If you’re Black and Jewish, the dialogue below will probably be way too familiar. Get ready for the ridiculous comments people are all too quick to share.
- “You’re Jewish? Really?” Yes, we’re Jewish. WE. ARE. JEWISH.
- *insert their scrunched-up confused face* “Oh… So you converted! How nice.”
Um, No. Not all of us are converts. Some of us were raised on the scent of deep-frying oil and burning our tongues on too-hot latkes, kissing the mezuzot as we passed through doorways, attending Hebrew schools or day schools. See also: “Were you raised Jewish?” This euphemism is no better. I am Jewish, so it shouldn’t matter!
- But, yes, some of us did convert. This absolutely still does not give you the right to be the following person: “How interesting! Why did you decide to convert? What was your conversion process like?”
Pause. Actually, full STOP. Can you just take a second and think about how weird it is to ask a near or complete stranger about the intimate details of their relationship with faith? It’s weird, it’s uncalled for, and most importantly it’s none of your business. Don’t do it.
- Speaking of which, “Ooh, you must have such an interesting story. What is it like to be a Black Jew?”
Again, this does not concern you. Do not ask us about our “Jewish journey.” Some of us like to talk about our identity, and we will (of our own volition and in due time). And some of us don’t, and we won’t. End of story. Buh-bye.
- “Wait — but you can’t be Black and Jewish…”
Oh, but yes we can. Serious question: Do you hear yourself? Surprise! This just in: Jewish does not equal white!!
- “You must be adopted, then!” *Fake smile*
Did you just ask me if I was adopted? Seriously? Let me just sit down and tell you my whole life story while we’re at it. It is not a requirement that Black Jews have been adopted into White, Jewish families to be Jewish. For real!
- “Wow, I’ve never met any other Jews of Color.” *ogles*
“I’m a witch.” Lol, no. THIS. IS. NOT. A. PRIZE. SHOW. We are not an exhibit. Do not treat us like we are objects to be studied and put on display.
- “Are you Ethiopian?”
Oh, so you have heard of Ethiopian Jews? Well, a little history lesson: not all Black Jews are from Ethiopia. We are Ethiopian Jews. We are African American Jews. We are Ugandan Jews, Nigerian Jews, and Cameroonian Jews. We are Ghanaian Jews, Kenyan Jews, and Jews of other African ancestry. We are Jews of mixed descent. We are Black. We are Jewish.
- “Are you the janitor? Or the nanny?”
Excuse me? Are you going to ask that to the White man walking in the door behind me? I didn’t think so. I did not put on my kippah and my tallis to mop the floors and wipe your child’s behind. Now, excuse me while I daven.
- “There’s this adorable little girl in my daughter’s Hebrew school class,” *hushed whisper* “She was adopted from Ethiopia.”
Okay. Stop. Rewind. What if I said “Oh my god, this one time a White person totally walked into my synagogue and I was like, ‘WOW.'”
- *Continues…* “This wonderful family came to our freedom seder last year, they were Black and Jewish too.”
…Are you done? You are literally telling us that you know someone else our general color who has existed in a Jewish setting. That is enough thank you, we are not a novelty. We know what it is to be both Black and Jewish.
- “Your hair. Wow, so lovely. I have a bit of a Jew-fro, but nothing like that.”
Do NOT even THINK about touching my hair. And a Jew-fro? Your hair is, like, pin straight.
- “Let me introduce you to my friend,” *comes across first Black person in the congregation, asks them to repeat their name*
Believe it or not, by definition of being Black Jews, we are also just Jews. Here to pray, to learn and to practice Tikkun Olam. It is not your job to introduce us to other Jews of color. For some of us, there is a comfort in being in Jew of color and/or multiracial Jewish spaces. For others, there is nothing one hates more than being associated with the other one or two Black Jews in their community. You are already craning your necks enough to look at one of us individually, we do not need to put extra effort into drawing attention to ourselves.
- “Welcome! Are you new here? Have you ever been to a service before? We’re delighted to have you.”
*Has been coming to services here forever. But, I’ve never seen you here. Hmm. And, actually, the White woman behind me looking lost is new.*
- “Did you know that’s a Star of David that you’re wearing.”
*Blinks rapidly, raises eyebrows* Did you know those are dreadlocks you’re wearing? Well… I for one know the cultural, racial and historical significances of what I wear. So, yes. Yes, I did. In fact, I got this Star of David necklace for my bat/bar mitzvah. Like, why else would I be wearing this?
- “My synagogue did this wonderful ceremony for Martin Luther King Jr. day last year.” or “You should lead something with the congregation for MLK day.”
If you’re thinking about Black people on one day of the year, you’re doing it wrong. Start by turning inwards and examining how your Jewish community is or is not supportive of and welcoming to Jews of Color and multiracial Jewish families. Talk about the death of Black and brown bodies in this country today. Think about the intersections of Blackness and Judaism. Consider how you are complicit or active in systems of oppression. DO NOT historicize racism and anti-blackness. When you do this every day of the year, only then, maybe we can talk.
- “You don’t look Jewish.”I actually will not even engage with you on this one. You do not have to be White to be Jewish. Jewish ≠ White. Goodbye, goodBYE!
Black Jews aren’t the anomaly you might think. In fact, we are present in all walks of life. We are poets and bloggers. We are rabbis and rabbinical students. We are rappers (also), we are athletes and we are actors. We are leaders. We are Jews.
In case you’ve been the one asking one of these questions and need a quick historical brush-up and reality check, or if you’re seeking some more communal affirmation, here are a few resources for you:
For Jews of Color: A Minority Within A Minority: Jews of Colour Facebook Group
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