had it, they didn't.  I called the New York public library to check to see if they had it and Ta-da!  They did.  I rushed down to the library and up to the 5th floor where I found a copy of Trembling Before G-d waiting.  I explained to the librarian that I lost my library card two years ago and would need another.  She said she just needed my ID to look up my account and issue a new card.  I opened my wallet and my ID was nowhere to be found.  I pulled EVERYTHING out of my bag and still couldn't find it.  I actually have no clue where it is, still.  I showed her my SS card and my credit cards which do not count as a form of ID.  I went to the circulation desk and talked to the supervisor who said she couldn't help.  I glanced down at my watch and had only a half hour before I was to start my talk.  I asked the supervisor if I could purchase the DVD and she said I could not.  I actually considered the consequences of putting the cracked copy into the library's copy and keeping the library's copy for myself.  I decided stealing wasn't necessary and figured I'd just use the internet on my computer and stream the DVD from there.   I packed up my stuff and headed to the meeting.  When I entered the lobby the security guard asked to see my ID...  I explained my ordeal and he didn't budge.  I explained that I was giving the talk, that the meeting wouldn't exist without my presence and he escorted me to the room where my computer got no reception ...Thank God the actual talk went better than the hours before hand...

Here are the first few pages, enjoy!

To start, let me just say that I’m not a Jew, Yet.  I don’t stand before you holding all the answers of what it’s like to be a Black, Gay, Jew.  I can only give you a bit of insight into who I am and how I’ve come to identify as such.

 

 My path to Judaism cannot necessarily be called organic because it didn’t happen naturally.  Rather, it took a lot of searching and researching for me to stand here, self-identifying as a Jew.  Sometimes I say Jew-to-be and sometimes I say Jew-in-Training but just the other day when one of my work associates asked what I would be giving my girlfriend for Christmas I said, without thinking, “Oh we’re Jewish”  She was another black woman, and a New Yorker so the kind of quiet politeness that often follows when you say something that seems curious was lost on this, in-your-face Brooklyn girl.

 

She scrunched her face up so that her nose wrinkled and said in disbelief,“Wait, you’re a Jew? I didn’t know there were black Jews”

 

I shot a similar look back to her, “You’ve never seen a black Jew?  You’re a New Yorker!”

 

She, of course, wanted to know “how” I could be a Jew and I explained that I was in the process of converting, that my girlfriend was a born Jew but not observant, and that I was not converting for her sake but rather, it was where I came to after what seemed like years of searching for what felt right.

 

The memoir that I’m currently writing has the same title as the talk I’m giving you. It is name of my personal blog as well; Black, Gay, and Jewish.  The title is inspired by one of my favorite memoirs about identity, Rebecca Walker’s Black, White, and Jewish.  Her entire book is remarkable and deals with her struggle to find herself, which community she belongs in, and if her three identities can be one in the same. Because I identify with so much of her book, I will be reading sections of it that I find the most poignant in comparisson to my journey.  I cannot speak for Rebecca, I can only speak for myself but as I start to re-examine who I am, I identify in this order;  Black. Gay. and Jewish.

 

Black.

 

Growing up in Toledo, Ohio in the eighties by two driven parents made me a driven, head-strong, strong-willed child.  My father is an entrepreneur and my mother gave up her career to raise my younger sister and I.  We live in a Victorian Mansion in a historical neighborhood which is generally considered a bad neighborhood, meaning that it's predominately black.  Our home is situated on a corner surrounded mainly by rental homes occupied by careless tenants and absent landlords.  This could have been the reason that my father started buying entire blocks, house by house around us.  This could have also been the reason that my sister and I were given every freedom except to never leave the imposing wrought iron fence that surrounded our property.  The way that it was situated was so my sister and I were inside with our large home and carriage house while  the other black neighborhood kids were looking in.

 

I never questioned or thought about who I was as a black little girl.  My interactions with family were always positive and my interactions with friends were as well.  It wasn’t until 4th grade when my world was turned upside down.  Walker writes,

 

{Walker Quote 1}

 

In fourth grade I transferred from a non-denominational Christian school my parents drove us to, 20 miles away.  Calvary Christian School was ethnically diverse.  My best friend, Tamara, was a black girl that I adored.  She was my very best friend and we spent a lot of time together.  I loved her and as a child does, so much that I faked an eye exam so I could get glasses, too, because she was made fun of for getting glasses in the first grade.  My “boyfriend’s” name was Joey, he was white.  My other “boyfriend” was Jamal, he was black.  My two other best friends, Leslie,and Julie were black and white.  I left Calvary Christian School for St. Angela Hall, an all-black school I could’ve walked to but was still driven to.  I sat up straight, without slouching, Sr. Martin commented on my first day.  I beamed with pride as the target on my back started to peak from under my uniform.  My hand always shot up when she asked a question and I answered them correctly, with perfect grammar and pronunciation, she noted.  I beamed with pride as the target grew larger.  I read well, my math scores were high, and I thrived under Sr. Martin’s watchful eye.  I was happy and thought I had friends until Alisha, a bi-racial girl much bigger than me, threatened to beat me up for acting like a white girl.  I ate lunch in the cafeteria but spent recess in the class room reading after being ridiculed for not knowing how to double dutch, or the steps to latest dance moves.

 

I went to St. Angela Hall for 2 years and spent my summer break at Summer Day Camp at the Catholic Club.  There, too, the black kids laughed at me, called me names,and tormented me.  I have a memory where I'm standing beside the pool in my swim suit waiting in line for the diving board.  The kids were name-calling me and the normally tough skin I’d grown was getting thinner.  I jumped into the pool when my time came and stayed under water for a long time crying.  I swam far away from the diving board and clung to the side of the pool crying.  I hated everything about my life, I didn’t know why the kids hated me when Iooked just like them.  

 

In the 6th grade, St. Angela Hall closed and I attended Ladyfield.  My sixth grade year I was the only black child in my class.  There were two Indian girls, Purvi and Anita,and that was it.  I felt nervous for the first time being black.  If my peers at my all-black school were cruel, what would these kids do?

 

For a while, I didn’t speak-up in class and when Sr. Christine asked me a question on my first day I answered her quietly but correctly.  She smiled back at me, and went to the next student, with no mention of my diction or grammar.  I made friends easily and felt comfortable in my own skin again.  Until my 8th grade year.  I was at a high school football game holding the hand of my boyfriend.  A group of older high school boys surrounded us, they were all black.  One of them pulled a number 2 pencil out of his pocket, handed it to me, and asked me what color it was.

 

I remember holding the pencil in my 8th grade hand and looking at it.  Their presence and undoubtedly their color silenced my voice.  The pencil was yellow-ish, brownish,orange, I thought.  They answered for me and told me that it was brown, like me, and that I had no business holding a white boy’s hand.  I don’t remember the specifics of what happened next except that they crowded us, overtook us.  I managed to get out of the circle of angry faces spitting hatred but my white junior high boyfriend remained inside.  Another classmate, male, white and older-looking for his age managed to deflect the mob to himself, and his older brother and their friends.  On the ride home in the back of the mini van with my boyfriend who wouldn't hold my hand and the other boys who were bruised and injured on my behalf I felt black.  My blackness was on their faces, and the faces of the parents that waited for us at the sullen pizza party that was to follow.  The looks of my friends and of their parents are kept tightly tucked into a compartment of my mind.  It wasn’t the first time that I was being questioned not by me but by other people who did not or could not understand me.

 

 I thrived in high school with the girls from my grade school in tow.  I made new friends of various ethnic backgrounds and even had two close black friends.  Still, whenever I was in a predominately black space I as singled out as the Oreo, or the Cracker.  When I was older, the name calling came both from peers and some members of my family.  Walker remembers being in the South and her cousins calling her Cracker {Walker 2}

 

 My father once told me, “When you’re with white people, it’s okay to speak like that but when you’re around black folks you should try to sound black”  What does black sound like?  I asked.  What does white sound like?  He spent upwards of $7000 a year to educate me in primary and high school annually and he wants me to use double negatives and drop the “N-Word?”  I am who I am, I told him over and over again.  And over and over again I was a disappointment to him.  I wasn’t black enough, I wasn’t proud.

I took an English course in College called African American literature pre1900s.  The professor was a black woman who sounded exactly like me.  She was smart, she was caring, she was engaging, she was incredibly beautiful.  Dreadlocks and natural hair isn’t a huge phenomenon in Toledo, Ohio and having this beautiful dread locked woman teaching and inspiring me helped me to realize that I am black.  I am a black woman and the only person I needed to answer to was my self.

In Which I celebrate Hanukkah, talk about Jewish traditions and conversion.

In Which I meet Noah Aronson, other black Jews and Queer Jews, etc.

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