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Dena

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PostSubject: Jewish but not a Jew   Mon Oct 10, 2011 10:04 pm

Here is an article written by Erika Davis (blackgayjewish). Not sure if anyone is interested but it could make for good conversation.

Don't Call Me Jew
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Tue Oct 11, 2011 6:39 pm

I have a problem with her perspecitve. Judaism is not just a religion; it's tied up with a people and cannot be separated. You can't practice Judaism and not be a Jew (no matter how much Madonna tries).

I think of identity as like the old Deal-a-Meal plan, where you had a variety of cards in a few categories, and you had a limited number of categorized slots to put those cards in.

I am white. Racial identity is a category and there's a slot for it. I am an American from the South; nationality and regionality have a slot. I am a woman; sex has a slot. I am straight; sexual orientation has a slot.

But when I become a Jew, I get an extra slot: peoplehood. Gentiles are not a people, but Jews are. Certain other tribal peoples might also use this slot, but most people don't use it.

Jewishness is not a race. You can have Jews who are Caucausians or Africans or Asians or Aborigines or Native Americans or any combination. I won't cease to be white when I become a Jew. I won't even be a Semite; 98% of my genes are European Caucasian, not Semitic Caucausian (if there's really any measurable difference between the two).

Neither did Erika cease to be black. If she chooses to identify herself as a black Jew, that's fine, because that's what she is. Jewishness isn't a replacement of race; it's an addition of peoplehood.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Tue Oct 11, 2011 7:16 pm

Mychal wrote:


But when I become a Jew, I get an extra slot: peoplehood. Gentiles are not a people, but Jews are. Certain other tribal peoples might also use this slot, but most people don't use it.

Perhaps you should bold the "a". The first time I read it I thought it said gentiles are not people. Razz

Mychal wrote:
Jewishness isn't a replacement of race; it's an addition of peoplehood.

I agree completely. I have come across a few converts who consider Judaism to be their religion but don't seem to really consider themselves "Jews". It's not a perspective I get. I converted to be a Jew. If it were just about religion I wouldn't put myself, my husband and my family through it. It's a HUGE deal to me aside from just the religious aspects. I think there is also evidence in Jewish history that being Jewish isn't just about religion.



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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:20 am

I don't agree with her stance at all which is unusual as I usually love Erika's blogs! However I can't agree. For me the concept of peoplehood within Judaism is one of my most sincere beliefs. It's not just a religion, it's belonging to a very specific group of people who share your morals, values and way of life. For me it's a fundamental part of my identity. I am a Jew because I am part of the people. When I entered Judaism, I also took on the culture - listening to the music, eating the food, smattering my everyday vocabulary with Hebrew and Yiddish; and for me I took to it like a duck to water.

For a little while I was put off when someone talked to me about conversion and did go through a stage where I considered myself a gentile with Jewish leanings, and for some, it may actually be enough. But for me, it all boils down to a concept of peoplehood. My connection to the Jewish people was way too strong for me not to convert. The Peoplehood aspect is just as strong as my religious identity, if not more.

I actually blogged about this recently about how my grandmother just couldn't grasp the idea of peoplehood when I tried to explain it and couldn't understand why I was passionate about my connection with Israel as well as the Jewish community in my own country. You can find it here (Hope I'm allowed to post it here...) http://learningtokvetch.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/the-concept-of-peoplehood/
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 12:30 pm

Samantha wrote:
The Peoplehood aspect is just as strong as my religious identity, if not more.

I completely relate. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Samantha wrote:
I actually blogged about this recently about how my grandmother just couldn't grasp the idea of peoplehood when I tried to explain it and couldn't understand why I was passionate about my connection with Israel as well as the Jewish community in my own country. You can find it here (Hope I'm allowed to post it here...) http://learningtokvetch.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/the-concept-of-peoplehood/

Yes, it's fine if you post a link.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 1:45 pm

I can understand Erika's position, in that she's felt isolated from other black people, and she wants to try to reclaim her connection. But, from what I've read from other black Jews, most black Gentiles are not accepting of Jews in any color. There is a prevalent myth that Jews instigated the slave trade in order to get rich. I think Erika will find more acceptance as a Jew who is black than as a black person who is a Jew.

@Samantha. It's okay to post blogs. In fact, there's a thread--I think in the Introduction section--just for providing a link to your blog.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 3:49 pm


Mychal wrote:
I think Erika will find more acceptance as a Jew who is black than as a black person who is a Jew.

If I understand you correctly, I would tend to agree. Do you mean acceptance from other Jews? Or in general?
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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:13 pm

I can understand Erika's stance of already belonging to a tribe, but you can belong to two if you want, right? Laughing
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:41 pm

Quote :
Do you mean acceptance from other Jews? Or in general?

I think Jews will be more okay with her being a black Jew than blacks will be with her being a black Jew.

If you look at history, you'll find that Jews look like the people they live amongst. It was noted over and over again, during the Holocaust, that Jews from places like Holland were typically blonde-haired and blue-eyed, whereas Polish Jews were typically dark-haired and dark-eyed. Jews from places like Morocco tend to be very dark and look like other middle eastern peoples. Of course Ethiopian Jews are black, like other Africans, and the tribe of Manasseh, which is in northern India, looks like a cross between Indians and Asians (typical for that region). So it's pretty obvious that conversion happens and local people are taken in and, eventually, the local traits become the traits of the Jewish people as well.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:25 pm

I'm not going to make assumptions on how various black communities may or may not feel about black Jews. I don't know enough and I have zero experience. Very Happy
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Thu Oct 13, 2011 2:12 pm

I have no experience either, but Alan Dershowtiz discussed it to some degree in his book "The Vanishing American Jew." It makes me worry for Erika's acceptance, but you know, every community is different, so if her black community doesn't have a problem with it, then great for her! I certainly never would wish an outcast status on anyone, but, unfortunately, it's something converts have to be aware of: when you throw your lot in with the Jewish people, there will be other people who used to accept you who won't anymore.

You know, the other thing that surprised me about her position is that her rabbi converted her. Of course, she may have not said this at the time of her conversion (maybe she didn't even think this way), or maybe she explained it differently, so her rabbi was okay, but I was under the impression that most rabbis are pretty strict on making a convert understand that they are a Jew, not just a person who practices Judaism. Has anyone evre had that discussion come up with their conversion?
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Thu Oct 13, 2011 4:46 pm

I love Erica's writing and her journey. What I will say is there seems to be an underlying assumption in this one piece that if you identify as a black woman, that precludes you from identifying as a Jewish woman. i.e. As if there are no black Jews and suddenly I'm the first one.

But of course, there are many black Jews and always have been. There's an either-or assumption in the piece that kind of ignores this fact. She's both. Absolutely both. And there's no definitional conflict there.
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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Thu Oct 13, 2011 8:24 pm

There are Indian Jews, black Jews and Japanese Jews in my congregation and they're as Jewish as everyone else in our congregation. Skin colour should never be a determining factor and it's devastating that anyone would think along those lines.
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:41 pm

Wow, I am shocked at how much the forum has grown!

As far as this topic goes, I would say that I disagree with her. Not because I find her logic flawed, but because how I see Jewishness. I am currently in the process of converting (after which I plan to go to Yeshiva and myself a Rabbi make). A huge problem for me has been determining whether or not I want to convert Conservative or Orthodox (I'm currently attempting to convert Orthodox because I see myself moving to Israel someday) and this problem has led me down an intense path of study as far as what a "Jew" is.

If we were to ask people what the word "Jew" means we'd get all sorts of responses. And I think that Erika's discontent with the word "Jew" is discontent with what the word has come to mean in those plethora of responses. But what is a Jew? What is the essence of a Jew? What makes the Jew uniquely a Jew? What is it that can bring someone from non-Jewishness to being a Jew?

This is a captivating topic for me because currently I am (by most definitions) not a Jew. But if I want to be one, I have to first ask myself what one is and why it is that I want to be that. My study of Torah and reading various sources (Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike) has led me to believe that a Jew is nothing more than a person who accepts the Torah. It is a person who sees the Jewish people, knows of their covenant with HaShem, and commits to being a part of that covenant. Not only commits, but the person must do it as if their life depends on it. You look at stories like that of Ruth, who, as it would seem, felt that there was no other life for her to live outside of the Jewish people and that is where it all becomes clear. To be a Jew is to accept the Jewish people as one's own, the Jewish God as one's own, and to live by and observe the very covenant which separated the Jews from the rest of the world at Sinai.

So what does it matter what other titles or labels we apply to ourselves? Whether it be black, white, asian, hispanic, gay, straight, american, british, spanish, german, japanese, chinese, sephardi, etc? None of that is what makes a Jew a Jew. What unites all of us who are and would be Jews is that event at Sinai which broke us eternally away from the rest of the world, and brought us eternally closer to HaShem.
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Fri Oct 14, 2011 12:15 am

Rabbi-In-Training wrote:
(snip) This is a captivating topic for me because currently I am (by most definitions) not a Jew. But if I want to be one, I have to first ask myself what one is and why it is that I want to be that. My study of Torah and reading various sources (Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike) has led me to believe that a Jew is nothing more than a person who accepts the Torah. It is a person who sees the Jewish people, knows of their covenant with HaShem, and commits to being a part of that covenant. Not only commits, but the person must do it as if their life depends on it. You look at stories like that of Ruth, who, as it would seem, felt that there was no other life for her to live outside of the Jewish people and that is where it all becomes clear. To be a Jew is to accept the Jewish people as one's own, the Jewish God as one's own, and to live by and observe the very covenant which separated the Jews from the rest of the world at Sinai.

That's true but that's only half of it. When I was converting, I saw this half of it as the major part of the story. But the equally important part is you have to be accepted by the Jewish people. Simply accepting Torah or even accepting the Jewish people isn't enough. It's a two-way street. The Jewish people have to accept you back and, quite literally, let you in. That's the peoplehood aspect of Judaism.

Also, you don't have to be Orthodox to make aliyah. While most Israelis are Orthodox, there are other streams of Judaism represented there. There's a common but damaging assumption that only Orthodox Jews can be observant, or looked at another way that liberal Jews somehow can't be observant and committed to Torah and halakha. There's no reason why you can't convert Conservative, make aliyah, and live a very observant lifestyle, if you so choose. You're not Jewish yet, but you do have the right to be your own Jew, not someone else's idea of the Jew you should be to fit in. My two cents FWIW...
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Fri Dec 09, 2011 2:34 am

I think a lot of people are mistaking black the colour and Black-American, the people. African-Americans are a distinct people, distinct from other Americans and distinct from other black people from other countries. They have their own distinct culture, dialect, history, cuisine, etc.

Jews are also a people, but there is more than one Jewsih ethnicity. Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews have the same religion, but have different languages, different cuisines, different cultures and often different skin colours! So while Jews are a people, the nation of Israel's existence precedes that of other contemporary nations and thus is not as easily fit into the standard definitions.

I think what Erika means is that it's not just because she is a Jew that she has to start throwing around Yiddishisms and eating kugel instead of using African-American Vernacular English and eating "soul food". Yiddish language and Eastern-European Jewish cuisine are only details of a specific ethnic tradition within Judaism (of which there are others). Nothing really precludes Erika from expressing her American blackness within her new-found Jewish religion. It's a question of intelligently conjugating the two.

Jews come in many colours and speak many different languages. Non-White American Jews can only be expected to conform to the very White Ashkenazi traditions up to a point which makes sense, since in reality their complexion will denounce their status as converts within that community no matter how observant and ostentatiously 'Jewy' they become (forgive the expression).
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Fri Dec 09, 2011 2:45 pm

reappearhere wrote:


I think what Erika means is that it's not just because she is a Jew that she has to start throwing around Yiddishisms and eating kugel instead of using African-American Vernacular English and eating "soul food". Yiddish language and Eastern-European Jewish cuisine are only details of a specific ethnic tradition within Judaism (of which there are others). Nothing really precludes Erika from expressing her American blackness within her new-found Jewish religion. It's a question of intelligently conjugating the two.


In speaking with her on the topic that is not the impression I've got but perhaps I have misunderstood. It's been a while since she wrote that piece and I would wonder if she's changed her view at all. She recently took a trip to Israel which I think has had quite an impact on her (you can read about it on her blog if you haven't already).
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Sun Dec 11, 2011 4:04 am

Mychal wrote:
Quote :
Do you mean acceptance from other Jews? Or in general?

I think Jews will be more okay with her being a black Jew than blacks will be with her being a black Jew.


I disagree with this. No I have a pretty large Black family they actually admire Jews. Also none of my Black friends have any issues with Jews (or if they do, they hide it very well).

Now I have heard anti-semitic remarks from Black people; but I've heard much more from non-Jewish White people. So from my perspective, I've seen no evidence of this.
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PostSubject: Re: Jewish but not a Jew   Sun Dec 11, 2011 4:19 am

While I wouldn't have written what Erika wrote (because I would actually rather be considered a Jew first and foremost, personally, and have no issues being called one), I can see where she is coming from.

Although I am Jewish and have lived as a Jew for 15+ years, I am seen first and foremost as a Black woman. Rolling Eyes When I walk into any new setting, including Jewish ones, my status as a Black woman is clearly established, and I have to work to establish myself as a Jewish woman (and sometimes, I have to work harder than other times). When I was converting, I used to joke that even though I didn't have all the baggage of being deeply involved in my previous religion, an observant Italian Catholic woman would have a much easier time converting to Judaism...on the social aspect alone. Laughing It is one thing to have to learn the ins and outs of Jewish living; but to compound that with a lifelong obligation to validate and re-validate your Jewish status, even in the most benign settings, is a totally different ball game.

I don't know what the "right" response to this is. You could be like Erika, and distinctly regulate the label that you go by (I am a Black woman, and Judaism is my religion). Or you could be like me, and stubbornly see yourself as a Jew first and foremost and ignore (or at least minimize) anyone who thinks any different. There are obvious pros and cons to both situations...and there are many other ways to deal with the issue. But it is an issue -- one that the Jewish community at large should try to address more seriously (although there are some great groups and initiatives out there, they are not far-reaching or commonplace enough).

Ultimately everyone has their own views and choices. Tolerance of this is a starting point for any real improvement. Wink and Smile
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PostSubject: I went to Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh Prayer today   Sun Jun 09, 2013 3:48 pm

I went to the Rosh Hodesh prayer today at the Wailing Wall to support Women of the Wall, as a conservative jew, for the first time I was praying with a Talit at the Wailing Wall, the feeling was amazing! It was touching when I was praying with so many women this morning....

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