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Seeing Color in the Jewish Community

02/23/2022 10:20:00 AM

Feb23

Guest Blogger: Rhyan Jenkins

I began my conversion during the year of 2020 while I was in Ohio. I was in unfamiliar territory, so I researched all the information I could find about converting to Judaism. The first thing I read about converting, was that it was expected for a rabbi to turn away potential converts three times “in part to reflect on whether they’re willing to deal with anti-Semitism.” (Weissman, 2015). As I read books and online articles about people’s experiences converting, I realized that there was something missing. There weren’t any books written by or for People of Color. Being black, I knew that my conversion experience would be different than that of a white person. So, I began trying to find social groups, books, and online articles about how it was to convert to Judaism for black people; I was disappointingly unsuccessful.

I didn’t know what to do. From my lessons as a child and what I had grown up seeing, Judaism was for white people. Even the synagogue I visited with my friends didn’t have any black people. I had never heard of a black Jew, nor had I ever seen one. I knew in my heart I wanted to convert but was unsure how my conversion would be for me. So, I took the plunge and decided to reach out to a rabbi. 

Fast forward to my conversion here in Austin, and the synagogue I decided to convert through was attacked with the front doors set on fire. All the friends I’d made up to that point were so worried about me and my decision to convert. All I kept hearing was about how I had added another target to my back. And honestly…I would just laugh it off. My response to these concerns is always the same: “I’m black. I can take off my Kippah and hide my Torah. I can’t stop being black when a cop pulls me over.”

References:
Weissman, S. (2015, July 30). The 'Splainer: How do jewish conversions work? The Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/the-splainer-how-do-jewish-conversions-work/2015/07/30/5c6bb4a0-36f7-11e5-ab7b-6416d97c73c2_story.html

 

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Tue, December 6 2022 12 Kislev 5783