A Call For Diversity: Parshat Lech-L’cha

*JN Magazine thanks Isaiah for sharing his weekly My Jewish Learning series with us.*

“Is she converting?”

“Clearly, she is not from around here, I wonder if she is even Jewish.”

“She must be someone’s nanny…”

These were not just the petty thoughts of those who saw me with my mother, but also at times the actual words spoken. Did these people aim to offend and to distance us? I pray not, but somehow and sometimes, the natural tendency of those who experience something foreign is to immediately cause distance for the sake retaining his/her individual comfort.  Continue reading A Call For Diversity: Parshat Lech-L’cha

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Shia LaBeouf and Judaism’s White Flight

In a recent interview with Interview Magazine, troubled Jewish actor Shia LaBeouf of Transformers fame and Indiana Jones infamy touted his newfound faith in, and conversion to, Christianity. The announcement was met with equal levels unrest and skepticism as the public response vacillated between anguish at another loss to the numbers of American Jewry and the reality that LaBeouf has proven time and again to be quite the adept prankster. In fact, the Religion News Service is quoted as saying “[some people] really want to believe that LaBeouf is a Christian now because having famous people on ‘our’ side makes ‘our’ case stronger. But after watching the movie and then re-reading the interview, it will be clear that Shia was laughing his way to the bank over all the hubbub.”

Regardless of how sincere LaBeouf’s claim is, it nonetheless is proof positive of the endemic laid bare by the most recent Pew Survey: American Judaism is hemorrhaging. And non-Orthodoxy is hemorrhaging marginally harder.  Continue reading Shia LaBeouf and Judaism’s White Flight

Sidekick Stupidity

There’s nothing like a game of WWILF. You’ve done it, I assure you. You go onto Youtube to look up something obscure, like a 90’s music video, maybe something with a weird lyric like “No more roses for your gun, no hippy chick”, and then, somehow, you end up watching a documentary on prison camps in North Korea or a Brit’s review of American junk food. Yes, that has a name. WWILF. What Was I Looking For?

You’re welcome.  Continue reading Sidekick Stupidity

Your Mother Called My Grandparents What?!

My latest experience with what I like to call the “fake liberal friend” or FLF began with a Facebook discussion of the conversion crisis sparked by the recent accusations of abuse of potential converts leveled against Rabbi Barry Freundel, a leader in the Modern Orthodox movement. As part of the exchange, my FLF noted that her mother belonged to the Conservative movement and held generally liberal views, but was unable to accept converts as truly Jewish.

“I think it may be a generational thing,” she wrote. “She’s 87.”

Jokingly, I replied, “Yeah. She’d probably still be calling me colored.”  Continue reading Your Mother Called My Grandparents What?!

A Call for Diversity: Parshat Noach

While driving down Route 95 on the East Coast, one has the ability to survey hundreds of billboards along the way. They aim to tell the passerby that life without their product is a life that is incomplete. Without that specific phone, insurance plan, TV show or washing machine, one may run the risk of being an outcast, unaffiliated, and simply on the wrong train. All too often, the sole intent of the advertisement company is to draw one away from their current status of living and suggest that uniting with their agenda is the best way to succeed in the world, denying diversity, for the sake of uniformity.

In this week’s Torah portion (Genesis 11:1-9) we read about the demands of the nations to create a world of sameness and uniformity: the Tower of Babel.  Continue reading A Call for Diversity: Parshat Noach

A Call for Diversity: Parashat Bereishit

Before much ink is used, the Torah already tells us about the Divine call for diversity. From the outset, we see throughout the creation story that “God separated,” at each day’s end. Arguably the most referenced biblical commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, RaSHI, (12th Century, France) stated that “God saw that it would not be good for darkness and light to serve together, because it would bring about confusion; so He established a boundary for the day hours and boundary for the night hours.” Our first call for diversity, was not to keep darkness and light away from each other, but rather to create a space where each can summon its own strength so as to prevent confusion from plaguing the world; to develop the space (eve) for the two to exist in harmony.  Continue reading A Call for Diversity: Parashat Bereishit

A New Year, A New Friend

It was a Rosh Hashanah miracle. My family was settling into our seats before services when my 12-year-old daughter elbowed me.

“Mama! A Black lady!”

It’s not that I’m the only one at my Bakersfield, California, synagogue. There are a couple others in the congregation, but they don’t come often, and when they do, they don’t speak to me. So a new African-American woman was a source of excitement and trepidation. Continue reading A New Year, A New Friend

My First Time At The Mikvah

In the deep stretches of Northern California, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I met with a group of fantastic women to explore my first mikvah experience. I had met them all—clothed—a couple nights earlier for Rosh Hashanah services, and had seen the sweet nature of their congregation. When I arrived at the meeting spot with my friend, it was quite obvious that we were a bit late. Everyone was already naked, relaxing on the lake’s shore.  Continue reading My First Time At The Mikvah

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Jennifer Cramblett, a woman from Ohio, plans to sue a sperm bank after erroneously being given sperm from a Black man. This has led to a torrent of charges of racism, particularly after the lawsuit alleged that the mother has “limited cultural competency relative to African-Americans and steep learning curve, particularly in small, homogeneous Uniontown, which she regards as too racially intolerant.”

As both the mother of biracial children, and as an adoptee, I have mixed (pun intended) feelings about the criticism of Cramblett’s actions. I find it odd that Black community continually tells the world how much harder it is to raise a Black child, and yet seems offended when someone from outside the community makes a similar assertion.  Continue reading A Case of Mistaken Identity