Hey kids, I’m MaNishtana.
It’s Chanukah time again. A very odd mindset to have to go into given what’s been going on in Israel recently, no?
I know it was slightly difficult for me. After all, this time yesterday I was still riding the anger and indignation high of the increasing aggression against Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
I wasn’t alone, it seems, as I went through tons of emails yesterday–from JOCs and non-JOCs alike–decrying the situation, being thankful for the attention being brought to it, vowing change, telling of stories where they made change, being happy that their voices were being heard here in America.
And then I came across one email here:
My name is ***, I’m African American, and I’m really interested in Judaism. I like everything I’ve learned about it so far, but the racism in the Jewish community is off putting. It makes me sick I read your blog post about the Ethiopian Jewish boy who was attacked by a white jew and I started to really think about everything. I’m wondering if it would be worth it, for me, to join the Jewish people if all I was going to experience is racism from the greater Jewish community. Do you think that it would be worth it?
Thank you, ***”
So there I was, in the midst of my still seething anger at the situation–an anger exacerbated by comments by those blinded by their refusal to believe such an event could happen and that there were nefarious media elements involved (which somehow exonerated the use of the word “nigger” during the incident)–and here I had a potential convert–an African-American convert–hopeful, yearning, yet now full of doubt and frightened by it all.
What was I–with all that I’ve experienced, with all I’ve heard of others experiences, with all I blog about–what was I going to tell her?
And so I settled for the truth:
“Hi ***, thanx for your email.
Firstly, as I stated in the blog, racism isn’t ALL there is to experience as a Jew of Color, especially as a Black one. In fact, I personally know a couple of JOCs who have overwhelmingly had quite positive experiences with the Jewish community and are shocked to hear these kinds of stories. Not that they live in a happy happy candyland full of marshmallows and rainbows, they just had the good fortune to for the most part encounter Jews who truly realize that Judaism isn’t contingent on skin color. I myself have had some positive experiences and recently moved to a Jewish community where I feel “welcomed” for the first time rather than “tolerated”. If I had grown up here, I would likewise not be able to relate to these kinds of stories.
That having been said, will it be easy? No. There WILL be instances of ignorance. There WILL be instances of prejudice. And there’s a strong possibility that there will be instances of racism. AND Anti-Semitism. These problems will arise from both sides of the line, both Black AND Jewish. You may find yourself more at peace among African-Americans. You may be more at home with Jews.
But being Jewish, much like being Black, has never been about being easy. Being Black and Jewish, doubly so.
Only you can really answer if it will be worth it for you. Like all the major religions of the world, the problem isn’t with the religion, it’s with the people who practice it.
If you convert to a religion–any religion–for the people, then you are doomed to be nothing but disappointed. But if you’re converting to a religion for the sake of the religion itself, you never will be.
Don’t get me wrong. Do I rant about the ills of the Jewish community? Yes. And Bill Cosby ranted about the ills of the African American community. That didn’t mean he didn’t care about it or wasn’t proud to be a part of it.
I’m Jewish, was born Jewish, proud to be Jewish, happy to be Jewish, love being Jewish, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m just trying to make it better. And that won’t happen if I turn a blind eye to the things that plague it.
I hope that helps answer your questions. If you decide to still pursue your path, you may want to head over to my blog site and join the group “Conversion Curious”, just to see what’s what. And thanx again for reading.
And so there it was.
I am not, and never will, EVER, take back anything I say on this blog.
But understand something: I’m not saying things just to say things. I’m not some fringe person trying to overturn “the Jewish establishment” just for kicks. I’m not some wet-behind-the-ears convert revolutionary trying to “fight the power”. I have centuries of heritage of “real” African American Judaism. I grew up Lubavitch in Crown Heights. I have black hats on my shelf that are older than Matisyahu’s entire music career times three. I can sight layn a haftorah, and layn a parsha with less then fifteen minutes preparation prior. So why do I blog?
Because I want a better Judaism. I want us back at that shining pinnacle we were at for all those four seconds all those centuries ago when we weren’t treating each other like garbage, had our Temple, and weren’t worshiping Ba’al (…again). And until I get that better Judaism, I’ll be here writing. Until Ahavat Yisrael and her sister Achdut show up–EVERYWHERE–then I’ll be here to remind that they aren’t.
We’re supposed to be a light to the nations, my Jewples. We’ve gotta burn bright. Which means every now and then we need to clean the wax and wicks out. And all it takes is a little bit of oil. So let’s start looking for it.
Chag Chanukah Sameach
Thank you for replying. I want to convert eventually. Your email helped. I’m not so scared now.