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

In Which I get Jew-Bashed, Reflect on Jewish Prayer, and Ramadan

It's been such an interesting thing to re-read blog posts from over 8 years ago. These next few posts are a varying mixture of ... a lot. There aren't really categories.

Jew-Bashing on the A Train

Tue, 10 Aug 2010 01:30:37, erika, [post_tag: actually-he-was-an-israelite, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, category: stupid-people-are-stupid, category: who-is-a-jew]

**Originally posted on 07.19.10 on my main blog**

Yup, that's right.  I got Jew-bashed on the train tonight.  Who'd a thunk that being a black Jew (in training) was such a big deal?  I've been reading the Tanakh and I'm in Exodus.  It's getting good, although I'm pretty sure I know how it ends.  I board the train at 14th street with my nose in my Bible.  I squeeze passed a woman with her nose in her own book and find a little spot, hold on until the next stop where a passenger gets off and I squeeze myself into a seat.  I'm just to the part where God instructs Moses to have all of the houses in Israel paint the blood of a lamb on their door posts when the guy across the way starts,

"Excuse me, miss, are you Jewish?"

"Yes, well, I'm converting,"  I answer.

"You do know that Jews are black, don't you?"

"Nowadays I think that Jews come in almost every color, but yes, the first Jews were black."

He then starts to quote Bible scriptures that state that Jews are black.

I hold the belief that all first humans were black.  Whether you believe in the creation story, which this new Jew does not, or you believe in evolution it is widely known that all humanity started on the continent that is now Africa.  People in Africa are various shades of black from the brown-skinned Arab nations up north to the darkest of the black nations in the west.  With migration of people overtime, their skin colors changed, the shapes of their eyes changed, the texture of their hair changed, their religions, beliefs, spiritualities, cultures changed.  These things I seemed to have forgotten when the man was talking to me.



"And in this verse, " he was saying.

"Look, I appreciate your opinion but I'm just trying to read on my ride home," I said.

"I'm just letting you know that you don't need to convert to Judaism because it says in the bible verse something I can't remember as I reenact this for my readers that Jesus was the messiah..."

"Again, I'm just trying to read and get home so I appreciate your opinion..."

"It's not an opinion, it's there in that book that you're reading!  Jesus is the messiah!  He died for your sins!"

"Okay.  I'm annoyed now so, please,  just stop talking to me."

I went on reading and didn't look in his direction.  I sort of feared that he'd be getting off in my neighborhood but what would a Christian man be doing in a West Indian/Muslim/Hindi neighborhood?

Thing is, I suppose it wasn't bashing as much as it was a difference in opinion.  The thing about these encounters on the train or any time when you're baited into a debate that you're relatively unprepared for is that you always think of the zingers or the "right" things to say later.  One of my favorite scenes in "You've Got Mail", one of my favorite movies of all time, goes something like this:

Kathleen Kelly to Joe Fox via vintage AOL Instant Messager, "I know what you mean.  Except what happens when I'm provoked is that my mind goes blank...   What should I have said, for instance, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?   Even now, days later I still don't know.  ?"

I love Christians.  I really do.  My parents are Christians, the majority of my friends would say that they are, and it was Christianity that shaped me into the person that I am today-A Jew in Training.  Thing is, and I'm sure I'll find this in Judaism as well,  people really fuck things up.  I mean, I'm sure that this world that we live in today is not the world that Jesus had in mind when he passed on his message to the first Christians.  I'm sure God curses the day when he/she promised Noah that he'd never destroy human existence again (I don't actually think that story is true, either).

When I got gay-bashed on my 29th birthday outside of the Museum of Natural History by the awful and bigoted man disguised as a Christian I asked him, "Did not Jesus say 'he who is without sin cast the first stone'  Did not Jesus befriend the sick, the diseased, the outcasts of the city?  Did he not marry a prostitute named Mary (sorry, that's just my opinion)  The man didn't listen and instead continued to damn me to hell for being who I am, all in the name of Jesus.

I'm sure this man on the train meant well.  I'm sure he felt like he was doing his duty as a Christian and "spreading the good news" but, if the good news is, "I'm right, you're wrong"  I really don't want to hear it.  I actually love having discussions with people about religion and faith.  Over the weekend I attended a PhD party with Mirs and had the best conversation with some Israeli Jews.  Some of my favorite scholastic moments were in religion classes when people actually listened, appreciated, and learned from others.  Thing about Christianity, Islam, Judaism is that they're basically the same.  Almost exactly the same, give or take a messiah or prophet.  Yet it's rare that "they" see eye to eye.  That's not to say that there aren't people out there who appreciate, understand, and respect other faiths.  I rarely hear those people.  I was reminded tonight that many people who quote the very book I'm reading aren't actually getting it.  I can't read that book and take it word for word because God gave me free will.   The Bible says a lot of stuff that people tend to forget when they're using it to make their points and it says a lot of stuff that works for them when they're trying to make their points.  I'm sure when the first brown Jews put oral words to paper that what we have and read today isn't what they intended.  I don't pretend to think that I'm better than anyone else, and I definitely don't have everything all figured out.  I do, however, I appreciate an opinion and love hearing them, just as long as mine are heard, in turn.


 

A Day of Fasting

Tue, 10 Aug 2010 01:33:53, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews]

**Originally posted on 07.20.10 on my main blog**

Thanks to a new reader I realized that today is Tisha B'av-"The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, a day of mourning and fasting recalling the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people." from Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant.  Starting at sundown yesterday Jews are supposed to fast, mourn, and refrain from working and other activities, including the reading of the Torah.  The fast is supposed to be a 25 hour fast in which Jews do not eat, drink, and in some cases shower, bathe, or wear leather goods as a sign of respect and mourning.

Hmmm.  How does this Jew-in-Training get off work at such short notice and ride her bike to work without eating or drinking.  I don't.  Had I consulted the Jewish calendar hanging on my wall I would've taken notice and tried to work something out but I'm a slave to my blackberry which, unfortunately, runs on the Georgian calendar.  I wonder if there's a app for a Jewish calendar.  Instead, I've decided to do a liquid only diet out of respect for the day.



Miriam sent me an interesting article from NPR today http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128636069 regarding the possible conversion law being debated for the validation of American Jews as "real" Jews in Israel in addition one of the rabbis from a temple I'm interested in spoke with me today about their upcoming conversion courses.  So you can see that my head is swirling with Jewishness today.  Or maybe it's the fact that I've only had liquids.  I'm always impressed by Muslims during Ramadan.  I remember in high school being baffled by the Pakistani girls in class who'd study or read during lunch period instead of eating.  I'd always ask them, quite ignorantly, " But, aren't you hungry?" because I didn't, or couldn't, understand their strong drive for their faith.  Looking at the observation of fasting now I'm in awe.  Could I do that?  I suppose you can always do whatever it is that you put your mind to but the importance of the thing is the why.  My head isn't fully wrapped around the many injustices of the Jewish people but in terms of the injustices in the world as a whole-there are too many to count.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if other people gave up food, drink, and luxuries for a period of 25 hours for the sake of remembering.  Realizing that people go without every day in our country.  Realizing the injustice done, and still being done to minority groups in our country and abroad.  Remembering slavery and the results of slavery in the US.  Realising of the inequalities for civil rights for LGBT peoples throughout the world.  If I could have today off I'm not sure how I would honor it.  Next year, we shall see but I'd like to think that I would use the day to do good for others.  If I am to fast for 25 hours perhaps instead I would volunteer at a soup kitchen, or give the money or food I would spend that day to someone in need.  They are thoughts, ideas, possibilities of hope for the future and others.


 

Amare Stoudemire is a Jew

Tue, 10 Aug 2010 02:43:36, erika, [category: amare-stoudemire, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, post_tag: black-jews-2, post_tag: jews-of-color-2, category: who-is-a-jew]

Look, Ma!  Another black Jew!  :)  That's sort of what I thought when my girlfriend sent me the link about new NY Knick Amare Stoudemire's newly found Jewish heritage.  Apparently, he's half-Jewish on his mother's side which, as we know, makes him a Jew.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQPJ1Ujo7_U&feature=player_embedded]

My gf and I were talking about Amare and Judaism and the correlations of Jews and Blacks.  When I was getting harassed on the train in July while reading my copy of the Tanakh by who I will now assume was a good-intended Christian, he was trying to get me to understand that there was no need for me to convert to Judaism on the basis that Jews are black and that Jesus is the messiah so why was I still looking.  I dismissed him because it was annoying but this weekend Mirs and I were talking about it again.

When most people think of Judaism they immediately think of the fair-skinned men with beards.  Especially if you're a New Yorker, Orthodox and Conservative Jewish men and women are just as identifiable as any other minority.  You can see their Jewishness.  For non-white Jews, Jews of the Diaspora the "Jewishness" seems harder to spot.  As a black woman, I'm lost on it.  Israel is on the continent of Africa.  As I'm learning by rereading the Hebrew Bible and the many books and DVDs that have no taken over my teeny tiny apartment Jews were driven out of countless lands, bringing their books, their beliefs, their religion with them wherever they went.  It seems clear to me that a people based on the continent of Africa would, in fact, have "black roots" but it's illogical for me (or anyone) to believe that all Jews are black or white or any other color indicator because they were, in ancient times, a nomadic type of people.

While Jews were often driven out of countries and lands if they didn't convert to other faiths, mainly Islam or Christianity, blacks were taken out of their country.  There's nothing I want more than to figure out where I come from but for many blacks, unlike any other race, more often than not our lineage stops at slavery.  Because we were taken off of the continent of Africa, it's quite possible that many of us were Jews or Muslim.  The difference of Diaspora Jews and blacks is that while the Jews roamed freely, we weren't given a choice.

When the names of blacks were stripped from them and a people were reduced to a number the enforcement of not only labor but belief and religion was inevitable.  Many black people in the US, in my humble opinion, would not find a Christian history if we were able to look back far enough.  There would, no doubt, been gods and goddesses and perhaps some of the people from Israel and Babylon would have made their way to the western coasts and brought with them their belief in one God.

I don't claim to be a historian and I am, by no means an expert on lineage, ancestry, or Judaism.  I'm just one black Jew (in training) trying to figure out how being both has become such an oddity.  I'm jealous of Amare's visit to Israel and I wish I had the funds to hop a plane to return home to learn about the beginnings of the Jewish people, my people.  I know that in the next year or two that I'll make my own way to Israel but for now I'm content with my reading and reading and reading.

I've recently found a 9-Part series on Netflix called, "Civilization and the Jews" that was filmed in 1984 and before that a DVD on the Talmud has me itching to buy more books.  My favorite new Judaica store in Ditmas Park, Eichler's  is where I've found prayer books for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, not to mention the 5 books I've purchased and started to read for my conversion course at Central Synagogue.

I keep reading that Jews are referred to as "the people of the Book" because of the intensive studying that we do.  I wonder if Amare wants a study buddy?
 

Ramadan

Wed, 11 Aug 2010 14:17:46, erika, [category: fasting, post_tag: fasting, post_tag: high-holidays, category: high-holy-days, post_tag: holidays, post_tag: jewishmuslim-similarities]

 

Today is the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  Muslims every where spend from now until September 10th fasting from sun up to sundown.  In the evenings, they break their fasts with friends and family, reading the Quran and enjoying the spirituality and sense of awe  and reflection that the month-long fast brings.  At the end of Ramadan a 3-day celebration called, Eid al-Fitr, or the the Festival of Fast-Breaking.

So why is this Jew talking about Ramadan?  Does she really want to be a Jew or is she just interested in religion?  To answer my own questions, I'm talking about Ramandan because it inspires me.  And yes, I really want to be a Jew but I'm always interested in learning and being inspired by other faiths.  I'm spiritually inspired by devout Muslims and devout Jews because unlike devout Christians who (some of the time) actively seek out new Christians by telling "non-believers" of the hellfires that will, no doubt, greet them if they're not saved.  the same can be said of Buddhist and Tibetan monks.  Buddhists, Jews and Muslims go about their day on a spiritual level as individuals and as groups without "bothering" anyone else.  They take the time and spend the time to connect to G-d.

Muslims are supposed to pray, facing Mecca, 5 times a day.  The first word in the Quran, or so I've read, is the word "read.  For Jews, it is the same.  One of my favorite websites, written by an Orthodox man (he's not a rabbi) is Judaism 101.  He says this on prayer,   "For an observant Jew, prayer is not simply something that happens in synagogue once a week (or even three times a day). Prayer an integral part of everyday life. In fact, one of the most important prayers in Judaism, the Birkat Ha-Mazon, is never recited in synagogue!"  http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer.htm

In almost every book I own on Judaism there is a chapter about prayer.  Jews, like Muslims, face a certain direction when they pray, towards Jerusalem.  Jews where tallit, a prayer shawl with fringes, over their heads when they pray, and there are countless videos of Jews rocking back and forth or swaying to and fro when they pray.  That part, the rocking and swaying, reminds me of growing up in a Baptist church.  I found the almost staunch lack of movement in the Catholic services I attended in school cold and almost uncomfortable.  How can you praise G-d sitting in your seat motionless?

When I walked into my first synagogue I was a bit disappointed that there didn't seem to be movement during prayer, where was the swaying, where was the rocking?  Did only orthodox and Hasidic men enjoy the spirituality of prayer?  Thankfully, Central Synagogue has time for movement in prayer, especially when we sing the Shehecheyanu, a prayer of thanks for blessings.


But what does this (Ramadan) have to do with me and my Judaism?  It has me thinking about spirituality, prayer, and the High Holy days.  From what I gather, attending synagogue during the High Holy days are sort of like the big 2 in Christianity-Easter and Christmas.  The two times a year when your normally quiet church becomes over-crowded and packed to the rafters with people who remembered they were Christian.  With Judaism, however, you actually have to pay for High Holy Day tickets.  Tickets!  Can you believe there are tickets?  That reminds me,  I have to buy tickets.

Anita Diamant, the author of "Choosing a Jewish Life" and "Living a Jewish Life" warned me about High Holy Day tickets and I sort of dismissed her.  Why would anyone have to get tickets to attend synagogue on the two most important days of the Jewish year?  Because they are the two most important days of the Jewish year.  Here I am, a few weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and I'm trying to wrangle myself 2 tickets for Mirs and I.  "According to tradition, the entire Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashanah, Elul, is dedicated to preparing for the Days of Awe."  Guess what, we're in the month of Elul right now!  So what did I do?  I went to my favorite Judaica store, Eichlers, for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer books, of course!  Unfortunately, while I feel a bit more comfortable with how the order of service will go the books are entirely in English or Hebrew with no transliterations.

Besides getting comfortable with the service there's the home aspect, my favorite part of Judaism, that I have to contend with.  My apartment is teeny tiny but still, I want to prepare a Rosh Hashanah seder (it is the New York, for pete's sake) as well as preparing myself for the day-long fast that is Yom Kippur.

10 days separate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Let's ask Anita what she says about those 10 days.  One of the overarching metaphors of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is "the Book of Life"  According to legend, on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, the names of the righteous are written in this book, inscribed for another year of life.  But those who are not entirely good or righteous, even the wicked, have the next ten days in which to turn away from the wrongs and repent before the books is closed and sealed on Yom Kippur. 

There, that is why I'm referencing Ramadan and wishing all of my Muslim friends a good one at that.  Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, asks us to abstain from all things that are pleasurable from sun up to sundown.  We do not eat, we do not drink.  Some people cover their mirrors or refrain from bathing or even brushing their teeth.   We spend the day in synagogue reflecting on the wrongs we've done the previous year and, essentially, are judged by G-d that day.  For you Christian readers, think reconciliation services.  Yom Kippur happens for one day out of the whole year.  There are many other fasts that happen throughout the year, this is true, and whether or not we observe them is up to the individual.  There has to be something said for the fact that all Jews, observant and not so observant come together on High Holy days as one spiritual people.  On the same token, there is something to be said of Muslims coming together as one spiritual people for the month of Ramadan.  For that reason, I wish all of my Muslim friends a very blessed Ramadan.

In Which I find Yitz Jordan and Jews of Color and find BG&J Part 1

Journey To Judaism Parts 1-5

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