culture/multiculturalism · Israel · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · language

Black and Jewish: African American Jewish Identities in the Early Twenty-First Century

Black and Jewish: African American Jewish Identities in the Early Twenty-First Century

Dr. Jamie Wilson is partnering with Be’chol Lashon on his upcoming book, Black and Jewish: African American Jewish Identities in the Early Twenty-First Century. It will be a collection of autobiographical narratives that expands the definition of what it means to be Jewish in the early twenty-first century. The essays will give voice to those who stand at the intersection of African American and Jewish communities, documenting the history and traditions of Jews of African descent in the United States.

If you identify as African American and Jewish (Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal, post-denominational, or secular), please consider sharing your spiritual journey with us. In thinking about your essay of 1,500 to 3,000 words, please consider some of the following questions:

What movement (Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal, Unaffiliated) of Judaism do you belong to? Why did you choose this one? If you are a secular Jew, what do you see as the position of secular Jews in Judaism?

How do you describe your ritual observance? Do you have a favorite Jewish Holiday? Why is it your favorite holiday?

How do your Jewish and African American identities intermingle and coexist? How do you navigate your religious community and your racial community?

If you are an African American Jew by Choice, why did you choose to convert to Judaism? From which faith did you convert? Do vestiges of your previous faith coexist with your Jewishness? How did your family understand your conversion?

If you were born Jewish, explain the Jewish heritage you inherited.

If you see your Jewish identity as a returning to Judaism, explain your notion of return. Why did you return?

What is your Hebrew name? If you selected it, how did you select it? If it was given to you, why was it given to you? What does it mean?

What is the place of the State of Israel in your life?

What do you see as the future of Judaism?

The deadline is June 1, 2010. Essays will be edited by Dr. Wilson. Due to publishing constraints, only a select number of essays will be published in the book. The remaining essays will be featured on the Bechol Lashon website.

Please also include a photograph of yourself, and let us know if you have any questions.

For more information and to share your spiritual journey, please e-mail bechol_lashon@jewishresearch.org. Or call us at 415-386-2604.

Related: Be’chol Lashon monthly newsletter All the news and more on Jewish diversity at your fingertips. Sign up today!

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7 thoughts on “Black and Jewish: African American Jewish Identities in the Early Twenty-First Century

  1. The questions that are asked related to the essays requested by Dr. Wilson are questions I have as they relate to any convert, but especially JOCs. Aliza, having read your blog for the last number of months, I have tried to drive these questions out of my mind because you've made me question whether my curiosity relates to even a minimal amount of “otherness” curiosity. (You've kind of ranted about the questions you get asked related to race/ethnicity/heritage as being inappropriate). Yet here these questions are being asked with the support of Be'chol Lashon. Please help me understand this.

    By the way, my curiosity about the reasons behind Jews By Choice (JBC) or more specifically JOC-JYB has been from the standpoint of wanted to learn why they've chosen Judaism being a way to possibly reach our dwindling numbers of next-generation Jews. I am looking forward to the publication of these essays because this area is my passion.
    Thanks

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  2. Debbie, everyone who might submit essays to this is making a choice to share their story. I don't think going up to the only black person in shul and asking them if they are Jewish or a convert gives them much choice about whether they want to share their stories. I don't really see how you can equate a study/book to the random inappropriate interrogations I write about on my blog.

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  3. Debbie,

    I don't think it is necessarily wrong to be curious about the backgrounds of JOC's. What is wrong is to let that curiosity cause you to act in certain rude or inappropriate ways. For instance, I would prefer that the greeting I receive is “Hello. I'm Harry. Are you visiting or a new member?” rather than “Did you change religions?” which are exactly the first words that someone once said to me when I was visiting a synagogue. I would suggest that a general rule is that if the question you are thinking of asking a JOC is not a question that you would ask of a person who looked like a typical Ashkenazi Jew, then you ought to think twice about it.

    As a JBC myself, who has talked to several other JBC's about their stories, I suspect that you will not find out from us a special way to win back Jews who choose not to practice Judaism or to not pass it on to their children. I have a college roommate (yet another Debbie!) who is Jewish by birth, but does not even attend a seder or High Holiday services these days. We had her over to our house for dinner when she was visiting our area, when we had not seen each other for several years. When I told her that I had converted since we had last seen her, she seemed puzzled by the news, although she tried not to show it to be respectful and supportive of my choice. Conversely, I don't understand why she does not see the beauty of or feel the spiritual connection that I do to the religion that is her birthright. If I knew how to show her how to see and feel what I do about Judaism, I would. But I don't know how, so when I realized that our different relationships with Judaism made her a bit uncomfortable, I steered clear of the topic.

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  4. Aliza, I belong to a Jewish Faculty Forum in Memphis for Jewish faculty at the local universities and colleges. For what used to be called Jewish Book Month here, we had a speaker by the name of Ernest H. Adams. He is an African-American convert to Orthodox Judaism and wrote a book on his experiences entitled “From Ghetto to Ghetto.” Since much of his life paralleled the Civil Rights movement, the story is compelling. I wonder if you have heard of Dr. Adams, and I would recommend that anyone who has a chance attend one of his lectures.

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  5. Aliza, I belong to a Jewish Faculty Forum in Memphis for Jewish faculty at the local universities and colleges. For what used to be called Jewish Book Month here, we had a speaker by the name of Ernest H. Adams. He is an African-American convert to Orthodox Judaism and wrote a book on his experiences entitled “From Ghetto to Ghetto.” Since much of his life paralleled the Civil Rights movement, the story is compelling. I wonder if you have heard of Dr. Adams, and I would recommend that anyone who has a chance attend one of his lectures.

    Like

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