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

Musings from April 2011; Passover, What is and isn't Kosher and a Mezuzah question

Just so folks know, I’m not editing (or even reading) these as I archive them. It’s incredibly funny, also embarrassing, how emo I was. Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Enjoy vintage Erika in 2011 talking about Passover and more.

That's not Jewish either

Sun, 03 Apr 2011 21:48:05, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-holidays, category: pesach, category: stupid-people-are-stupid]

I Love people sometimes.

This afternoon I got a text from my non-Jewish friend saying that she'd talked to some of her Jewish friends and was told that as a non-Jew it was "inappropriate" for her to come to our Pesach dinner.

This is one of those areas where I'm dumbfounded. Reason 1 because I'm not a Jew yet and don't know all of the "rules" and 2 because what the fuck?! Sorry for the f-bomb, but really? For Pesach this year Mirs and I have decided to use Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah because it uses non-gendered God language, it refers to Israel as the people and not necessarily the state, and address the struggle for the land called Israel as well as making mention to the lack of freedom around the world. Specifically in Lybia and Egypt. In chosing this haggadah I've read several haggadot and in every one we're reminded to embrace the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We were also strangers in Spain, in France, in Poland, in Russia, in America, in Mexico, in Peru in Uganda, in Kenya...the list goes on and on.

As Jews we have been a people with nomadic tendencies because we've been persecuted and driven out of places for centuries. We have always been the "stranger" As a black woman the fact of being a stranger and therefore different is poignant. As a lesbian black Jew more it's poignant. I walk into a shul and I'm always, by looks alone, a "stranger". Why is it not "kosher" to invite a stranger to our table? To teach them about who we are?

My other confusion is that while as Jews we remember Pesach as our exodus from the bondage of slavery and our redemption by God, the story of Passover is rooted in the Christian and I assume Muslim tradition. the Torah is the first part of the Christian Bible. Jesus was a Jew and probably attended several Seders in his time. It's argued that The Last Supper was a Seder.

Jesus the Rabbi taught that we should love our neighbor as we love ourself. Hillel did one better by saying that which is hateful to you, do not do to others. Pesach is a time for Jews to remember who we are and were we came from. It is a time to tell the story so that we remember. Those of us without children make that obligation, in part, by sharing the story of our people with those who may not know it.

I have another non-Jewish friend who told me Pesach is her favorite holiday. More than Christmas, Easter, or St. Patty's day combined she loves Passover. What a blessing that this Catholic woman loves our holiday more than her own. It seems to me that having non-Jews at our Pesach tables is a blessing and a mutual gift.

The "Gay" in Black, Gay and Jewish

Mon, 04 Apr 2011 11:00:46, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: gay-jews, category: uncategorized]

I'm a lesbian. I like girls. I have a wonderful Jewish girlfriend. Still, and not to sound like a dude, I appreciate a pretty lady. Like this one here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FMznjuwdV_4#at=25

I'm not sure what's going on with my site's inability to post video on the page but I suggest you take a moment, click on the link and take a listen to Shorty.

Now, I'm under the impression that all music today SUCKS. With the exception of a very small few I find todays music to be contrived, empty, and completely void of real personality and dare I say talent? It all sounds the same. So, am I saying that Shorty's music is groundbreaking? I actually have no idea what she's saying because I don't speak Hebrew. It has the same poppy sound as your average young musician...a little Katy, a little Kylee, a little Gaga. You can definitely dance to it, it would sound good coming out of the speakers of a float at a Pride parade. But she's no Tori Amos.

What is ground-breaking is that this musician out of Tel Aviv is an out and proud lesbian. I'll take that and add her on my iTunes with my other go-toIsraeli/French musician, Yael Naim.

Read the interview on AfterEllen here.

Two weeks, People!

Tue, 05 Apr 2011 16:30:15, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: jewish-food, category: jewish-holidays, category: pesach]

Today I started making a list of things that I needed to get done before Pesach and frankly, it's making my head hurt. When Mirs' mom was in town they went to some of our favorite Judaica stores and Kosher grocers in Ditmas Park/Midwood. Mirs picked up a pamphlet, "2011 Recommended Passover Product List for Sephardic Communities" by the J.S.O.R complete with a list of the Ten Commandments for the Sephardic Passover Consumer. I do not jest, pick one up for yourself.

I will say that it's helpful if not daunting. There's even a phone number you can call if you have questions but the list is also a bit overwhelming not to mention filled with product placement. For instance, I was unaware that coffee manufacturers use flavor enhancers that are not fit for Pesach. Good thing I only buy whole bean locally roasted coffee! It is, I'm afraid not Kosher for Passover though. After reviewing the list I'm beginning to realize that no matter how much I sweep, mop, and scrub my house may never get Kosher enough for Pesach this year and I'm okay with it.

This is one of those places where I'm going to take baby steps rather than giant leaps. My medicine cabinet alone with my vitamins, minerals and Lactaid aren't kosher. Not to mention my cat's food! The list includes detergents and cleaners and lists "organic lipstick" as unfit for goodness sake! As a person who's had eczema for her entire life there's now way that Joy or Sunlight Powder will touch this skin without an allergic reaction. The detergent I use is organic and full of enzymes and thankfully fragrance and dye free which is Kosher enough for me. I've noticed Kosher for Passover products popping up all over. My seltzer, for instance, is Kosher for Passover. The orange juice next to it is not.

After the realization that I would not only have to find Oscar new food but purchase new cosmetics I've decided to do what I can and not expect that it will be perfectly chametz-free this time around. No beer or booze (of course I start here) No bread or bread products. No Flour, Yeast, Baking Soda and Powder. No pasta or pasta products. I'll rid my kitchen and do a good cleaning.

I can't buy a new mixer or food processor for Pesach. I don't have that kind of money. I will, however, try to Kosherize my kitchen this weekend. I'm buying new plates for Pesach, I won't use my wood utensils, and my microwave and oven will be Kosher. I'll clean like only my mama would appreciate and the food and the meal will be kosher (meat and Parve). While the little guide has honestly scared the dickens out of me I'm feeling like I've got it under control. My moleskin notebook is filled with color coordinated to-do lists and check dates. Still, it's a lot and I've only got two words for you:

OY VEY!

Mezuzah Verdict is In

Wed, 06 Apr 2011 23:09:46, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: mitzvot, category: things-to-think-on]

According to Rabbi K. I will need to have 4 mezuzah on my exterior doors and 3 mezuzah on my interior doors. Minus the 2 I already have that is a total of 5 new mezuzah that I will be purchasing. Can I get another Oy vey! I had a sneaking suspicion that she'd tell me that, though I hoped I'd be fine with my "this is the door I use" theory. As much as I've been griping, that was my last gripe.

It occurred to me that I'd been making several mental decorating notes in my head. I'll have several rugs on my floors. My living room will have two separate seating areas and beautiful floor lamps to create a more peaceful mood than the overhead lights. My couch will be comfortable. I need a large sitting chair. I'll need a bigger desk...I'm thinking of all of these things that I "need" for my apartment and complaining about fulfilling a mitzvah? It seemed silly when I put it like that so I've made the decision to find myself the most beautiful, unique, and special to me mezuzahs to go in and outside of my home. I will still take Ayelet's advice to heart and try to find a store that will give me a multi-mezuzah discount but 7 mezuzah will indeed go up in my home.

We started conversion classes tonight. We'll be studying the Jewish texts this go-around. While it was exciting to be with the women who've been on this journey with me from day one. It was great having Rabbi K back with her spunk, her feistiness, her passion for Judaism. It was wonderful in so many ways but bittersweet knowing that in a few months these people who've been on this journey with me will move on.

I'd like to think that I'll remain close with these women but it's not like a confirmation class or joining a sorority. While Judaism as a whole is about community the mikvah is just me and God. When we're not "forced" to come together, will we? When this is all said and done will we remain close? It is such a huge journey, a life altering journey and the biggest decision that we will make in our adult lives. I speak for them but it is the biggest decision I've made in my adult life. Only Jews by Choice know what the feeling is, and I wonder how long it stays and when it fades away.

I have conflicted feelings about how I will identify. Now, I call myself Jewish. When I meet people, when they ask about the Magen David around my neck I declare that I am a Jew. I don't say that I'm converting, I say that I am a Jew. Is it important for me to identify as a convert or not? On one hand, it shouldn't matter how I am a Jew just that I am. On the other hand, it's just as important for me to continue to acknowledge that I am a Jew because I chose to be a Jew. That fact, that choice is a marker. Like Ruth, all converts make the life-changing decision to become a Jew. It's not something that I take for granted and it's not something I want to forget.

The Tale of Two Shabbats

Sat, 09 Apr 2011 23:21:47, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: conversion-classes, category: how-to-think-like-a-jew, category: judaism, category: shabbat]

A few hours ago observant Jews around the world concluded Shabbat with a havdalah service which marks the end of Shabbat. I've never observed this prayer service but I've seen it done in the movie Trembling Before God. There are candles and wine, of course, but also spices. Blessings are said and the flame of the multi-wick candle is extinguished in the wine. It seems like a really beautiful ritual that I will one day weave into my life, ideally on a regular basis.

This time in my life, unfortunately, I barely get time to observe Shabbat in its entirety. It would be great if I could take Friday evenings and all of Saturdays off of work but I work for a small company and it would be inconceivable. There are those times, like this weekend that I do have time off work on the weekend that cause me to reflect on Shabbat, how I observe it, and how I want to observe it in the future.

In November Mirs and I attended an amazing Shabbat dinnerat the home of our friends Rachel and Tom. It was amazing because it was one of the first times that I was surrounded by Jews in a non-religious space. We were celebrating Shabbat over a beautiful meal but I wasn't in shul, I was in the home of friends. The space felt safe because it was organic. I met the son of a rabbi, a son of a cantor, and Jews my age who were engaging.

A few weeks ago I had another amazing Shabbat experience at the home of other friends. Like the first experience, it was nice to be in the home of young Jews. This time, they were observant, Modern Orthodox Jews, the home was kosher but I still was surrounded by young people engaged in their Jewish lives. When we played catch up in conversion class I told the group about my Modern Orthodox Shabbat experience. I shared that I found the service to be powerful and awesome. I had a few new-Jew slip-ups with amazing teachers along the way in Elke and Ayelet.

At both dinners, even though aspects of each were new to me, I didn't feel lost but rather at ease and at home. After each I was inspired for weeks and reflected on areas of my Jewish practice and observance. Reform Jews sometimes get a bad rap because they're thought of as lazy or non-observant Jews. The way that I've come to understand Reform Judaism is that they are not lazy but instead make learned choices on how they interact with Judaism, which aspects of Jewish law they adhere to and the like. There are so many parts of Jewish law, in particular, that don't work with my life as a gay woman which is why I made the decision to convert Reform.

While I am doing a Reform conversion and will be a Reform Jew, there are aspects of Jewish observance that I long to make a part of my life. I would like to have a Shabbat experience where I tune out of the every day life and tune into the spiritual. I would like to find a way to observe some level of kashrut, though it wouldn't be halachic kashrut. I'm scouring the Internet for beautiful mezzuzahs for my door and I want to light Shabbat candles every Friday and have havdalah every Saturday. To some, these seem more Conservative to me, they are how I will observe as a Reform Jew.

I don't know what the purpose of this post is, really, except to say that today was the perfect Shabbat. I reconnected with my partner and while we tuned into TV we were weeks behind on and therefore didn't "tune out" of the mundane it was a glimpse of what a Shabbat could be.

Heschel Said: The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God...To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time"

A few friend shout outs to Elke and Rachel, each doing their own amazing things :)

The Inner Workings of my Morning Brain

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 09:03:51, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish]

I vowed to post every day in April and because of that, I give you this short post.

Today in the shower the following dialogue played out in my head.

[caption id="attachment_533" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Thinking so many thoughts"] [/caption]

Where am I going to seat everyone for Pesach?

Who's coming to Pesach? Why haven't people RSVPed!?

Will I have enough food? I should work on the menu a bit more.

I wonder when I'm done with conversion do I get an Adult BatMitzvah or do I have to study and prepare for that separately.

It'd be kind of fun to become a BatMitzvah. What would I talk about for my D'var Torah? Would any of my family come? Would my friends come?

I wonder if anyone will come to the synagogue when I convert. I should probably figure out when that is so I can make sure my family is there.

Do I have to become a Bat Mitzvah before going to rabbinical school? How long after my conversion should I wait to apply to rabbinical school?

I wonder if I could have Shabbat dinner at my house. It's far away from any synagogues though so that would be hard. There's that one synagogue I saw near Franklin Park...Am I ready to host Shabbat dinner? I guess it can't be that much harder than hosting a Seder...

And back round to my seder. Seriously. Those were the things I thought about this morning. So with that, I'm going to finish my coffee and finished getting ready for work.

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

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