Sunday, March 03, 2019

A Month of Black Jewish History

At the start of February, a Twitter friend of mine -- Shawn Harris -- issued a challenge: for the entire month, write one post a day on some aspect of Black Jewish history. I interpreted that broadly -- to include everything from historical articles, to academic essays, to simply linking to the profiles of Black Jewish writers whose work I've enjoyed or learned from over the years.

My thread begins here. But I also thought it might be worth collecting the month's worth of posts in one spot, on the blog.

A good chunk of the entries were simply promoting Black Jewish figures. That included some prominent academics and writers, like Lewis Gordon, Julius Lester, and Jamaica Kincaid, Rabbi Capers Funnye of Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, as well as personal friends like Jake Grumbach (soon to be an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington) and Twitter connections like Blewish. My last entry of the whole month was dedicated to Shawn Harris herself, in honor of her inspiring the thread in the first place.

For others, I linked to a particular essay that had spoken to me -- this included Adam Serwer on Tamika Mallory and Louis Farrakhan, Stacey Aviva Flint on the Movement for Black Lives platform, Tema Smith on Ilhan Omar, and an omnibus collection of Black Jewish reflections on MLK Day. My book recommendation, MaNishtana's "Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi", and academic article recommendation, Carol Conaway's "Journey to the Promised Land: How I Became an African-American Jew Rather Than a Jewish African American", also fall into this category.

One entry that particularly tickled me was this interview with rapper "Young Gravy" -- mostly because I was the guy who suggested doing such an interview to the Forward's culture editor in the first place. Other musical entries include rapper Nissim Black and the spoken word poetry of Aaron Levy Samuels.

Black Jews are Jews. That is the case inside the Jewish community and outside as well. On the former, consider this profile on Ilana Kaufman, focusing on her work trying to further foster the elevation of JOC voices in American Jewish leadership positions, or Shekhiynah Larks on doing "Birthright while Black". On the latter, here's Michael Twitty saying the Shehecheyanu while accepted the James Beard award, and a list of Black Jews nominated for NAACP image awards.

The Ethiopian Jewish community is by no means the only part of Black Jewish history, but it does matter. My first entry in the whole series was on the efforts of Ethiopian Jews to help serve their European compatriots during the Holocaust. Other entries focused on the Ethiopian Jewish community include this one by Haftam Yitzak-Heathwood on racism against Ethiopians in Israel, and profiles of Pnina Tamano-Shata (the first Ethiopian Israeli women to be elected to Knesset), "Miss Israel" Titi Aynaw. and Mehereta Baruch-Ron (former Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv). There also is a vibrant Jewish community and history in Africa outside of Ethiopia, as this conference sought to emphasize.

It's important to not overstate "conversion" as an element of the Black Jewish experience, but certainly that is an important of some Black Jewish stories. Here's the conversion arc of former NFLer Calvin (now Yosef) Murray.

And finally, for my birthday, I stretched a bit and plugged my own article: White Jews: An Intersectional Approach, which is forthcoming in the Association for Jewish Studies Review.

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