Happy…oh, wait, you don’t belong here! Do you? On Being a Jewnited Nation

I know most people are preparing by Rosh Hashanah by making up menus and cooking up a storm and making sure they have tickets for services. (There are always free services for those who cannot afford to pay.)

But this time of year, always brings back…bad memories. You see, during the High Holidays most synagogues have heightened security for obvious reasons. But those security measures have sometimes gotten in the way of my High Holiday spirit.

So I’ve had to prepare myself emotionally. Even now when my husband is the rabbi of our little shul so I don’t have to worry, I think.

Every year, I have been to High Holiday services since I started the conversion process and long after, I have seen this:

A non-white Jew dressed up in their holiday best gets stopped and interrogated before they’re allowed inside (or sometimes until a white Jew comes and vouches for them).

People have a hard time believing this because I’m so “light-skinned” but I HAVE actually TURNED AWAY from High Holiday services. They didn’t think I looked Jewish.

One time I walked in with an Asian Jew and a dark-skinned Dominican Jew and we were asked “What are you doing here?” We sighed and looked ourselves up and down and said: “What do you think we’re doing here?”

So the correct way to handle a person of color at Jewish services is “Shana tova!” and “Happy New Year!” not “What the hell are you doing here? “

In light of that, I’d like to present my friend Shais Rishon’s new venture, Jewnited Nations which aims to fill a void that has occurred in the multiracial and multiethnic Jewish blogosphere.

“Here at JN Magazine, we’re a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational family, just like the “mainstream” Judaism everyone knows and loves and pretends is the be-all and end-all definitive take on all things Jewish.

We’re here to change that. 

Our gefilte fish has jalapeños. Our chicken has curry. Our horah is actually on beat. We know what laffa is, and we’ve had soft maztah on Passover. But don’t you dare try to tell us to get a fine-toothed comb in our hair before we dunk in the mikvah or direct us to the bathroom when we walk into temple.

We’re Jews, just like everyone else. Just a little browner. A little blacker. A little yellow. A little more guttural. And a lot more overlooked. You probably cross the street when you see us. 

We laugh. We cry. We feel. We think. 

In Spanish. In Haitian Creole. In Arabic. In Jamaican Patois. In Mandarin. In Cantonese. In Amharic. In English. In Ladino. And yes, even in Hebrew. And Yiddish.”

I really love the name because, especially during the High Holidays, we should remember that we really are a JewNITED nation.

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