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

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

Pesach Panic

Sat, 26 Feb 2011 22:53:10, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: fasting, category: jewish-food, category: jewish-holidays, category: jewish-prayer, category: jews-for-racial-and-economic-justice, category: kosher, category: pesach]

Just in case you're counting there are 51 days until Passover.  Yup, 51 days to get all of your Pesach preparations complete.  A while back one of my readers, Dena, told me that she was already getting stressed about Pesach preparations.  I sort of shrugged her off with the booze and festivities of Purim in my sights and just thought, Passover is just like any other Holiday, how much preparation can there be. 

A lot.  A whole effing lot of preparations for Pesach.  I suppose one saving grace is that I'll be in a new apartment before the holiday so the search for chomez should be a bit easier but really, Pesach, really?  Last night Mirs and I sat on her couch and read the Pesach section of my favorite cookbook Aromas of Aleppo, a Jewish Syrian cookbook.  After reading the condensed, yet precise information I realized a few things.

1.  This could turn out to be my favorite Holiday and trump Purim.  Therefore, this Purim better ROCK and it will because I'm going to the JFREJ party.  There are many aspects of Purim that I plan on celebrating this year.  The Fast of Esther is one of them.  I don't know why but I really like fasting, especially religious fasting.  My first fast was for Yom Kippur when we fast for 26 hours.  Only after services conclude can you put anything into your mouth.  Sitting in the large auditorium that hosted the Yom Kippur services my hunger pangs subsided and I felt incredibly light.  I was transfixed by the chanting of Torah, transfixed by the cantor's voice, in awe of the tallit covered Jews who were of various sexual orientations as well as various races.  I was overwhelmed, as I say over and over again when I describe that Yom Kippur and humbled not only as a Jew but as a person literally standing before God.  It was powerful and I don't know if I would've felt all of that had I not fasted.  Literally, my hunger only returned when I sat down at a restaurant.

In the Book of Esther we read that before going before the her King and husband Esther and her servants, as well as all of the Jews of Persia fast.  To commemorate this one woman's love for her people and ability to turn the heart of her rather silly husband and his cruel advisor Jews around the world fast.  Three days before getting really really drunk on Purim (as prescribed in the Talmud) I will be fasting.

There are a few mitzvot for Purim as well.  Giving of gifts to the poor and giving of gifts to friends.  Traditionally, if anyone asks you of anything on Purim, you are to give it to them.  This means, on Purim if you're a New York Jew and you're riding the subway and panhandlers ask for money or food, you are supposed to give them something.  I'm looking forward to this mitzvah that I've never done in two years of Purim festivities.

Lastly, it is a mitzvah to hear the book of Esther be read.  I'm not sure if I'll be fulfilling this mitzvah with JFREJ, at a party at our apartment, or in shul but those three things are what I'm looking forward to celebrating this Purim, three things I've never done. 

Two years ago when I learned that the Talmud dictates that you are to be so drunk on Purim that you can't tell the difference between the good guy in the story and the bad guy, I was sure that NOTHING could beat Purim-until I read about Passover last night.  Sure Pesach is about our redemption from slavery in Egypt.  It's about the plagues, I've seen The Prince of Egypt and The Ten Commandments enough times to get the gist of the day.  Bitter Herbs, Matzoh, blah, blah, blah. 

Blah Blah Blah is what I thought until I read about the detail, ritual, ceremony, and food and wine that goes into the seder.  I didn't know why we chose the foods we eat on Pesach.  I didn't know how specific the details were around the wine (3.5 oz)  I didn't think the seder lasted that long yet, you're supposed to provide cushions and pillows for your guests so they can sit comfortably around the table.  Pesach is about the oral tradition being told from one generation to the other, from one Jew to another.  While our Passover table will most likely be filled with friends, reading the simple words in Aromas of Aleppo instantly my mind thought of the day that our youngest child would have his part to say in the seder.  The  joke goes that all Jewish holidays are about almost being defeated, then over coming odds, and then eating but Pesach is about the story of the Jewish people, my people, and keeping the oral tradition of our people alive from one generation to the next.

Realization 2.  Holy Shit, I'm totally unprepared.  I mean, food and getting haggadah are one thing but the really important issue here is finding "my" seder plate. 

[caption id="attachment_423" align="aligncenter" width="259" caption="This one is nice"][/caption]


Realization 3.  No, really.   I'm totally unprepared.  In addition to the aesthetics of Pesach (new outfit) there are enough laws around kosher for Passover foods to make your head spin.  For example, my cat may be on a completely new diet for Pesach because most pet food has wheat in it.  I have to secure  a gentile to keep my non-kosher food in their home and out of my clean, pristine kosher home for an entire week.  I can't let non-kosher food into my body let alone into my home.  Did you have a blueberry muffin this morning?  Is that a crumb on your scarf?  Is your bottled beverage kosher?  I'd sound like a crazy person!  There is a gigantic part of me that wants to do this "right" and the other, shall we say, more reformed side of my head shrugs.  On the other hand, Passover, like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, is one of those holidays that the least observant Jews observe. 

So there we have it, Pesach Countdown T-minus 51 days.  I think the best first step is finding the right seder plate (and wine cups that hold 3.5oz of wine).  It's like a prom dress or wedding dress; after the main attraction (dress or in my case the plate) everything else should be easy...right? 

[caption id="attachment_422" align="aligncenter" width="186" caption="I actually really like this plate"][/caption]

Changing the Face of Judaism/Judaism's Changing Face

Wed, 02 Mar 2011 06:56:48, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: conversion-classes, post_tag: dealing-with-race-and-racism-in-judaism, category: gay-jews, post_tag: jewish-diversity, category: jews-of-color, post_tag: jews-of-color-2, category: uncategorized, category: what-color-is-a-jew, category: who-is-a-jew]

A few conversion classes ago the rabbi asked how we thought we, a room full of Jews-to-be, would change Judaism.  We all gave answers and today, for some reason, two weeks later I'm still thinking about it.  As converts, we are changing Judaism and as a result the "face" of Judaism will be forever changed.  Things that I like, foods that I like, music I enjoy will inevitably become Jewish Things, Jewish Food, Jewish Music.
As a black woman, that fact seems clearer, or more obvious, but is it?

When I think of my born-Jewish friends I think they all are making changes to Judaism in their own way.  One of my friends is in love with a Catholic man who loves being Catholic.  Whenever I see him lately, it is at Shabbat service and he's wearing a kippah, clapping, singing, chanting.  He's there because he loves her and if they get married they will change what Judaism means.  Their children would be Jews because their mother is a Jew but they'd be living in a multi-faith family weaving different traditions into one another-forever changing the fabric of Judaism.
I have another friend who is a born Jew who's a lesbian (truth be told, I've got a lot of lesbian Jewish friends) and we're all changing the structure of the Jewish family.  When two Jewish women make the decision to spend their lives together and create a family together that family will be Jewish-as both mothers are Jews-but that Jewish family is "different" than what the mind thinks of as a Jewish family.  The family may be secular or observant but that lesbian (or gay) family changes the face of Judaism.
When Jews adopt children from China, Korea, or black boys and girls those children will be raised as Jews and hopefully they will raise their children as Jews and then the spectrum of color in the Jewish religion in the US would be as varied as the faces of Christians and Muslims.  But hasn't it always looked that way?
I always struggle with the concept of the Jewish race because I'm a religious Jew.  When emerge from the mikvah as a Jew and identify with all Jewish people my racial make up will still be black.  I'm learning, as I visit synagogues and talk with other black Jews or Jews of Color, that in the US the picture that comes to mind when one says Jew is European.  Even when one says Sephardic Jew, the image isn't one of a black face, or even an Asian face when there are many black Jews and Asian Jews-born and converted.
Part of the reason I want to go to Israel so badly is to see what the faces of non-American Jews look like there.  Even now, when I see an Orthodox Jew of Color walking down the streets of Ditmas Park or Midwood I'm shocked, in awe, and I'll totally admit I'm captivated.  I actually tried to stop a woman on Coney Island Avenue late summer to chat her up.  She thought I was crazy, of course, and brushed passed me and what could I have expected from her?  For her to chat with a woman who was her same color but definitely not of the same faith.  I was wearing pants and most definitely sporting a low-cut v-neck shirt, she was frum.
Before I made the formal commitment to going through a conversion I attended a few different synagogues in Manhattan.  I was incredibly nervous.  I was sure that I'd be the only person of color in the room.  I was sure that everyone would turn around a look at me, as if a spot light had shone on me.  I was sure that I'd be completely lost.  When I walked into the first synagogue some people looked up, most did not and I was completely lost.  Even now when I enter a new synagogue I get annoyed at the people who look at me, and do not talk to me.  I want to say, "If you have a question, ask"  Other times I think, why should they look and stare?   I have walked into synagogues where no one seems to notice me and I get paranoid that they're trying to avoid looking at me and become incensed that they aren't seeing my blackness.
There was a time when, to be PC, people would say "I don't see race, I see the person."  That sentiment irked me, and still does today, because I need you to see my race.  I need you to see that I am a black woman and try to understand what that means.  If you don't see my race then you don't see who I am as a person.  As a Black Jew, I struggle with identifying as such.  Yet, I am a black Jew and I need you to see that the two can be one.  I may be a convert, but my future children will be just a Jews who are black.
In the end all of us are changing Judaism's face.  We add to it and take away from it what we will, at the same time strengthening it and dare I say, sometimes weakening it?  I like to think that I'm bringing to Judaism my years of Christianity, however faulty they were.  I'm bringing my love of Southern cooking and what it means to bring in a New Year (with black eyes and collard greens)  I'm bringing my love of singing, clapping, and praising God in a way that brings a "joyful noise".  I'm bringing my questions and doubt, most of all, just me.

This month in Sh'ma, there are great articles on the definitions of Jews along with a beautiful photo essay on what a Jew looks like.  I love meeting Jews of Color and born Jews here and in my life.  It's a blessing and joy to know that there are so many of us, small threads, being woven into the larger fabric that is Judaism.  I can only hope that our diversity, our ethnicity, and our non-Jewish paths can only enrich the Jewish experience now and in the future.

Anti-Semitism Alive and Well in the Fashion World

Tue, 01 Mar 2011 13:08:07, erika, [category: famous-jews, category: stupid-people-are-stupid]

[caption id="attachment_431" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="picture from"][/caption]

In case you're not a WWD devotee I'll let you in on a little shock wave in the fashion world.  John Galliano, Dior's head designer, was fired today following his most recent slew of racist and anti-Semitic mouth diarrhea.  The face of Dior, Israeli actress and Oscar winner, Natalie Portman, has been quoted saying that she's "disgusted" by the statements made by Galliano.  He has officially been let go at the fashion house and while some fashionistas will wonder who will take the reigns at Dior, I'm wondering what took them so long?

I'm not a slave for fashion, I'm not even a follower of fashion per se, I just like clothes.  I've never been a fan of high fashion, haute couture so the fact that this major house is loosing its designer means nothing to me.  What I'm shocked by is in the articles written by People and WWD, this isn't the first time that Mr. Galliano has made racist comments.   It's foolish to think that racism and anti-Semitism doesn't exist in this country but it's always appalling to me how we allow people to get away with it.  People are never punished or ousted until they get caught-on tape. Bravo to the House of Dior for getting rid of this talented, but racist asshat.

How do you Jew?

Thu, 03 Mar 2011 13:40:34, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: conversion-classes, category: gay-jews, category: jewish-holidays, category: jewish-prayer, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, category: kosher, category: pesach, category: shabbat, category: things-to-think-on, category: what-color-is-a-jew, category: what-kind-of-jew-are-you, category: who-is-a-jew]

I'm well, how do you Jew?

Hahaha!  Okay, bad joke but I thought it was pretty funny in a really corny way.  I was sitting on the subway early this morning leaving Mirs' doing what I normally do on the subway-Praying.  I don't know why I've taken to doing it on the subway, it's not exactly the most sacred space and it's definitely not a private place or a place that I feel holy.  It usually has to do with the fact that I'm running late and I'm sitting down (usually).  Nearly every morning I'll open my borrowed siddur and start with the Shema and V'ahavta with the help of the Shabbat Shalom CD I received in my shul's welcome packet.  I then shuffle through the pages until I get to Nisim B'chol Yom and continue through the end.  I listen to Jewish music while I'm praying and do my best to concentrate and feel connected with God.  I will be honest that I don't sometimes feel connected and sometimes I feel silly but most of the time it still feels like a great way to start my day.  On the mornings (which are rare) that I'm not rushing, I say the prayers in my apartment before I have my coffee or after getting out of the shower.

This morning, I was thinking about our conversion classes conversation about Jewish Identity and Pesach  observances when I was praying.  I finished and looked up and noticed an Orthodox (or Conservative) man watching me.  He sort of stared and I sort of stared back before we both looked away.  I shrugged it off but wondered, why did he (did he?) care what I was doing.  Whatever his thoughts, I forced him to see a Jew who may have looked contrary to what he perhaps is used to seeing as Jewish.

The way that our conversion class is structured is that the first half hour the people who are in the process of converting sit and talk with a rabbi.  We talk about challenges of our week, we ask questions, and sometimes they ask us a question.  Last night, Rabbi L., who is in "charge" of my conversion, asked us if we had any issues, questions, or thoughts about Jewish Identity.  Being the overly enthusiastic student that I am I spoke up first and talked about what I always talk about here and everywhere-challenging the thoughts of who is a Jew.  On of the students next to me, and one of the other three black women in the class asked me, "What does a Jew look like?"  My answer was, "It depends on where you live."  My long-term goal as a Jewish woman who longs to be a rabbi, is to continue to challenge Jewish people to see past their families, communities, and comfort level and to encourage an open-mind and open heart with regard to Who is Jewish and How they Jew.  It is also to challenge non-Jews to look outside of their ideas, thoughts, and expectations of who is Jewish.

I personally want to focus on being a Reform Jew with Conservative leanings.  In other words, a very observant Reform Jew.  I have long-term goals to observe some form of kashrut,  Most kashrut laws are in conflict with my conviction to eat locally, sustainable, and organically.  I have a long-term goal to get the communal, cultural, tradition part of Judaism (which I struggle with) melded seamlessly to the religious aspect of Judaism (the part I love and is easy for me).  A long-term goal is to maintain a Jewish home and raise a Jewish family that honors and loves Shabbat in a real way.  A long-term goal is to go to rabbinical school and join or create a shul that is diverse, inclusive, observant, engaging, fun, with real outreach and roots and ties to the broader, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious community.  My long-term goal is to create long lineage of Jews.  A long-term goal is to go to Israel.  The list goes on and on and on and on...

As I said in an older post.  The way that I Jew and How I Jew is not always going to be the way that you Jew or How you Jew and it doesn't need to be.  I've been reading Sh'ma online recently and encourage you to as well.  The current issue is ALL about who is a Jew and who says so.  It's full of great essays on Jewish relations here in the US as well as in Israel.  It's truly, one of the best collections of multi-faceted Jewish identity that I've read in a long while.  It has me thinking and affirming my Jewish choices, my Jewish life, and my Jewish identity.

In our first discussion Rabbi L. suggested that I find a Star of David charm to go with my two hamsas I currently wear around my neck.  The Star of David, more than a hamsa, identifies you as a Jew.  As much as I don't "look" Jewish-I am.  Wearing an object so easily recognized and associated with Judaism allows people to "see" the Jewish me.  I'd been searching for weeks and remembered that I saw one at an antique store on 17th street called Pippin.  I went to the store after work yesterday and after poking around in their beautiful and tempting wares, I found the piece I'd spotted months before.  It was dull but after a quick rub by one of the associates it sparkled and gleamed like sterling silver does.  I added it to my hamsas.  It needs its own chain because the three charms together clink in a way I'm not fond of, but it's there.  Around my neck as a bold statement to the world that I am (or will be soon) a Jew. 

[caption id="attachment_450" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="my neck jewelry"][/caption]

Just in case you were wondering 47 days until Pesach.

Brief Sunday Post

Sun, 06 Mar 2011 10:28:55, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews]

I'm always interested in how many people are coming to my blog and how they are finding it.  Ever so often I will check out my site stats and am always a little amused, a little shocked, sometimes horrified, and sometimes delighted at the ways people find me.  These were the search terms used to find my blog yesterday.

"are there black jews in your synagogue, black gay jew, black gay and jewish, affordable shabbat candles, why are jews shocked to see a american black in a synagogue on shabbat"

I can only hope that these were was that people were seeking ideas on how to better integrate their synagogues!

Brief Monday Post...with a Video

Mon, 07 Mar 2011 11:04:16, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: what-color-is-a-jew]


I'm really excited to see this documentary by Punk Jews.

Happy International Women's Day!

Tue, 08 Mar 2011 12:11:43, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: gay-jews, category: jews-of-color, category: what-color-is-a-jew, category: who-is-a-jew]

What, you didn't know it was International Women's Day.  You probably did, only because Google said so but it's been 100 years that the day existed.  I wrote an article on Hollaback!.  Take a moment to check it out and then let's get back to talking about being Jews.

Yesterday at work I met two gay Jews.  They were both male, both awesome, and neither of them questioned "how" I was Jewish and instead were like, "go homo Jews!" and gave one another hugs and high fives.  I appreciated their lack of question. It may have been because they were gay and understand what  it is to be "other."  I wonder what an amazing place it would be if you didn't have to question or qualify anyone.

Mirs and I have been having serious talks about race and ethnicity.  Mainly to do with her concerns about raising black children, who are Jews with two mommies but also to do with topics she's discussing academically.  White privilege is the topic in her classes and it seems that it's making the white people uncomfortable.  When, let's face it.  If a white person cannot or choses not to understand the privilege they get based solely on their skin color, they're lying.  If you google White privilege you'll find the following list by Peggy McIntosh:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

[caption id="attachment_466" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="y-love"][/caption]

 If you google a bit further you will also find an Ashkenazi checklist from the Jewish Multiracial Network

 I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as outsider.
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as exotic.
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that my children are seen as Jews.
___ I can walk into temple with my family and not worry that they will be treated unkindly.
___ I can enjoy music at my temple that reflects the tunes, prayers, and cultural roots of my specific Jewish heritage.
___ I can easily find greeting cards and books with images of Jews who look like me.
___ I can easily find Jewish books and toys for my children with images of Jews that look like them.
___ I am not singled out to speak about and as a representative of an “exotic” Jewish subgroup.
___ When I go to Jewish bookstores or restaurants, I am not seen as an outsider.
___ I find my experiences and images like mine in Jewish newspapers and magazines.
___ My rabbi never questions that I am Jewish.
___ When I tell other members of my synagogue that I feel marginalized, they are immediately and appropriately responsive.
___ There are other children at the religious school who look like my child.
___ My child’s authenticity as a Jew is never questioned by adults or children based on his/her skin color.
___ People never say to me, "But you don't look Jewish," either seriously or as though it was funny.
___ I do not worry about being seen or treated as a member of the janitorial staff at a synagogue or when attending a Jewish event.
___ I am never asked “how” I am Jewish at dating events or on Jewish dating websites.
___ I can arrange to be in the company of Jews of my heritage most of the time.
___ When attempting to join a synagogue or Jewish organization, I am sure that my ethnic background will not be held against me.
___ I can ask synagogues and Jewish organizations to include images and cultural traditions from my background without being seen as a nuisance.
___ I can enroll in a Jewish day school, yeshiva, and historically Jewish college and find Jewish students and professors with my racial or ethnic background.
___ People of color do not question why I am Jewish.
___ I can send my child to Hebrew School/Young Judea camp without him/her being subjected to racist slurs from other children.
___ I am not discriminated against in the aliyah process as a Jew of my particular ethnicity.
___ I know my ethnic background will not be held against me in being called to read the Torah.

[caption id="attachment_467" align="aligncenter" width="162" caption=""][/caption]

What Mirs and I have been discussing is whiteness in America.  Before I go on, to what some may consider a rant, let me just say that I love my white, Ashkenazi partner.  I know that when we have children I will be raising children that are part Ashkenazi and part white so I do not have an issue or problem with Ashkenazi Jews or white folks...I just find it interesting and it's what we've been talking about lately.

[caption id="attachment_468" align="aligncenter" width="96" caption="still from jews or color round table"][/caption]

So, in our chat we talked about the ability for groups of people to become White.  There is a book called "When Jews Became White Folks" that's on my list of reading.  But it wasn't just Jews who became white.  Nearly any race that could, did in order to assimilate to the world they immigrated to.  Italians, Jews, Russians, Irish, anyone fair enough to pass as white did, thus stripping themselves of their culture to avoid being an other.  When you're Indian, Asian, Latino, or Black you don't have that privilege.  The skin color you're born with always "fails" and in any situation the jig is up-you are an "other".

Add to that homosexuality and the fact that I'm  woman it's a wonder that I would want to purposely add Jew to my otherness...which is where a lot of my discussions about raising children with my partner stem.  How is she, a white woman with 50+ printed privileges supposed to raise children of color?  I asked her what it was like being a Jew in Texas and she sort of got it.  I asked what it's like to be a woman, to be gay.  True, you can "hide" your gay, although some people cannot, and she could hide her Jew she can't hide being a woman.  When you are a person of color you generally have a strong sense of self, or at least I do. 

My parents raised me to know that coud go any where I pleased and be anyone I wanted to be.  I was raised to question nothing and everything.  I was raised to fear nothing.  Do people notice that I'm black when I walk into a store, I'm sure but I don't notice them noticing me because I'm entitled to be there as much as any other person is.  That's what my parent's taught me and that's what I will teach my children.  I'm proud to be a black woman.  I'm proud to be a gay woman.  I'm proud to be a Jew(to be).


Sat, 12 Mar 2011 02:13:16, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: conversion-classes, category: shabbat, category: things-to-think-on]

It's so interesting blogging here because it looks the same in so many ways and in so many ways it's very different.  Wednesday night was my last night of conversion class until April.  Rabbi S. lead our conversion students chat before hand and asked us, very generally, what was going on in our lives and in the previous week.  One of my fellow classmates mentioned that she was feeling something because of the horrid remarks made recently by Charlie Sheen and John Galliano.  It was the first time, she said, that she felt what it feels like to be a minority.  Another one of my fellow classmates mentioned that in her dating life she found herself becoming more particular when choosing a man to date.  She wondered what it meant that having a Jewish partner was now a priority to her.

It's a feeling that I think we're all getting to.  It's exciting, it's unsettling, it's alarming-we're beginning to feel like Jews.  I'd like to think that I've been feeling Jewish for a few months now but it's one of those things that always surprises me.  I'll have a day where I'm feeling really connected to my Jewish identity praying Shema or reading Torah and then I'll have another day where I still feel like an outsider.  When I sit in a room of Jews to be and hear women who "look" more Jewish than I feel the same things that I sometimes feel it brings me back down to earth, so to speak.  I feel sort of silly comparing this transition to my blog but it works, as this is my first official post.

Rabbi S reminded us, using the Torah and the book of Leviticus and it's small alef (yeah, I didn't notice it either), that we all need to remember and hold onto where we've come from.  I'm going to be a little snarky here but I love it when rabbis, our teachers, say things that I've already said.  In my analogies of how coming to Judaism feels I like to say and write that it's not about forgetting my past but incorporating everything I've known and loved for 30 years into my Jewish identity.  He told us that the early rabbis noticed the small alef at the beginning of Leviticus and believed it was put there to remind us, as God reminded Moses, of were he'd come.  It was not Moses who lead the people out of Egypt, it was God.  Moses didn't provide food and water in the desert, God did.  Moses did not part the Sea of Reeds, God did.  While Moses had become close to God and some could argue, "god-like" he wasn't God.  He was an Israelite raised as an Egyptian with a gentile wife.  He sometimes needed to be brought down to earth and reminded of who he was and where he came from.

There are some things will be set aside as I make the official transition from gentile to Jew.  So many things have already happened.  For instance I didn't realize that it was the beginning of Lent until I saw the ashes on the foreheads of Christians.  Historically seeing the ashes compelled me to enter a church and pray and think about what I'd give up for Lent.  I'd forget about it, more often than not, but still be drawn into a church.  Last year, even, seeing black crosses on the foreheads of strangers reminded me that I had a duty to God.  This year I found them a bit disturbing and off-putting.  Instead, on Tuesday I tried covering my hair for an entire day as a reminder to think about a "higher" power. 

There are most definitely traditions that I have set aside and they being replaced by other, more meaningful traditions.  While I will be a Jew soon, I spent the majority of my adult life as a pseudo-Christian.  They are not years, memories, smells, sounds, and tastes that I want to forget.  They're not things I will forget and let's be honest, there are things I'll probably continue.  Easter Ham will clearly not be on my Seder table but so much of who I am and how I identify will be added to my Jewish identity.

The weeks between trimesters are always a bit like being in limbo.  The routine and comfort of going to a place where you're surrounded by people going through the conversion process is put on hold and instead, you sort of have to "deal" with things, issues, thoughts, changes by yourself.

I'm excited for the next Trimester where we'll be looking at the books of Judaism; the Torah, Talmud, etc. I'm excited for this new site to be up an running!  This transition is a powerful one.  I've always known it and Rabbi S. always says this but I'm at a place where it doesn't feel like I'm "trying on" Judaism.  I'm starting to feel like a Jew.

Shabbat Shalom.

More musings about Pesach, talking about Purim, and conversion class posts

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