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

The ones where I attended my first high holiday services

Re-reading these blogs this week while going into Passover has been really amazing. Some times I think that I just sort of "knew" I was a Jew, but reading my thoughts from that first year it's clear that the process was really taxing on me. Okay, I was also really emo. I blame SATC.

Remembering 9/11

Sat, 11 Sep 2010 14:30:39,erika, [category: hillel, category: things-to-think-on]

9 years ago today many Americans lost their lives.  Those Americans were Black, White, Asian, Latino...Those Americans were gay, straight, trans, bisexual...Those Americans were Muslims, Jews, Christians,  Athiests...Those Americans were women, men, children...They were mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, fathers brothers, sons, uncles...They were grand parents.  Most importantly I'm remembering that they were people with families they left behind before their time.

It's hard for religious people to understand why G-d let's tragedies happen.  The thing I always have to remember is that we were given free will and that those people who carry out ugly and hateful things will be judged by G-d.  It's not our place as humans to judge one another.  It's not for us to say who is right and who is wrong.  It's not our place to place blame on one group for the actions of individuals.

Hillel famously said to a potential convert who wished to learn Torah, "That which is hateful to you do not do to others.  The rest is commentary, now go study."  Hillel wasn't a prophet and he isn't in the Torah, he was just a man with great wisdom and insight.  Born before Jesus, it's clear that Jesus, who was of course a Jewish rabbi, would use Hillel's words for his famous line, "Do unto others and you would have them do unto you."  They are the same message, yes, but the words used by Hillel and Jesus are different.  I grew up learning Jesus' words but Hillel's have the most impact.

"That which is hateful to you" carries so much weight because we can think of things that are hateful.  Racism, Sexism, Discrimination, Bombs, Ugly words, Shoah, Slavery...those are the most hateful of hatred.  So you think of things that are hateful, things you've possibly experienced and you remember not to do them to another person.  For me, remembering the hatred I've felt being a gay black woman helps me put into perspective hateful thoughts or words I want to utter in anger.

Nine years ago today a few individuals acted out of hatred and today protests in the streets of New York over the Islamic Center do not honor those who lost their life.  It does not honor the families who are still mourning, it doesn't bring back the dead.  If anything, it makes the message of hatred valid and the message of love and hope invalid.

Today I'm remembering so I do not forget.

I'm "Kosher"...now what?

Sun, 12 Sep 2010 16:30:06, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: erika-kosher-isnt-really-kosher-i-know-this, category: jewish-food, post_tag: kashrut-vs-kosher, category: kosher, post_tag: kosher-vs-halal, post_tag: pre-conversion-mitzvot, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts]

 

I'm kind of a foodie.  I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to try new restaurants, I love trying to recipes and it occurred to me last night that even though NYC may as well be called Little Israel in certain neighborhoods, being Erika-Style Kosher and eating out is going to be lots harder than I anticipated.

For instance, last night we went out to dinner and I didn't eat a kosher meal.  I was uncomfortable with it, but realize that like quitting smoking or giving up any other vice, it's best to take baby steps and not bite off too much at one time.  We had a burger, it was sustainable, organic, and local and I had it without cheese which was torture.  I'm confident it was my last burger because, I'm sorry, but it's just not worth it without goat cheese or blue cheese on it.

Walking home Mirs suggested that I could possibly use soy cheese or something of the such instead.  I argued that most soy cheeses, while they're vegetarian, may not necessarily be Parve, because they share equipment with dairy and therefore could be considered Dairy, thus making it impossible to eat with a burger.  I also fretted over the glass of wine I enjoyed with my last burger resolving to never drink wine out again unless I was eating at a Kosher restaurant and instead would have to opt for beer or, gasp, a non-alcoholic beverage.

I realized that my obsession for desserts of a chocolate variety would also have to be halted because unless I had a fish dish for dinner that was cooked in oil, not butter, I couldn't enjoy say, a warm flourless chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and homemade whipped cream.  Is it worth it, giving up all of these things that I love to eat for the sake of keeping kosher that's not really kosher?

Yes.  For me it is.  I suppose a particularly observant Jew would tell me that I was wasting my time.  I cannot separate utensils in my home, I cannot separate dishes.  I will, inevitably have to eat a meat dish one a plate one night and a dairy dish on the same plate the following day.  Even if I purchased separate dishes, I don't physically have the space to keep them separate in my apartment that doesn't have a real kitchen.

In my fake kitchen I have a refrigerator that is quite possibly the smallest "full sized" refrigerator I've ever seen.  It's full sized in that it has a separate door on top for a teeny time freezer and a door below for the refrigerator.  For the first time in my life I've had to think about how much frozen food I buy and how many large bottles of juice, for instance, I can buy because of the lack of space in my fridge.  I can barely fit my Brita Pitcher with a bottle of wine and a container of Soy milk on one shelf so separation there is impossible.

 Given these restrictions the observant Jew would say quite heartily that I'm definitely not observing kashrut, but I'd argue (the beauty of Judaism) that I'm doing what I can, given the space that I've been blessed with.  My mantra is that it's a marathon not a sprint and I acknowledge that there are going to be bumps along the way.

One of the things I read over and over again about observing kashrut is that it allows the Jew to make a conscious decision about what they are putting into their bodies.  It allows me to think about the food as more than just food.  It sounds odd because that's what it is, it's purpose is to sustain my life.  Before, though, it was something that I did because it gave me pleasure and most of the time that pleasure was not good for me, my health, my body.  It didn't aid my temple more often that not it was destructive.  I cannot tell you all of the things that I love to eat because it's too sad to think about but let's just say making the decision to observe kashrut allows me to really think about what I'm going to eat.  It's sort of the same way that I chose my food before.  I looked for organic labels, cage-free, free range, fair trade, sustainable...now I'm looking for a little label that tells me that it's kosher.

So what to do with this grocery shopping and dining out dilemma?  I'm sure I'll figure it out, it is NYC, after all.

Vlog-Asking for Forgiveness

 

Mon, 13 Sep 2010 16:17:32, erika, [post_tag: addiction, category: black-gay-and-jewish, post_tag: elul, category: forgiveness, post_tag: high-holidays, category: high-holy-days, post_tag: high-holy-days-2, category: judaism, category: uncategorized, category: yom-kippur]

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=H3Q08PEzUFs&vq=small#t=18

 

Love the stranger-Black Jewish Relations

Tue, 14 Sep 2010 13:52:02, erika, [post_tag: black-and-jewish-similarities, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, post_tag: black-jews-are-jews-too, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, post_tag: stupid-people, category: what-color-is-a-jew, post_tag: when-aish-deleted-my-comment]

I'm going to try to not jump to conclusions and give a certain website the benefit of the doubt before I delete them from my list serve and name names.  I'm a little angry, if I'm being frank I'm down right pissed.  I was browsing one of the regular Jewish websites I frequent late last week and noticed an interesting article about "looking" Jewish.  The author wrote a wonderfully written passage about her struggles about "looking" or "not looking" Jewish and I related to her.

She is a born Jew finding her way back home, I am in the process of converting.  For all intensive purposes she's white and I'm black.  Still, I understood her story and like I do on so many websites I made a comment.  Now, days later and many comments later mine is no where to be found.

Often when going to websites I reference this blog in my comments.  I do so to bring readers here but also to let other Jews who may be converts, may be queer, or may be of color know that there is a website where they can read about a black, gay, Jewish journey.  I don't like to segment things because I think that we can always learn something from someone.  Still, in this journey towards Judaism it's important that other Jews of Color or other converts, or other queer Jews know that there's someone out there, some one listening, some one "like them" on some level.

Was the webmaster offended that I was a woman, were they offended that I was a convert, that I'm gay, that I'm black, that I'm opinionated...It could either be all of the above, or they haven't made it to my comment yet.  I'd like to think that they haven't made it to my comment yet, although new comments have been posted since.

The Torah teaches us to love the stranger, reminding us that we, Jews, were strangers in Egypt.  Easier said than done.  There are clear indicators that make me a stranger in a Jewish environment given the view of what a Jew looks like in the US.  Americans view Jews as white when Jews come in all different shades.  Still, walking into a synagogue I look different and therefore are treated differently when in fact, since I am a stranger, I should be made to feel welcomed.  This is not to say that I'm not welcomed but there are always wondering eyes, expressions, curiosity.  Am I lost?  Have I come here by accident?  Is she really singing the same song I am?   Did she pronounce that Hebrew word better than I?  She wished me a Shabbat Shalom?

Over my last burger Mirs asked me if I thought that people of color could be racist.  She reasoned that people of color could definitely be prejudiced but wondered could we really be racist when our skin color has never made us the majority.  Therefore,  we never really get to feel superior, like a person with white skin. So, could we be racist?  I countered what were racists Jews excuses, then?  As Jews we were driven out of our lands from Biblical times and even now yet racism exists in Jewish culture.

I remember reading accounts of born Jews of color, that is that wonderful phenomenon that is a person of color being born a Jew rather than a convert.  Don't get me wrong, it makes perfect sense to me because, you know Jerusalem is on the continent of Africa but I digress.  I've read in "The Color of Jews" and accounts online of Jews of color experiencing out right racism and their peers responding, "well we don't mean you, we mean them."  referring to other blacks or blacks outside of their Jewish community.

Historically speaking, I cannot think of two other minority groups that have more in common.  Blacks were stripped from their home land, they were forced into slavery, they had to give up their religion (which could have been Jewish) they were treated as second class citizens and a group of people, who could be compared to Moses being guided through the wilderness by G-d, helped guide them out of the bonds of slavery to freedom.  Yet there is clear hatred and clear misunderstanding between the two groups.

Over the summer, Mirs and I were riding our bikes back to her old neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  There is a pretty substantial Hasidic population there closely neighbored with blacks.  There were a group of black boys, about 3 or so and a group of Hasidic boys about 6 or so.  I don't know what occurred before we rode by, but one black boy, in particular, was being held back by his friends yelling insults and hatred to a Hasidic boy who was saying equally ugly things while trying to walk away.  Both of their friends were urging the two to leave the situation while the eyes of other blacks and Hasids looked on.

I rode by and shook my head but felt torn.  Should I side with this black person who I have nothing in common with except for the color of my skin, or the Jew who I have nothing in common with except for my religion.  Yet, I exist, to quote Rebecca Walker.  I'm a black Jew (to be).  To the black people watching it's easy to say, "those Jews"  to a Hasidic person watching it's easy to say, "those blacks" but what of a white supremest would they say, "let them kill each other"

I don't have an answer to Mirs' question because I personally feel that minority groups should respect and learn from one another.  As a black woman I try to relate to other minority groups and their struggles.  I don't tolerate racism on any level.  It makes sense to me that minority groups "stick together"  even if you're not the same, or if you don't agree on all issues, the common denominator is that we're a minority.

I don't know, I don't even know how to end this post except to wonder ...if that website will post my comment or if I'm going to have to call them out.

Yom Kippur

Sat, 18 Sep 2010 13:16:55, erika, [category: am-i-a-jew, category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: fasting, post_tag: high-holidays, category: high-holy-days, category: judaism, category: kol-nidre, post_tag: kol-nidre-2, post_tag: only-black-jew-in-shul, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, post_tag: sitting-alone-in-service, category: yom-kippur, post_tag: yom-kippur-2]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=PopzXbvXmJ4&vq=small#t=65]

Last night I went to a new synagogue for Kol Nidre services, alone.  Despite being in another large congregation of Jews so technically I wasn't alone, I felt incredibly by myself.  A sweet, older lesbian couple sat down next to me and introduced themselves.  Did I look gay?  or was it that I was the only black person?  Either way, I looked different, I was a stranger, so they sat next to me and said hello before service started.

We talked about shofars, because that's how you start a conversation.  Throughout service, as I fumbled through an unfamiliar prayer book, they helped me find my place and at the end of service they wished me a good night.  I came home and went to bed with a giant rumble in my stomach and woke up feeling dizzy and confused.

The first services at this synagogue started almost an hour and a half ago and I've missed them.  I couldn't shake off the empty and alone feeling I felt leaving shul last night and didn't have a desire to feel the same way today.  I'd turned down a few invitations to visit other synagogues with friends of mine and scrambled to make new plans for today.  Tentatively, I'm meeting some of my friends to attend Yom Kippur Minchah/Neilah services at 5PM tonight which makes me feel a bit better.

I realized last night that this journey, although it is mine and therefore personal, cannot be done alone.  The thing that excites me about the second conversion class I am enrolled in is that the rabbi I spoke to made mention to the fact that I cannot be a practicing Jew alone.  She told me that she encourages, and requires her students to meet with one another outside of the class, encourages them to attend Shabbat services, encourages them to attend Shabbat dinners and I definitely need that.

Thus far, it's been a journey that I've made quite on my own and last night I felt completely alone.  I went to bed confused, sad, and a little depressed.  I talked to G-d as I fell asleep and while I felt assured, this morning when I woke, I was still alone.

I'm grateful to have all of you readers who keep coming by to read about my journey.  I'd love to hear from you, especially if you're in the NYC area.  I'd love to hear stories from other Jews of color, other LGBT Jews, other converts to Judaism.  If you want to tell me about your story, share insight, tell me that it will all work out, or that you've been there, too...e-mail me at blackgayandjewish@gmail.com or leave a comment.

My fast has been reflective, thus far, dizzying, and a bit exhausting.  It's cleared my head and allowed me to think outside of my body.  Last night the rabbi's sermon was about actively making a change in the world for 5771.  She talked about taking an active part of life around you, rather than waiting for someone else to do so.  The message spoke to me and I've taken steps to get involved in the world around me instead of acting selfishly to improve my personal world.

I hope that all of you have meaningful, thoughtful, fasts that are full of ease.  Blessings for your New Year!

Jewish Holiday Season

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 13:17:15, erika, [category: black-gay-and-jewish, category: black-jews, post_tag: chaggim, post_tag: high-holidays, category: jews-of-color, category: judaism, post_tag: pre-conversion-posts, category: stupid-people-are-stupid, category: sukkot, post_tag: sukkot, post_tag: what-does-a-jew-look-like, post_tag: who-is-a-jew-2]

For an ex-Fashion Retailer, like me,  "Holiday Season" started about a month ago.  Towards the end of August retail managers start gearing up for Holiday.  It's the bread and butter of most retail businesses in the United States and if you're lucky enough to work retail in Manhattan it's even more important.  If you're even luckier, and get to work in Rockefeller Center, with the giant tree that draws in millions of people each day for over a month, like I did-it's where you bank your entire year's net worth.  It becomes this insane and all-consuming race to the finish line that is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the entire month of December.

After December 25th you hold your breath for one last hurrah that is Boxing Day and you keep your fingers crossed that the bank you made in December will carry you through the hump that is January.  At the end you're exhausted, you're cranky, you've probably lost about 10 lbs running around and gained 15 eating in excess at odd hours of the night and drinking until you can't see the bottle of wine in front of you.

As an ex-Christian there is an interesting dichotomy of the realization that Christmas is one of the two major religious holidays, it's the birth of Jesus.  What parallels this event is the scenario I wrote about above.  There are a few zealous Christians with their "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" motto that fervently remind others that Christmas is about a miracle child, not Santa and presents.  Still, most of those Jesus is the Reason for the Seasoners exchange presents disregarding it's pagan routes.  Don't you dare mention that we Jews have Chanukkah and it's the same because it's not.  Chanukkah isn't a major holiday, and it only came to be as such to keep up with Christmas...that's another post.

As a Jew-in-Training, I've discovered that we're deep in Holiday Season.  Passover, the Seder and the fasting is definitely a big one but in terms of the closeness of time, the month of Elul and the holidays that follow feel like Jewish Holiday Season to this New Jew.

Leviticus, which is in the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Bible, is where all of the rules are set out.  The rules of kashrut, the rules of sacrifice, even rules for dealing with a leper or a woman who's menstruating can be found there.  It's also where Hashem tells the people of Israel when they should celebrate festivals.  Specifically Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, the holiday that starts tonight at sundown.

23:23.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:24.     Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.

23:25.     You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD.

23:26.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:27.     Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD;

23:28.     you shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the LORD your God.

23:29.     lndeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day shall be cut off from his kin;

23:30.     and whoever does any work throughout that day, I will cause that person to perish from among his people.

23:31.     Do no work whatever; it is a law for all time, throughout the ages in all your settlements.

23:32.     It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your sabbath.

23:33.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:34.     Say to the Israelite people:

On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the LORD, [to last] seven days.

In nearly every one of my books I've read that Sukkot, like Shabbat, is a time when you're supposed to welcome a stranger.  The Sukkah, or booth, is erected and the family is supposed to not only eat and drink and "live" within it, they're supposed to invite friends, neighbors, and strangers to do so as well.

Yesterday, while walking down the streets of Flatbush/Ditmas Park/Midwood with our lesbian friends from Portland, we saw dozens of sukkahs in the fronts and backs of homes.  I did my best to tell them about their purpose and the holiday and as we passed them.  I noticed the homeowners who were working on the Sukkahs divert their eyes, went inside their sukkah, or walk into their homes as we passed.  Apparently, our gang of rag-tag lesbian blackness was too much?  On Avenue K and 14th I approached an Estrog vendor and asked, "How much for an Estrog set?"  He responded, "They're for the Jewish Holidays"  Hmmm, I didn't say, "what is that funny-looking citrus fruit", I asked how much they were, hadn't I?  I told him I knew what they were used for and asked again for the price.  He told me $25.  I declined, stepped away, and waited for my friends who were in Glatt Market getting some snacks.  A woman wearing a wig and donning a long skirt asked him the price.  $15 for her.

This man looked Sephardi, the woman appeared Ashkenazi...I clearly am not Sephardi in that I'm black, but really dude?  Last week I wrote a post called, "Love the Stranger" relating to the Jewish Black relationship in NYC.  Again, my theory was proven.  Was it because I was black?   If Mirs, my Ashkenazi Jewish girlfriend had asked would her price also have been $15?  Would he have told her it was for Jewish Holidays rather than asking the question on price?  Am I just being paranoid?

It's hard to tell.  Instead I'm going to attend a Sukkot Block Party in Brooklyn this weekend with my Jewish Lady Love and call it a good time.  It's supposed to be a joyous occasion, off of the fasting and atoning that the High Holy Days bring I'm excited to cut loose and get some wine and dine on in a hut!

In Which I meet Noah Aronson, other black Jews and Queer Jews, etc.

The Posts where I fret about which shul to convert at and Rosh Hashanah

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