erika_orig.jpg

Hi.

Welcome to my blog. I'll be documenting my life as a Pacific Northwest Black, Gay Jewish woman. I hope you'll stick around.

Also, don't be a jerk. No one likes jerks.

Where I try to wear a kippah, musings on what it means to be a good Jew and more

If the Kippah Fits

Tue, 01 Feb 2011 16:45:10, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: jewish-prayer]

[caption id="attachment_354" align="aligncenter" width="194" caption="lots of kippot"][/caption]

Which, it does not.  I have an extraordinary amount of natural, curly hair that rests a top my head.  As a part of my expressing myself-finding myself-coming to terms with what it means to be black, blah blah blah I decided to stop relaxing my hair and started wearing it naturally.

I've got to say, since then I've only straightened it once, which took 3 hours, and haven't done so since.  I love my hair.  I love the way it looks, I love the texture, I love testing new products, I love the way that other people are fascinated by it (even when that fascination annoys me).

Over the years I've had to deal with things surrounding my hair and the limitations of it.  For instance, in the winter it usually takes at least one full day for my hair to dry naturally.  I've kind of mastered the defuser but don't like how it dries my hair so on many winter days you will find me with a wet head at 7PM even if I've washed my hair at 7AM.  The summer is easier because the sun does most of the work.  I've come to realize that the hats that are in fashion now (and always) never fit head-hats that include kippah.

 

I'm not sure what my kippah wearing observance will be after I come out of the mikvah but there are times, especially in shul and for High Holy Days that I sometimes feel the desire to wear one.  I'm not sure where the desire comes from.  So that I identify as a Jew, so that I feel closer to God?  I think it's a bit of both.  In New York city there are many people who are identifiably Jewish by their kippah.  Mostly men, mainly frum, but you can see them, their kippot and you know they are Jewish.  I don't think I've ever seen a woman sporting a kippah outside of synagogue and I don't pretend that I would be so bold to do so, but inside of a synagogue I want to wear one, especially after I get the honor of reading from the Torah-or whilst reading from the Torah.




[caption id="attachment_353" align="aligncenter" width="201" caption="truth be told, i like this head covering"][/caption]

Even if you take away my big hair I still have a big head.  In my family it's called a Davis Head and it's sort of the norm around our parts.  I've not found a kippah that actually fits over my curls they rather sit on my curls in a very awkward way.  I've thought of trying the more Middle Eastern style head coverings but they, too, seem really small.  I also don't know what the etiquette is on trying on head coverings in public.  Especially walking into a Muslim store to try on a traditionally "male" head covering.   So, I'm on a mission to find a nice, traditional, kippah...that will fit on my (big) head with curly hair.



Sh'ma

Wed, 02 Feb 2011 22:56:23, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: jewish-prayer, category: things-to-think-on]

I woke up really early this morning to wash my hair.  (You thought you were done reading about my hair, didn't you)  Well, when you have a lot of hair, and a lot of curly hair you need a lot of time to get it washed and conditioned even, I've learned, when it's shorter.  I'm still not used to it being shorter and gave myself a lot of time in the shower to wrangle it all in.  I got out of the shower about 25 minutes later (down from 40 minutes) and found myself with nothing to do. 


Or so I thought.  As my tea kettle worked on boiling water for my coffee and my cereal bowl sat empty after scarfing down Barbaras I caught a glimpse of the Shabbat Siddur one of the rabbis at my synagogue let me borrow.  I thought I had nothing to do, when I could have been praying.  Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda I always say and I shoulda been praying, I coulda (because I had time) and I woulda been upset had I wasted the opportunity to do so.  So I did. 

I turned in the direction I thought was east (based on the location of the front door of the mosque down the street and the assumption that like a synagogue the Holy place would be in the opposite direction of the door), I opened my siddur to the Sh'ma and I started to chant in my morning voice.  The first line שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד   "Sh'ma Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad" are always really beautiful when I hear them chanted in shul but it was the first time that I uttered them alone.  I think I scared my cat.

I continued just through V'ahavta and realized that I didn't remember how it is chanted in shul so I recited it, stumbling over the Hebrew transliterations and then reading the English at the end. 

"Recited them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up...inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates..."


It was those lines that sprang into my mind when I was standing in my apartment with a half hour before needing to leave the house.  I thought I had nothing to do and forgot to do the thing that God instructs us to do when we wake and when we fall asleep.  I finished Entering Jewish Prayer weeks ago and today the words of Hammer and the instructions in Torah struck a chord.  I wish I had more of the physical ritual garb to go along with morning prayers and completely forgot them midday, but the important thing was that I prayed, and understood what I was praying.   I'll recite  them tonight before I go to bed, in bed which may not be kosher.  I don't want to say that I will do it every day, because I may forget, but it was a great way to start the day for reasons I don't really understand and don't need to understand.  It just felt good.



Shabbat Challenge...Post Poned

Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:09:50, erika, [category: uncategorized]

I said a few posts ago that I have the best job ever, which I do.  Part of the reason I do is because I work with amazing people and we truly care about one another.  My store manager schedules me for early shifts on Wednesdays and Fridays so that I can go to conversion class and shul on Friday nights.  My co-managers are always accommodating and I've never heard a grumble as to why Erika gets to work early on Friday.

Because they're amazing, I'm willing to help them out when they need it, and tonight one of them needed help.  An old friend of one of my co-managers is coming into town unexpectedly and she needs to be able to meet her on Long Island.  I'm was an opener and she was a closer so I switched shifts.  So for now, the Challenge of having a "traditional" Shabbat is on hold.

I'll be missing shul tonight but going Saturday morning (my first time).  I wanted to have a nice dinner tonight (brisket in the slow cooker) but there will be other weekends off and the rest of my life.



A little Gripe about Hair

Sat, 05 Feb 2011 20:50:05, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews]

[caption id="attachment_366" align="aligncenter" width="184" caption="little rascals"][/caption]

I know, I know!  More hair posts but I can't help it!  I love talking about hair, black hair in particular because I think that it's an important issue, for me at least.  A little video to get you started.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J76Y9WNckts&feature=player_embedded]

Chris Rock made a bit of a stink in the black community with his in-your-face tell it like it is documentary Good Hair.  He was on Oprah twice; once to promote the movie and a second time defending the movie.  As a natural-haired gal, I loved it and thought he did a great job of showing women how beautiful it is to appreciate, if not love, hair we were born with.  I also thought his message to his daughters was more important.  Love who you are.  Period.



So the other day I was browsing around on other Jewish blogs and websites and came across a post about a Jewish woman's endless quest to straighten her "messy and unmanageable Jewfro" and was immediately enraged (before reading).  Dozens of thoughts flew in my mind; What did this white chick know about a 'fro?  How dare she call curls "messy and unmanageable" and on and on.  Turns out, the article was about her love affair, addiction, to straightening her hair.  She admits to not knowing what her natural hair looks like.  Which was the sentiment of the white audience members on the Good Hair show of Oprah.  They talked about dying, straightening, adding extensions to make their hair appear fuller, lighter, longer, or straighter than it actually is.



The question begs to be asked, what the hell is wrong with the hair that grows out of our heads?  No offense to 50 First J Dates, because I actually read religiously.  No offense to black women who relax their hair.  No offense to my friend who shall remain anonymous who recently colored her hair to cover her (sexy) greys.  No offense to those of you reading who may alter their hair in any way but, why do you?  Really, I'd love to understand.

If you read my other blog you'd know that my natural hair is a pretty new thing for me.  My license picture is me with straight hair.  There are pictures on my Facebook account with my straight hair.

 I grew up addicted to the creamy crack-aka relaxer.  I got my first relaxer pretty young.  I don't remember how old I was but I do remember feeling very grown up sitting in the beauty salon with my mother looking on.  According to Troy, her flamboyant stylist who popped my relaxer cherry, I hoped out of the chair and flung my hair over my shoulder in a way that can only be compared to one of Charlie's Angels (original). 

As a tween I remember the first Pantene ProV commercials of the beautiful long flowing hair and wishing I could have hair like that.  I remember the Garnier commercials where the "bad hair" had been teased into a giant mess and the "good hair" had been straightened and was long and flowing.  News Flash-Black girls hair will NEVER look like a Pantene or Garnier commercial.  Ever.  I didn't get the memo.

Growing up, my mother would do them for me at home and I'd love the way that my hair looked.  I couldn't have imagined my hair any other way.  The first time I saw a black woman with natural hair that wasn't dreaded or braided I was completely shocked.  And this was only about 5 years ago.  She was one of my associates at J.Crew and she came to work with this hair that was long and curly.  My Ohio brain immediately thought, oh she must be mixed to have hair like that.  Nope, she was a regular black chick like me with great, natural hair.  I asked her questions, which I'm sure she was annoyed by because when black women ask me questions about my hair (our hair) I'm annoyed.  I thought it was neat but I wasn't ready to go natural yet.  It was the $500 relaxer I got on Park Avenue that made me stop.  Hand to God, it was the expense more than anything.

[caption id="attachment_371" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="me, with straight hair"][/caption]

Growing out my hair was an experience that made me feel closer to my identity as a black woman and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Honestly, I find that my hair is easier to do, easier to manage (minus the long detangling process and long drying process).  When I see other women of any race with curly hair I engage them in conversation and compare notes.  I've had conversations with white women who've married black men and have daughters with hair not quite the texture they were hoping for.  I've worked my way through Carol's Daughter, Miss Jessies, and Deva Curl before finally finding Hair Rules, hands down the BEST product for curly hair, of all textures.


I'm totally on Team Natural in every sense of the word.  I love when women, especially the handful of friends I have in their late twenties to mid thirties who have started to grey and let it be, my special lady in particular.  My favorite set of sisters is split down the middle with one always rockin' the curly hair and the other a die-hard straightener, though they both dye.  Obviously, it's a choice that everyone has to make and I support the choices that my friends make.  I just wonder what we'd look like if media and television told us that this was beautiful...


Instead of this...



The thing is, and this is hair-straightening specific.  When you straighten your hair, you lose some of what makes you you.  The other day, our owner's daughter lamented that her mom (my boss) wouldn't let her straighten her hair.  The daughter likes to think we're all on "her team" but I always tell her like it is.  I told her that her mother was right, when she could afford to straighten her hair on her own, she should but until then, deal with her "Jewish" hair.  Curly hair makes you look "ethnic", whatever that means.  It seems that when you straighten your hair you are, in a sense, trying to remove some of your ethnicity. 

It's sort of like when Jewish celebrities like SJP, Babs, Bette,  and Jen Aniston alter their noses.  I'll give it to the ladies that I've mentioned, their very Jewish, very Ashkenazi noses are still there, with minor tweaking.  I heard a line in a movie about Jewish American Princesses getting nose jobs for their 16th birthdays rather than cars-sometimes both.  One of my associates at work who is Korean said that eye surgery is what a lot of her friends, and younger sister, got at 16.  I mean, what the hell?  It's widely known in Indian culture that women with lighter complexions are more beautiful and therefore, more desirable as wives.  On the other hand you have millions of women going in to get their lips injected with plumpers and getting Brazilian butt lifts, two very African American traits.

Much of my growing out my hair process, going from straight, relaxed hair to natural, was about letting go of the things I built up around me to try to hide who I was-a black, gay woman.  The going natural process was a lot like stripping back layers of who and how I identified.  It is perhaps, why I'm so pro-natural.  As a black woman we're told what we're supposed to look like, what is acceptable by the world and within the black community.  I cannot tell you how many people, mainly outside of NYC, who have told me how unruly my hair looks.  How I'd never find a job looking like I do, how uncivilized my hair is.  To my face, mind you.  I cannot count how many times I've responded, "How did you get your hair to be straight" to the question, "How did you get your hair like that?"  I honestly think that some people do not know what their real hair looks like and moreover, wouldn't know how to handle it. 

This is what I've learned.

Suds Free Shampoo is amazing, trying to rinse lather out of natural black hair takes FOREVER but is a necessary evil about twice a month.

Really amazing conditioner is an absolute necessity and be prepared to throw down money for the good stuff.

Finger comb.  Finger comb. Finger Comb.  If you MUST comb your hair make sure you've got at least .5 inches between the teeth.

NEVER COMB or BRUSH DRY CURLY HAIR.  EVER.

Learn to love the diffuser and your hair.



Super Bowl Sunday...

Sun, 06 Feb 2011 16:45:44, erika, [category: uncategorized]


Means absolutely nothing to me.  I'm not one of those lesbians that are super-sporty.  I play basketball every once in a while, I run, and I ride my bike.  I don't understand football, if I'm being honest.  Mirs, a Texan from Dallas, was born with football in her blood.  I think it has something to do with the water down there.  She loves the sport and still laments that she was born a girl because she wants to play football.  I always suggest that she join one of the many lesbian football leagues in NYC but they're really women who could play football and she's under 5'5" and I don't think the combination would be good.

So, it's the big game.  We're heading over to a friend's place to hang out with a bunch of lady-lovin' ladies to watch the game, drink beer, and bond.  Happy Sunday, ya'll!



Groupon's Terrible Superbowl Ad

Mon, 07 Feb 2011 16:27:34, erika, [category: uncategorized]

I thought about not writing about this but decided it best to let those of you who've been living under a rock check it out for yourselves.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFT2yjk0A&feature=player_embedded]

I sent Groupon an e-mail last night when Mirs and I got home from our friend's super bowl party and within the hour got the following response:

 Hi Erika
Thanks for your email.
We certainly don't mean to offend with our advertisements.
We encourage you to read our CEO's blog about why we ran these ads here: http://www.groupon.com/blog/cities/groupon-super-bowl-ads/
We're proud to raise awareness and funds for organizations who are doing work around these causes. Please go to http://savethemoney.org and you will have the opportunity to donate to any of these causes. Groupon will gladly match your donation.
Additionally, we do occasionally feature other real charities on our site, so if you have any suggestions for us, please let us know here: http://groupon.sponsorships.sgizmo.com
Thanks for your feedback. Let me know if you have any other suggestions or questions.
Regards,
Jon M
support@groupon.com

 

I'm not sure how I feel about the response or their seemingly lack of a sincere apologye for the tasteless commercial that they ran.  Check out their "reason" in the link above and the response that the general public has replied to it...  They aimed to raise awareness and instead they made light of the terrible situation in Tibet.

 

I will say it again, shame on you, Groupon.





Evening Reading

Tue, 08 Feb 2011 22:39:18, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: gay-jews, category: gay-orthodox-jews]

To be discussed further tomorrow but until then...The Forward posted a great article about an LGBT Shabbaton held in Virginia this past January.  The article itself was inspirational and made me think of the movie Trembling Before G-d.  The comments afterwards upset and disappointed.  I'm too tired to go on about Torah and whether or not it is the hand of God, but I will say this.  One of Hillel's famous quotes was about explaining Torah to a man who demanded that Hillel explain it while he stood on one foot.  Hillel responded, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to another"  I'm paraphrasing, clearly.  I could google it but I don't want to.  The Torah says a lot of things, a lot of contradicting things and a lot of things that do not apply to todays world.  The role of woman as subservient to men, slavery, etc. 

God's message is one of love, Torah is love.  I don't and cannot understand how my gayness, your gayness or anyone elses sexual identity equals hatred.  There's a really great You Tube video I posed a while back about When Did You Come out Straight?  This guy goes around asking people about gays and then asks, when did you come out Straight.  The folks on camera are bewildered and many don't know how to respond.  It took me 28 years to come out and I'm not about to run back into the closet.  It's hard to come out and hateful words are one of the reasons folks stay closeted (and miserable, depressed, suicidal).

Tomorrow I'll think of something more constructive to say in response.



Hanukkah, and other things I learned in Conversion Class

Wed, 09 Feb 2011 23:39:01, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: chanukkah, category: conversion-classes, category: hanukkah, post_tag: hanukkah, post_tag: hanukkah-or-hannukah, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: judaism, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: things-to-think-on]



Tonight's conversion class was about Chanukah.  I gotta be real, I was sort of thinking about skipping tonight because I felt like I knew almost everything there was to know about Hanukkah, including different ways of spelling it.  Last trimester, our last class was on the first night of Hanukkah and we lit the Hanukkah Menorah together while saying the blessings.  Then we learned all about Chanukah and you know what, I learned more tonight.

I'm not going to regal you of all that we learned.  I will say that  what I did learn or gather was an appreciation for the people I'm in class with.  We've been together for a few months now, with a month in between and some of us come regularly and sometimes we miss a few.  The women who are converting get to spend only a half hour together before the others join us for the Basic Judaism class, but there's something incredibly relaxing about Wednesday nights.

One of my friends, an Orthodox Jewish woman, commented on my Shabbat Challenge post that Shabbat was always spent traditionally for her, that it was a time for her to reset.  Shabbat still is so much about learning for me and while I love Shabbat, I look forward to it, and I enjoy my time in shul, I don't feel like I'm resetting.  I feel like I'm learning.  I'm learning the rhythm of the chants, I'm learning the variations on songs, I'm learning the prayers, I'm learning the meaning behind prayers.  On Wednesdays, when I'm supposed to be learning, I feel like I'm resetting.



It is possibly because on Wednesdays I'm spending time with people who I'm getting to know more.  I'm spending time with people who are going through the same journey as I.  I'm spending time with people who get me and get what I say, even if they don't.  It's only a few hours, as opposed to the full day of  Shabbos but I really look forward to it.  It has me wondering, what will happen when it's all over.

In a couple of weeks we'll finish up this trimester and the last trimester will begin.  Sometime after that when the time comes for us to go to the mikvah and beit din we'll all be Jews.  We won't be Jews-to-Be or conversion students we'll be Jews.  In our discussion of Chanukkah we talked about how it is celebrated and the sometimes very lost meaning behind the holiday.   Some people feel like it's a time to spend time with friends and family.  Some people feel it's a time to exchange gifts.  Some feel like it's a time to remember the rededication of the Temple.  Some people feel like it's all about the miracle of the oil.  But how is that relevant to what and who we are today, right now in 2011/5771

Our rabbi encouraged us to find meaning, our own personal meaning, behind the rituals and Holidays in the Jewish calendar so that they resonate with us in a personal way.  It sounded like an easy charge but it's actually pretty daunting.  It's something that I'm confident will change over time as I learn more and decide what's best for me.  It helped me to realize that taking time to learn and figure out what works best for me is also a process.

There are so many aspects of Judaism that forever swirl in my head; kashrut, Pesach seder, tichel vs. kippah, do I really want to be reform or conservative (or orthodox), how to apply to rabbinical school, how do I really feel about Israel, when can I visit Israel, when will I check out a Sephardic shul, an orthodox shul, a conservative shul, a black shul...  The list goes on and on and there's comfort in knowing that I won't know the answers right now and that I don't need to know the answers right now.

Rabbi S. gave us a packet about Chanukah tonight with the following opening quote that I found inspiring.  It made me realize that I'm not on this journey of Judaism alone.  It's beyond amazing how much my love of Judaism has inspired Mirs and her Judaism.  I know that I'm doing this conversion with the people in my class and people around the world I've never met and I'll meet other Jews throughout my life who I'll learn with and from and hopefully those I meet and  may never meet will walk  this journey with me.

Rabbi Jose said : "I was long perplexed by this verse, 'And you shall grope at noonday as the blind gropes in darkness' (Deuteronomy 28:29).  Now, what difference does it make to a blind man whether it is dark or light?  Once I was walking on a pitch black night when I saw a blind man walking with a torch in his hands.  I asked him: 'Why do you carry a torch?'   He replied, 'As long as the torch is in my hand, people can see me and walk beside me"

Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 24b

 





The Fate of Egypt and Her People (and the people of the world)

Fri, 11 Feb 2011 14:35:09, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: egypt, category: forgiveness, category: jewishchristianmuslim-relations, category: judaism, category: things-to-think-on]

[caption id="attachment_397" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="From the Huffington Post"][/caption]

The news rooms, newspapers, websites, and internet were buzzing this afternoon when news of former President Mubarak finally stepping down after 18 days of protests that have been ripping Egypt apart.  I've been following the story, loosely meaning that while at the gym I'd watch CNN and I'd read the Times (from my new Nookcolor) in the morning but I haven't been on the Facebook sites of those on the ground in Egypt.

I came across the following Article in my twitter feed moments after the news reached Huffington Post.   "Why Americans Must Ignore the Islamophobes who Misread the Egyptian Revolution."  This next statement may seem a little naive but, really?  People are truly that insane?  Short answer is yes.  There are people out there who feel that the loss of control in Egypt could result in a threat to the US.  Those people feel that Muslims (even though not all of Egyptians are Muslims) will take this moment to seize power over the people and that the fate of the world will be in their hands. 

I suppose I always know that there are people out there who think in truly illogical ways based usually on misunderstanding, bigotry, and hatred but it's still a bit shocking.  Since September 11th and more recently the debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque" hatred for Muslims and let's face it, any one who "looks" Muslim is on the rise in the US and globally.  I recently read an article in the Times about the First Lady's initiative on ending childhood obesity and the reporter, out of no where and completely out of context, commented that the Obama's still hadn't joined a Church in DC, after living there for 2 years.  The reporter went on to ask the First Lady about her spirituality and that of her family, which she declined to answer siting the need to keep those matters private.  I applaud her.  Where in the constitution does it say that the President of the United States needs to belong to a Church.  Where does it say he believe in the monotheistic idea of God at all?  I much prefer my church and state separate, as commanded by the constitution but unfortunately, as evident in the underlying series of questions set for by the article, even our Presidents religion is in question, still.

I made the correlation that the reporter was trying to insinuate that because the Obama's have not joined a Church that there must be another reason for it.  Clearly, with his Arab (Muslim) sounding last name they must be Muslims.  God forbid they're Jews or horror of horrors, atheists.  There are Zionists who believe that because Egypt is no longer under government control the new military will take over Israel and the people who live there.  Again, perhaps I am naive but I'd think that the new government would like to deal with bigger issues like, feeding the people, securing the economy, giving people faith in their government not a military take over from the past.

My conflicting views on Israel cannot be explained right now, or possibly ever because while I think like a Jew, I think like a humanist.  I watched a documentary on Netflix about Jerusalem through the eyes of a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian.  This city, so central to each of the faiths is a maze of check points, barbed wire, walls(literally and figuratively), misunderstanding, and uncertainty.  Why Israel came to be makes sense to me.  After the Shoah there were millions of displaced Jews with no home to return to.  We have friends whose grandparents were those Jews, banned from returning to Poland.   Jews who were literally just like Jews in the Exodus roaming with no place to go-they needed a place to live.  That place that was promised to them by God thousands of years before was unfortunately occupied by people who were promised the same place by God thousands of years before and another group of people who were promised the same place by God thousands of years ago.  Three people, three promises by the same God in what is basically the same book-you'd think that it would work.  The thing about God and man is that while in God's eyes it should have worked, men have too much ego, too much pride, too much need to possess and own a land that only truly belongs to God.

My prayers go to the people of Egypt and the people of the world.  I pray that the transition of the new government is peaceful and that the people there find peace.



To Pray Like a Jew

Sun, 13 Feb 2011 10:54:58, erika, [category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: jewish-prayer, category: jewishchristianmuslim-relations, category: judaism]

"Bless us, oh Lord, for these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive through thy bounty through Christ, our lord, Amen"

"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of god, pray for us sinners.  Now, and at the hour of our death, Amen"

"Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat"

I can say those three blessings without looking them up or reading them.  They just roll off of my tongue the first two, clearly Christian, overtly Catholic.  I remember my first time attending Mass in 6th grade.  I'd been enrolled in Catholic schools for two years by then but at St. Angela Hall we never attended Mass.  Ladyfield was a large, moneyed school connected with a large convent of nuns.  The school was situated on acres of land, the NDA campus that housed at that time a large main convent, 2 grade schools, a nursery school my nephews currently go to, and the high school. 

When I walked into the convent's chapel which we used for Friday Mass (kinda Jewish, eh?) I was in awe at the beautiful building.  Baptist churches are usually, in my experience, void of any iconography.  In retrospect, after being in dozens of cathedrals the chapel was modest with only a few statues of Mary rather than dozens of impressions of her image, always fair-skinned, always blue-eyed, always with a blue schmatta, clearly she was from Jerusalem.

Let me not get off of the question of the fair-skinned Arab Jew who gave birth to another Jew and back to the matter at hand.  I walked into my first Mass scared, confused, and absolutely lost.  If memory serves me correctly, there weren't any books that we read from or followed (maybe there were) you just did.  My classmates knew when to respond to the priest, when to sit down, when to stand up.  When to genuflect when getting out from your pew and returning to your pew.  When to make the sign of the cross.  Even the non-Catholics, the scattered Lutherans, the two Indian girls, and the others mimicked the movements, most likely because they'd been doing it since they were in kindergarten.  It took a few Fridays before I got the hang of it and before I knew it I knew when to respond with "Lord hear our prayer" and to this day I can recite the entire prayer for eucharist.  It doesn't mean I was Catholic, I was pretending to be one so as to fit into my school.

On Sundays I would still have to go to church (again) with my mother.  The church I'd been brought up with that seemed to have no order, by contrast to the Catholic Masses I had to attend.  I began to resent them both, for the same reason, I had no clue what I was doing.  Maybe it's because I missed my First Communion.  Perhaps as a first grader they teach you why you stand, why you sit, what you're saying...although that seems silly to try go get a 7-year-old to understand all of that.  Perhaps it's because I didn't have Confirmation.  When confirmation came around the non-Catholics had our religion class and the Catholics all got to go into another room to prepare for confirmation.   I remember being envious, some of my best friends, well, all of my best friends were Catholic and I felt even more like an outsider being separated for a less-than religion class.  Maybe at Confirmation you learn all of those reasons behind what and why we do things in Mass.  Again, a 13 years old would probably be less interested in why and more interested in the big step they are taking in their lives-much like a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

So here I am, months into attending synagogue and like my 6th grade self after a few month of "practice" I pretty much know when to stand, when to sit, when to bow (although not how to bow) and the tunes of most of the songs and chants.  I can follow along in the siddur and sometimes, people will look at my siddur to figure out where we are.  Thing is, I sort of feel like I did when I was in 6th grade.  I can say the prayers but I want to know what I'm saying and why we say them.  The siddur can only answer so many questions.  I don't want to just regurgitate things, I want to know what they mean, where they come from and why they were chosen for us to say, out of all of the other passages in the Torah, etc.

I've missed a few mornings and evenings of Shema, mostly when I'm with Mirs because I don't carry my siddur around with me.  Some mornings while I'm commuting I'll see an Orthodox man in a kippah with a small black prayer book (I presume) with his head slightly bowed and his lips moving and I am inspired to pray, too.  Here's a confession (lots of Catholic sacraments in this one)  I don't think I know how to pray.  I've read one book on Jewish prayer and after reading the Tiger Mom book I'm going to get back into How to Pray like a Jew, but I'm wondering and hoping that I'm not just going through the motions.  I'm not, I don't feel like I am because I'm asking questions and I want to know more.  I just don't want to get to a place, and I don't want to watch my son or daughter go into their Bar/Bat Mitzvah not knowing or being inspired by their faith. 

One of the reasons Mirs didn't have her Bat Mitzvah was for that reason.  She didn't feel a connection and therefore didn't feel like it was something she wanted to do.  On one hand I commend her parents for agreeing to her 13-year-old whim and on the other I think it's tragic that her rabbi, her faith didn't inspire her more.

The reason I know that I'm not just reciting empty words is because I made this choice to become a Jew.  For years I was Christian because it's how I was raised.  I wasn't inspired by it and like, Mirs when I was a certain age I put my foot down and decided I didn't want to go any longer.  Had my parents, my pastor on Sunday or the nuns of my every day lief inspired me more would I be writing about my love of Jesus.  I don't know but I'm glad that  I'm not there and that I'm here.



What if God Shuffled by...

Thu, 17 Feb 2011 21:34:32, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: conversion-classes, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: judaism, category: things-to-think-on]

[caption id="attachment_411" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="dmb fire dancer"][/caption]

I am a self-confessed Dave Matthews Band lover.  I fell in love with DMB around 1997 when the first few chords of "Satellite" blared over the surround-sound speakers in Lisa Ferguson's Chevy Tahoe.  Since then I can honestly say that they are the only band that I continually turn to at any moment of my life.  There was a time when I was convinced that Dave was writing lyrics torn from the pages of my personal diary...

"...she says I pray, but they fall on deaf ears.  Am I supposed to take it all myself to get out of this place.  There's a loneliness inside her and she'd do anything to fill it in.  And though its red blood bleeding from her now it feels like cold blue ice in her heart.  When all the colors mix together to grey...

...she feels like kicking out all of the windows and setting fire to this life she could change everything about her using colors bold and bright but all the colors mix together to grey..."


When I first heard that song, "Grey Street" I absolutely burst into tears, it literally was exactly how I was feeling at that time in my life.  I'd just broken up with my fiance (because I was gay)  I was scared, confused, deeply depressed and deeply in need of figuring out who I was.  It took 5 years of searching before it all sorted itself out but I always, to this day, find happiness in the music of Dave Matthews Band, no matter if that means I'm stuck in the late 90's.

On Wednesday's conversion class Rabbi S. asked us to consider who God is for us and what faith is to us and like a cow chewing its cud I'm still turning it around in my head.  There is a very small part of me that thinks of Zeus when I think of God; male, high in heaven, angry, lightening bolt.  There's another large part of me that still holds onto my years of Paganism and I see God as a mother; beautiful, stern, nurturing.  Then there's a part of me that doesn't understand the God of the Torah.  A part of me that doesn't understand the need for God in 2011 yet sees God in my nephews and in children.  Sometimes I think God is far away, not listening, and at others it's like God is in everything I see.

One of my favorite books left on the cutting room floor of the Christian Bible is the Gospel of Thomas.  It was found in  1945 in a cave in Egypt.  People call it the Lost Gospel and because of the movie "Stigmata" it got a lot of attention.  It has many of the same stories of Jesus as the other Gospels but will not, as far as anyone can tell, be added to the Bible.  The thing that I find remarkable about it isn't the "insight into Jesus' thoughts" but rather the message that God is in everything and in everyone and that The Kingdom of Heaven is in the here and now.  It's a tricky theology because it requires you to live in the moment and to see goodness and godliness in everyone and everything, which can be difficult. 

Rabbi S. said that his idea of God changes and I think that it's safe to say that mine probably does as well.  Faith is an entirely different subject.  I have a hard time with the word Faith because of my Catholic/Baptist up bringing.   When I hear the word I invariably think of  blind faith in God and taking the Bible for the spoken word of God.  That part is hard for me to separate from what it means to have faith as a Jew and as an adult.  I'm quite literally shaking my head as I write this because for whatever reason that it's easy for me to say that I believe in God, it's not so easy to say that I have faith because I think as human beings we have so much control over, well almost everything that there seems to be no room for faith.

For instance, something as simple as writing this book.  I don't just have faith that it will get finished, picked up by an agent and then by a publishing company I'm actually working to finish it and then get it out there for those things to happen.  I can't just hope that the world will be a better place or pray for it to be a better place, I have to get out there and do something to make those changes happen.  I hate when things would go wrong in my life or the life of others and hear a pastor say, "You've gotta have faith"  How is a logical person, possibly dying of cancer or in need of a job going to just "have faith"?  This isn't to say turning yourself over to a higher power isn't an option but, you also do the foot work.  Get another opinion, seek out treatment, work on your resume, go on interviews, head back to school.  As a logically thinking, dare I say, science-minded human where is the room for faith?

The reason that I'm not an atheist and as hard as I tried to be a non-believer-I do belive in God.  It's because of my  belief in God, belief in a higher power, belief in something bigger than me that I found this path of Judaism.   I'm here and not there because Judaism requires me to learn and not to have blind faith but to seek out the answers to my questions.  Judaism asks me not to believe based on blind faith but to find what faith means to me, which is what I'm trying to figure out and may never know.



God Makes No Mistakes

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:33:44, erika, [category: bechol-lashon, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: gay-orthodox-jews, category: jews-of-color]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG0wi1m-89o&feature=player_embedded#at=46]


On Yom Kippur Mirs and I, accompanied by some friends, attended service with hundreds of LGBTQ or LGBTQ-friendly Jews at the Javits center.  Being my first Yom Kippur there were a lot of emotions swirling about my head; hunger, confusion, awe...  Mostly I was delighted to see so many queer Jews seriously praying and repenting before Hashem.  It's a wonder that we were even there, given the fact that God hates fags (and dykes).

What?  You've never seen those signs 'cause I have.  Thing is, I don't think that God hates anyone.  If you read the Torah or Bible and want to quote certain parts, say specific lines in Leviticus, then you can't keep out other ones like the fact that God made us in his own image.  If we're made in the image of God, and therefore godly, God wouldn't hate him/her/itself.  It just doesn't make sense.

Lots of right-winged Bible thumping Christians and well-intended Christians and Orthodox Jews and Muslims alike will tell you that what we are doing, who we are as LGBTQ believers is an "abomination before God"  That line is in Leviticus, by the way.  Leviticus also says that you cannot eat shrimp or scallops, lobster or pork but that's not a line folks like to dwell on.  In fact, they skip over that woman as property part as well as the proper treatment of slaves part siting that we don't live in those times.  Yet, we live in the times where LGBTQ people who love Hashem aren't  willing to put up with that shit any longer.

For decades LGBTQ synagogues and churches have been popping up as not only houses of worship but places of refuge for people who love God but feared his demented followers.  Fed up with an inability to be both queer and devout they carved out their own spaces and praised God with the song and joy and feather boas.  All joking aside, LGBTQ people needed a place to call their own just as blacks in America created their own places of worship when they were ousted from white congregations.

I hate to play devil's advocate but, what has this separate but equal style of worship done for us, in the long run?  Growing up in Ohio we rented our ballroom out to a sweet couple from Alabama; Gina and Dan.  Gina was a skinny, chain-smoking Baptist raised woman who fell in love with Dan, a Jew from New Jersey.  Some how they ended up in Ohio and I babysat their boy, Ethan, on Friday nights when they went to shul.  Gina loved Dan and while I cannot confirm that she converted they raised Ethan as Jewishly as possibly.  Every once in a while, though, Gina would get dressed up in her Sunday best and find herself at our side door waiting to get in the car with me and my "Mama" to Friendship Baptist Church.  Gina was the only white woman in the church and you would not have guessed it by how she raised her hands towards the heavens, jumped out and shouted, "Halleluia!"  and clapped and sang with the best of the church ladies.  It felt odd, to be quite honest, to have this skinny white woman in church with me and why should it?  She's just there, praising her God.

Something Rabbi L said to me last week when we had our one on one conversation stuck with me and it is perhaps why I decided against choosing a shul based on race or sexual orientation.  I'm paraphrasing what she said and instead have been thinking, what's the point in 2011 to have exclusive worship spaces?  Can they do more harm than good?  If I only attended a black shul would they accept me as a gay Jew.  If I attended a gay shul would the be able to see past my race.  And if I got to just a regular old shul shouldn't the see my gay blackness and identify it as Jewishness.  The same question can be asked of Christians and Muslims.  For instance, when I pass the mosque at the end of my block the majority of the people are black...what would happen, I wonder, if a white Muslim came to pray-would he feel welcomed?  I understand why separate prayer spaces were created in the first place but now, with a black man sitting in the seat of the President of the United States is it too much to ask that we learn to accept one another for who we are.  I will admit that there is something amazing about walking into a Be'chol Lashon meeting (as long as it has been) because for one day a month I'm surrounded by Jews of Color.  I love hanging out with my queer friends, even more points when they're queer Jewish friends but I learn so much from both groups.  And while I truly do understand the need for safe spaces, I'm concerned that they're not allowing us to experience the other.

There is still a bit of trepidation about going into shul on Friday.  More often or not I am the only person of color there but I feel like I need to be that person of color.  A few months back I attended a service where we learned about Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the rabbi, a straight married man, insinuated Joseph's homosexuality.  Apparently, the Talmud makes note of his obsession with his reflection.  It notes that Joseph would spend hours looking at himself in the mirror, that he wore woman's clothes, that he painted his eyes and that is the reason his brothers hated him so.  Because he was different.  In the end, as you know, it is Joseph that his brothers need.  Joseph becomes the King's right-hand-man and distributor of food.

So what do you think?  Do we still need gay places of worship, black places of worship or can't we all just worship as one?

P.S-that little girl is singing the shit out of Lady Gaga



In which I talk about my first Pesach, discoveries about how American Judaism is super "white" and more

My first Gregorian New Year, Holiday musings and other stuff.