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 meet Noah Aronson, other black Jews and Queer Jews, etc.

Baby Jew Erika was sooo emo!
Reading back through these old blogs is so amusing and charming and a bit embarrassing. Enjoy!

The New Girl in Shul

Mon, 27 Sep 2010 19:33:16, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: congregation-beth-elohim, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, post_tag: noah-aronson-2, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: shul-shopping]

Last Shabbat I attended services at a shul in Brooklyn.  It's not terribly convenient but a lot easier than schlepping to the UES for service.  I'd noticed an e-mail from the group, Brooklyn Jews, inviting members of its list serve to attend Shabbat services at Congregation Beth Elohim to listen to a young Jewish Composer, Noah Aronson.  A few weeks prior when I started Physical Therapy I walked into this particular synagogue and the Director was kind enough to welcome me into her office, answer my questions, and extend an invitation to High Holy Day services.  I attended services else where but the synagogue became the next place to attend Shabbat services on my list.

Mirs got  an e-mail from a friend inviting her to the same service and we had a Jewish Double Date.  The services were held in the Chapel, a small space with old wooden pews.  The congregants were actively participating in the intimate Shabbat service and the music that Noah played was incredibly moving.  It felt young, fresh, while remaining true to the melodies that I'd familiarized myself with over the past few months.  I'm not sure if it was because of the musical guest or normal Friday night Shabbat practice at this particular synagogue but they did not read from the Torah.  Other than that, the service carried on and I felt comfortable.  I easily found my place in the Siddur, I knew the melodies and words to prayers.  I felt like a Jew.

After service Brooklyn Jews hosted a dinner that we did not attend.  Still, at Kaddish several people introduced themselves to me and the group of people we were with.  Unexpectedly Mirs had a friend from school in attendance.  She was surprised to find not only another lesbian in her program but a Jewish one at that!  I just felt happy that I was able to keep up with the order of service and even helped her out when she lost her place.

In terms of ethnic diversity, I was the only brown person in the shul but it didn't feel like everyone was staring at me.  The congregation was a mix of older couples, small families, singles, and a few LGBT folks.  Overall, I may have to do a little switching back and forth between this synagogue and the next on my list on the UWS.

In the meantime, check out Noah's music on his website. http://www.noaharonson.com/

If you're a Brooklynite check out Brooklyn Jews on the web. http://www.brooklynjews.com/

The Joy of Torah

Wed, 29 Sep 2010 12:45:05, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: chaggim, post_tag: high-holidays, category: jewish-holidays, post_tag: jewish-holidays, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: kosher, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, post_tag: simchat-torah, category: sukkot]



Simchat Torah, or the Joy of the Torah, is the last Holiday in this time of year I've dubbed-Jewish Holiday Season.  The season that started with Rosh Hashanah concludes with Simchat Torah, when Jews celebrate the completion of another year's reading of the Torah.  Every book that I've read about Simchat Torah describes a joyous occasion in which the congregations sings, dances, and chants.  The Torah scrolls are paraded around the synagogue and there are several alliyahs from young, old, women and men.  One book in particular, Essential Judaism by George Robinson, describes dancing in the streets from the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn to the streets of Israel.  It is stressed, however, not to drink in excess as one does on Purim.  Did I mention that Purim is one of my favorite Jewish Holidays?  I'm not sure if it happens every year but this year Simchat Torah is on the same day as the end of Sukkot, the 7 day Festival of Booths.  If you live anywhere in NYC I'm sure you've wondered what all of the strange "shacks" outside of apartments and homes were.  There's a giant sukkah in Union Square and an identical one in Bryant Park.  Since I am not yet a Jew, I didn't feel comfortable eating in one this year.  We shall have to see what happens next year.

Yesterday I went to one of my favorite kosher grocers, Pomegranate, for a chicken to cook for dinner.  The store was bustling with activity.  I wondered why it was so busy.  Sukkot is coming to an end, true, but for a Tuesday afternoon the energy in the grocery store can only be described as electric.  There were men and women every where I turned.  Entire families shopping making the normally spacious store over crowded, loud, and chaotic.  When I got to Liquors Galore, a kosher store that sells, well, liquors galore and kosher wines from Israel the vibe was the same.  Instead of my normal leisurely browsing of the many strange bottles from Galilee and Judea I was elbowing my way down the aisles and trying my best not to yell at the pushy women that seemed to have no real knowledge of wine other than its need to be purchased.

As I made my way down Avenue J, or Avenue Jew as I like to call it, I noticed challah in the windows of my favorite bakery whose name I cannot recall or pronounce.  Challah on a Tuesday means there's a holiday around the corner.  An e-mail from my conversion instructor confirmed that it was indeed a Challahday.

So here we are.  I'm going to synagogue at 5 to meet my rabbi to enjoy the Joy of the Torah.  I'm excited to learn about a new Holiday and experience it first hand.  I love the community that celebrating Jewish Holidays brings.  It's true that every Christian celebrates Christmas on the same day, they celebrate Easter on the same day but Jews around the world in a many languages will be reading the same verses of the Torah tonight.  The candle lighting times will be different, of course, depending on where in the world you are yet, it's amazing to think that while I'm sitting in a synagogue tonight in New York somewhere in New Jersey another Jew is doing the same thing.  In Indiana there's another community doing the same thing.  Even in my home state of Ohio the very same time we light our candles, they will be lighting theirs.  It's a powerful thing to be a part of and it's one of the many reasons I'm excited to be a Jew.

You Are Worthy-It Gets Better Project

Fri, 01 Oct 2010 19:40:23, erika, [category: it-gets-better-project, category: stupid-people-are-stupid, category: things-to-think-on, category: video-blog]

Every person is worthy of love.  Whether you are gay, straight, transgender, bisexual, black, white, Jewish, Asian, Jew or Gentile know that you are loved and that you are worthy and that the only judge is G-d.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLJ6tgg-rb0]

I'm ready when you are

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 12:32:26, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, post_tag: shul-shopping-2]

The other week I had a sit down with the rabbi that I'm taking conversion classes with.  I was running late because of train issues and the UN conference in Manhattan.  Traffic was especially chaotic because President Obama was in town.  I sat down across from her at Starbucks a half hour late which meant that our first hour long talk was cut in half.

I rushed through how I was feeling, keeping kosher, attending Shabbat, etc.  I told her my take on experiencing High Holidays at three different synagogues and I asked her what the next steps were after the class ended.  When would I go through the conversion process.  She answered that after the class, it was really up to me.  I was the only person who could really know when I was ready.

So am I ready?  I don't think so.  It's not that I'm struggling with whether or not this is the right direction, I just feel like I'm not ready because I'm not yet comfortable.  I haven't found a synagogue that I feel is my home yet, I still struggle with the transliterations of Shabbat services, I want to learn Hebrew, keeping the laws of kashrut is proving difficult, and frankly, I don't feel Jewish yet.

Truth be told, I won't be attending those classes any longer.   Since I've been out of work for two months the financial commitment is more than I can handle at the present time.  Thankfully, I've found another class that is far less expensive and I'm excited about starting the process at this new synagogue.

More than being able to quote the Torah, read the prayers in the siddur, or know what all of the holidays are about I want to feel Jewish.  I know that this only comes with continued practice and time and more learning.

Last night I sat in a room with 18 Jews of Color

Thu, 07 Oct 2010 13:28:11, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, post_tag: bechol-lashon-2, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, post_tag: black-jews-2, category: hillel, category: jews-of-color, post_tag: jews-of-color-2, category: judaism, post_tag: nyc-jewish-community, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: what-color-is-a-jew]

and it was ...

I actually can't physically end that sentence.  It was so many things; inspirational, eye-opening, confusing, regrettable, moving, challenging, awesome, comforting, intriguing, motivating.

Inspirational

When I found the organization, Be'chol Lashon, on the internet I clicked through each aspect of their website as quickly as I could.  I remember my eyes darting back and forth across my computer screen and my index finger shaking as I slipped it over the track pad of my computer.  I wanted to read it all but was anxious to get to the "Contact Us" part of every website to figure out how I could be involved.  When I finally sent out my e-mail I was shocked to get a reply within the hour and even more grateful to know that a group operates out of NYC.  I e-mailed back and forth and found out that the first Wednesday of the month the group holds meetings.

Like walking into a new synagogue, I was a little nervous.  I didn't have butterflies, but there was a tightness in my stomach.  Would these black Jews look at me as an outsider?  Would I feel rejected as I've always felt in groups of blacks, would there be other converts?  I walked into the room about ten minutes early and was greeted by three black men.  I'm not sure where they hail but in the US it couldn't be mistaken that they were black.  When I say black I mean their skin color is the same as mine and while I've not seen any of their family trees and don't want to put people in a box that I myself do not fit into, I was happy to see these men with very brown skin.  Each of them wore kippah and smiled broadly at me in a genuine way that made me feel at home.


Eye-Opening

I sat down next to another black man and did a double take.  I instantly recognized his face and knew he was Ernest Adams, the author of "From Ghetto to Ghetto-An African-American Journey to Judaism"  I haven't purchased the book yet, I'll be making a trip to B&N today and reading it in the park.  Next meeting I want him to autograph it but when I saw the face I recognized from the many articles I've read about him I felt a sense of familiarity.  When I'm done with my memoir, perhaps a Jew of Color will sit down next to me in a room and feel the same way.  It felt like I was looking at myself, if I were a man, of course, but this man walked in the shoes I'm in right now and while I haven't read his book and I'm a gay black woman not a straight black man we both have made this choice to convert and it was amazing to sit in his presence.

Confusing, Regrettable, Challenging

Regret is a strong word so I'll take it back, but there was reservation when the night's discussion commenced.  When all was said and done 18 Jews of Color sat around a large conference-style table to listen to the speaker whose topic was, and I'm paraphrasing, "Have the Ashkenazi Hijacked Judaism" The discussion focused mainly around an article written by a Sephardic leader in response to a statement made by an Ashkenazi leader in 2007.  The confusion came in when the discussion opened after the reading of the lengthy article pitted Ashkenazi against Sephardi.

I felt confused because while I understand the point of view of the speaker and the sentiments of the author of the paper, I was torn because my partner with whom I plan on making a Jewish home, is Ashkenazi, and the children she will give birth to, my children, will be Ashkenazi and my family will become a beautiful blending of African-American and Russian, Irish, French Jewishness.  Normally, I'm the first to rage into a debate but as a "non-Jew" or Jew-in-Training in a room of learned  or born Jews I held my tongue.  What did I know, after all?  Granted, as a black person the idea of white privilege is not lost on me. Still, I didn't feel it was my place to lash out at a man who I'd met only an hour before.

One of the beauties I find in Judaism is the encouragement of debate.  It has its disadvantages, the debate over who is a "true" Jew is one that challenges the very core of who I am, on many levels I want to convert Orthodox if only for halachic purposes.  Then, I think why and who gives one person the right to pass judgement over another person?  Is not Hashem our only true judge?  This isn't Catholicism, there isn't a priest to act as intermediary to my prayers go G-d so why should men on earth act as judges over who is and is not a Jew?

Awesome, Comforting, Intriguing, Motivating

More than the challenges that ensued after the discussion, it brought a lot of comfort as well.  One of the older members of the group, made a point that has stuck with me still this afternoon.  He said, and again I'm paraphrasing, that we only need to rely on the Torah, which comforted me.  Like Hillel said, the rest is just commentary.

Overall, the night was awesome, amazing, the most motivated I've felt through the whole of this journey.  I know that there is much for me to learn, and I feel Jewish almost every day I wake up.  The fact that I barely see my face represented in the synagogues I visit is still unsettling but knowing that if only for one Wednesday a month, I can enter a space and meet Jews who look like me and have them as friends and mentors is more than this Jew-to-be could ask for.

If you are a Jew of Color and living in the NYC area I encourage you to check out Be'chol Lashon's website.

http://bechollashon.org/

Tikkun Olam

Sat, 09 Oct 2010 12:51:21, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: hillel, post_tag: homophobia, post_tag: jewish-responsibility, category: things-to-think-on, post_tag: tikkun-olam, category: tikkun-olamrepaire-the-world, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you]

It is clearly the duty of every Jew to seek justice.  In a world unredeemed, a word that is damaged, it is the job of every Jew to participate in tikkun olam/repair of the word.  In areas of social justice, social action, Judaism has set itself clear mandates "You shall do what is right and good," we are told in Deuteronomy 6:18 Essential Judaism by George Robinson

However, a commitment to tikkun olam requires, almost by definition, attention to many issues that are not strictly limited to Jewish interest, among them, the environment and ecology, nuclear disarmament and international peace, and equal protection for all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or national origin Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant

Repair the world is the definition of Tikkun Olam and it is the duty of all Jews to do such.  Yesterday was my 31st birthday and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage.  One of the first experiences you have is in a octagonal room filled with screens.  The surround sound fills the space and you hear the voices of Jews from around the globe.  Some of them have accents of European descent and others of Southern American origins.  Before your eyes you see pictures of Jews of different shades and you hear some of the horrors of Jewish discrimination.  The peace ends with Tikkun Olam and one of the speakers reminds the watchers that we're not just repairing the world for Jews, but for all people.

I attended a Flash Mob at Grand Central Terminal displaying how homophobia kills.  When the whistle blew a few minutes after 6PM and the dozens of bodies slowly collapsed to the marble floors of Grand Central I felt moved and inspired.  How is this Jew to be going to repair the world and whose world would I repair?

I fell off the Kosher Wagon

Sun, 10 Oct 2010 15:43:35, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-food, category: judaism, category: kosher]

I've never been an addict, though addiction runs in my family.  Since I've never been an addict, I've never been to any meetings for addicts.  I do, though, feel like telling the missteps will allow me to feel better and just come clean so that's what I intend to do right now. 

My birthday was on Friday night and my sweet love took me to dinner.  We went to an amazing (non-kosher) restaurant and had an outstanding (not kosher) meal that included scallops and pancetta.  I also enjoyed a raw oyster at Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal after the protest and yesterday, in post-birthday celebrations with friends, had a bacon cheese burger.  Not to mention copious amounts of red wine, champagne, and beer-all non-kosher.

My home, though, is still kosher-Erika Style.  While celebrating my birthday in the various New York City bars and restaurants with friends willing to put down cash and credit to allow me to eat and drink to my heart's content, I found myself defending my desire to try to be kosher for a year.  I explained the laws of kashrut while friends argued the other mundane and sometimes archaic rules of the Bible.  I drank wine, knowing that it wasn't kosher, while marveling at how good non-kosher wine is, and aching inside at the pleasure I took in eating those scallops that were seared to perfection on the outsides and tender and sweet on the inside.  I probably ate that bacon cheeseburger yesterday the slowest I'd ever eaten one, for the simple fact that I hadn't had one in almost a month and a half.

With a trip back to the midwest looming and the knowledge that the ability to keep kosher at home will be near impossible I'm beginning to wonder myself it's worth while.  I'm not sure how much more I can alter laws of kashrut to make them work for me and my lifestyle in New York.  Mirs suggested that we try to be vegetarian and even said vegan (gasp of horror) as we ate our meals at my birthday dinner and I scoffed off both ideas.  There is no way that I'm not eating meat or cheese, it's a non-issue because it will never, ever happen.

On the other hand, I found myself incredibly winded and out of shape when we were racing up and down the giant stairs to the JMZ trains in Bushwick.  As we slumped into the benches waiting for the next train, watching the one we missed by the skin of our teeth slithering down the above-ground tracks, I felt disgusting.  Is it the fact that because of my back injury I've been completely unable to excersie and therefore have become quite lazy for 2 months?   Was it the oysters and scallops and many glasses of amazing non-kosher vintages from Napa?  Was it 31?  Was it guilt by not only eating but utterly enjoying the meal and those to come the following day in all their wonderful splendor?  Most likely it was a combination of all of those things, coupled with my past views of food that's making it so difficult.

More than anything, my decision to alter and observe the laws of kashrut is because it is a part of the Jewish experience that I want to commit to, for one year.  When a vegetarian or vegan eats they have to make informed decisions every time they enjoy a meal.  Some of them may do it for ethical reasons, ecological reasons, environmental reasons, political reasons, the list goes on and one.  The reasons that I want to observe the laws of kashrut are just as varied.  I want to do it because it will challenge me to think seriously about what goes into my body.  Finding kosher, organic, and sustainable food will challenge me to think outside of the box.  I like to eat organic, sustainable, and local when possible and that will, inevitable, limit the things that I will be able to eat. 

Like a smoker or anyone else who wants to "give up" something it takes time, and patience.  I've fallen of the wagon but as of this morning when I traded the non-kosher bread I purchased at the Farmer's Market for the bread I noticed a kosher symbol, I'm back on and ready to rally.

Calling all (Gay) Jews

Sat, 16 Oct 2010 11:40:40, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: uncategorized]

I know you're out there!  As you know, if you read my blog I've been selected to give talk about being a Black, Gay Jew (to be).  I'd rather have the opinions of other Queers of Color, Jews of Color, and Queer Jews.  It's simple, really.  You send me an e-mail blackgayandjewish@gmail.com and I'll e-mail you a simple questionnaire to fill out. 

If you want to help out, or know someone who might want to help, please have them e-mail me.

Good Shabbos




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

The ones where I attended my first high holiday services

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