Tag : Jews of Color

The Lilith Blog

July 13, 2020 by

Call for Submissions: Black and Jewish Fiction

Polish up that short story, flash fiction piece, or novel excerpt and submit today! Lilith magazine–independent, Jewish & frankly feminist–especially welcomes feminist fiction submissions from Black Jewish feminist writers and BIJOC writers of all gender identities this summer for our upcoming print issues. Publishing since 1976, Lilith (www.Lilith.org, and in print) has always been committed to diverse representation from Jews of Color, and we’re eager to expand this with more fiction from YOU.

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The Lilith Blog

June 15, 2020 by

From Catholic to Conservative Jew: One Spiritual Journey

Dennies Gajadhar was born and raised in a Catholic family in Guyana. Soon after moving to the U.S., she began to learn about Judaism and made the decision to convert, become a Bat Mitzvah, and move to an Orthodox community. She spoke with Arielle Silver-Willner about her journey, and her experiences as a newcomer and a black woman in the Orthodox community.

Arielle Silver-Willner: You were born into a Caribbean Catholic family- How did you learn about Jewish traditions and practices?

Dennies Gajadhar: Where we are from, we’d never heard about Judaism. When I came here I started working [as a nanny]. My job was to take [the children] to Hebrew school and then they joined the choir; I would stay and listen to them. At one point they were singing and I was singing too, and the cantor was like “Maybe you should join the choir.”

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The Lilith Blog

May 29, 2020 by

We are Dying Because of the Fears of White People

“I’m not Black, I’m Jamaican.” Following in the tradition of many immigrants and first-generation Black immigrants, that was the tune I sang for most of my adolescent life.  I ran from my Blackness. My mother came to the United States seeking a better life. Until she stepped onto U.S. soil, my mother had never known a country where you could be shot and killed just for existing. 

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January 16, 2020 by

A White-Passing Black Jew in NYC, via YA Fiction

Color Me In

As a Black Jewish woman, it feels inevitable that whenever a book comes out about being Black and Jewish, someone’s going to tell me to read it. So when someone asked me to review Color Me In by Natasha Diaz, I was skeptical. Usually these books are not actually written for me—they are written to explain me to other people. As I began to read Color Me In that was my initial impression: Another way to explain “other” to the mainstream gaze rather than a celebration of identity without the burden of explanation. But, as I was happy to discover, the book is much more than that.

The book is Diaz’s semi-autobiographical novel for young adult readers about growing up as a white-passing Black Jew in New York City. The beginning of 15-year-old Neveah’s journey reads very much like one of those “explaining” books. Neveah has moved from her father’s cushy home in the suburbs to her mother’s family home in Harlem, and we follow along as she experiences Black church and family life for the first time. Neveah cannot seem to find her voice and is often silent when it matters most. Her Black cousins are impatient with her hesitation to speak out on their behalf when she’s deemed more attractive by dint of her lighter skin. Will Neveah learn to speak her truths?

But Diaz’s story hits its stride as Neveah finds her mother’s journal and begins to unwind the history of promises, broken trust and trauma that lead to Neveah’s present circumstances. It’s fitting that one of the most vibrant characters in the book is New York City itself, complete with paternal bodega owners, gossiping church mothers and student rabbis. Learning to live in a city that eats and prays in so many languages is a key that unlocks Neveah’s ability to speak.

There were so many elements of Diaz’s story that resonated with my own childhood: Does being Jewish make me less black? (Nope.) Is it my job to explain Jews to Black folks, or Black folks to Jews? (Hell no). Can these disparate parts of my family communicate across race and class barriers? (If they want to.) Does my light skin require me to speak up more, or less? (Depends on who is in the room.)

I cried as the story culminated in a ritual in which open mic nights and church choirs intertwined with b’nai mitzvahs and bubbes to create a ceremony which is distinctly, beautifully necessary. As more Black and Brown people become visible within American Judaism, the recognition and creation of rituals by and for us is everything. Thank you Natasha Diaz for seeing us, for being us—and for writing this book.

Autumn Leonard is an anti-racism trainer and facilitator who creates high-quality, child-centered programming that furthers racial justice; she also teaches yoga in NYC schools through the Urban Yoga Foundation. She says, “I inherited a love of equality from my parents, who braved laws against interracial marriage and got legally hitched in 1960.”

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January 16, 2020 by

For Jews of Color, by Jews of Color

Torah

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember a time not long ago in which I could read Hebrew, chant it, recognize words, but not understand the text before me. I remember visiting Orthodox cousins and watching them davening, a flurry of words on their tongues. In contrast, my immediate family could not speak a word of Hebrew and, for a long time, Hebrew remained a mystery language to us. At times growing up it was difficult to feel ownership over my Jewishness. I remember being told as a child that I was not even Jewish by a person who simply looked at my mother, who is Filipina and Jewish, and made an assumption.

Particularly outside of Orthodox spaces, Hebrew and Jewish education in this country are inaccessible at best, and unnecessarily expensive. Hebrew is by no means the best or only Jewish language, but it is one that can grant access to a wealth of Jewish texts and histories spanning time periods and continents. The distinctly American myth that adults cannot learn new languages impedes access to Hebrew courses. The pervasive idea is that if you did not or could not access Hebrew or Jewish education as a child, if you do not have the yichus, the background, as some might say, then you will not be successful. Jews of Color have as many individual experiences as there are Jews of Color in the world, but the JOC community includes many adult learners wanting a Jewish education who are particularly likely to fall through the cracks. When you add pervasive racism, which exists even in the most progressive majority-white Jewish spaces, Jewish learning spaces that do exist can still not be the right place for good learning to occur.

So my friend and colleague Yehudah Webster and I co-founded Ammud, the Jews of Color Torah Academy as a space for Jewish education for Jews of Color by Jews of Color.

ARIELLE KORMAN, “Why She Needed to Create the Jews of Color Torah Academy,” on the Lilith Blog.

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The Lilith Blog

March 5, 2019 by

Don’t Assume Anything About That Kid on the Bus

I see where the mistake came from. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many Jews of color in our community. But still: don’t assume that that the black boy on the Jewish day school bus is the bus driver’s kid.

Yeah. That happened. I don’t think I need to tell you how it made the kid’s mom feel.  I don’t think I need to tell you what that says about our school community’s assumptions, commitment to inclusivity, and default gatekeeping. But to be crystal clear: it was devastating. 

There’s some context, to be fair. Our bus had been a mess the first couple of weeks of the school year. The driver was late (hours late), partly, it emerged, because of childcare challenges. (Insert full rant about the need for much better and more comprehensive and more affordable childcare in the US.) So yes— there was a day when the driver’s kids, an older girl and an infant boy, were on the bus. Once. Neither of them was five years old.  Neither had been riding the bus every day since the beginning of the year.

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The Lilith Blog

January 17, 2019 by

A Challenge to White Jews on MLK Day

Recently, a fellow Jew of Color (JOC) posted on social media that she was feeling apprehensive about attending upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in her Jewish community. Several other JOCs and parents of multiracial Jewish children shared her reaction, saying that MLK Day Shabbats often read as haphazardly organized, superficial efforts to celebrate diversity.

On a different space on social media in response to the Jewish Women of Color Women’s March Sign-On Letter, I witnessed a white Jew lamenting that Jews don’t get enough credit for the work they did during the Civil Rights movement. This reflects the same problem. All too often, the Jewish community focuses on the work of the late 1960s while not recognizing the need for or engaging with antiracist work in the present day. Thankfully, another white Jew in the social media group helped the commenter understand the ways that her original comment falls short.

None of this is a surprise to me: In my experience as a Jewish diversity consultant, I encounter defensiveness and unwillingness to confront the ways that white Jews do benefit from and thus perpetuate white supremacy. Resist the urge to say “not me” as you read this. Instead, answer yes or no to the following statements:

  • I have been watched or followed at a department store or boutique.
  • I have been asked, “What are you?”
  • When pulled over or in the presence of police I have feared for my life.
  • When entering my shul security has searched my bag and my person.
  • I have been asked how I am Jewish.
  • I have been mistaken for a service worker or the help.
  • I’m usually the only person of my race when I am in synagogue.
  • When requesting an aliyah, I’m asked how I converted.

If these questions are foreign to you, you benefit from white privilege. If you have asked some of these questions yourself (like “how are you Jewish?”), you have perpetuated white supremacy. Our nation’s institutions and systems are based on the idea that whiteness is the norm, the ideal, and anything other than whiteness is considered wrong, lesser than, other. And Jewish institutions are no exception. 

Like every Jewish person across the world I was heartbroken, angry, and frankly scared after the Tree of Life shooting last year. And like a lot of Jews of Color I know, I cringe and worry for the lives of my fellow JOCs trying to enter police-guarded places of worship. This tug is at the center of what it is to be a Jewish person of color living in America today.

When you question the validity of someone’s Judaism (by asking if they understand the order of service, or if they converted, or asking their “story”), you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you have the urge to talk about Nazis and white supremacists as oppressors, but do not acknowledge other systems of oppression, of you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you dismiss the words and concerns and perspectives of People of Color (POCs) and Jews of Color, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you say, “But not me!” or “I have a lot of friends who are POCs!” you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you herald Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King for one Shabbat each year, yet JOCs are not in positions of leadership, members of your organization’s board, or helping to make decisions in your organization; when you don’t do the work of making your Jewish spaces welcoming to JOCs and multiracial Jewish families; when you lean on JOCs to teach you instead of doing the work yourself; when you invite JOCs to share their stories and don’t pay them for the emotional labor of telling of those stories; when you exoticize Jewish communities of color in other countries without acknowledging the long-standing Jewish communities of color here, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

When you feel safer with a police officer outside your place of worship without acknowledging how the presence of a police officer feels to a JOC, you are perpetuating white supremacy.

I’ve written an article like this every year because the message needs to be heard every year. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We, as a Jewish community do the legacy of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel a disservice by looking to the past instead of addressing what is occuring in the present. We do a disservice to our communities by talking about tikkun olam instead of living it. Change does not need to be slow. It does not need to take time. It does not need to be a process. It’s actually quite easy. Here are some steps.

  1. Take a look at your organization. Who is in key leadership positions? Is there a Jew of Color? Or two? Or three? If not, ask yourself why not, and change that. Hire JOCs in positions of power. Actively recruit JOCs. Invest the time to work with Jewish leaders of color to recruit, retain and hire more Jews of Color.

  2. Next, take a look at your Board. Do you have JOCs represented there?

  3. Review your synagogue’s welcoming policies. Everyone should be treated equally when coming into shul. No one should feel singled out. This means that if you have a security guard, that security guard should be checking everyone’s bags and person, even if they come every single week.

  4. Remove words like “welcoming” “inclusive” and “diverse” from your synagogue’s welcoming page if your space isn’t truly welcoming, inclusive, and diverse. Don’t use stock photos or older photos of Jews of Color, especially if those folks are no longer in your community..

If these steps feel too hard to implement in your Jewish organization, you have to acknowledge that diversity and inclusion are not your priority and move on. If the idea of moving on and doing nothing doesn’t sit right with you either, then take the advice from our fathers and remember that “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” King’s dream has not been realized. His work is not complete. The movement did not end in the 60’s. It continues today. We have an obligation to work towards justice and equality. That work begins with the individual. Listen and amplify the voices of Jews of Color, pay Jews of Color for their work, hire Jews of Color to work in your organizations and invite us to sit on your Boards.

We are not the stranger the Torah reminds us to welcome. We are your brothers and sisters.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.

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January 10, 2019 by

Jews of Color Field Building Initiative •

“U.S.-based Jewish racial diversity is not a dilemma or a challenge to be solved. It’s simply a fact,” writes Ilana Kaufman, a community relations professional in Berkeley. “The challenge to be solved is how to successfully build the bridges, pathways and highways needed to…connect together the diversity of our community.”

The Fund for Jews of Color Field Building has already given grants to projects such as Bend the Arc, Dimensions, Jews in All Hues, The Jewish Multiracial Network and JewV’Nation Fellowship Jews of Color Cohort. Read more about the founding of this project in Ilana Kaufman’s blog. jimjosephfoundation.org/news-blogs/building-field-jews-color

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September 26, 2018 by

Activist, Author, and Visionary Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz, 1945-2018

“What do I mean by home? Not the nation state; not religious worship; not the deepest grief of a people marked by hatred. I mean a commitment to what is and is not mine; to the strangeness of others, to my strangeness to others; to common threads twisted with surprise.”

From her book The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism, 2007. Quoted by Maya Salam, The New York Times, August, 13, 2018.

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The Lilith Blog

September 6, 2018 by

My High Holiday Prayer: Stop Exploiting Jews of Color

About three months ago I invited over 20 Jews into my home for a havurah we call the Tacoma Shabbat Experiment. After my co-organizers and I finished leading Kabbalat Shabbat and the important bits of Ma’ariv, we sat down to a dinner that I’d prepared. I only planned for 20 people, and we had almost 30, but we found more plates, pulled up another table and folks sat on a hodgepodge of various lawn chairs and stools. Wine flowed, we tended to a pre-lit bonfire and folks meandered around the backyard my wife and I share with neighbors.

shabbat tableI was saying goodbye to one woman when a man I didn’t know approached me and asked what my connection to Judaism was. Slightly tipsy and really pissed off, I quickly reminded him that his question was hugely problematic. He leaned in to ask about Ethiopian Jews and Ugandan Jews, hoping for some validation. Instead of realizing his misstep he continued to ask my connection to Judaism, claiming to not understand my objection to his line of questioning. Thankfully, a white Jewish woman stepped in and I turned my back to him to continue to say goodbye to a friend.

This was not the first time a white Jew has questioned the authenticity of my Judaism based on the color of my skin. It was, however, the first time a white Jew had done this to me in my own home.

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