Ernest H. Adams is a Life Coach, Consultant, and psychologist, with a PhD in clinical psychology from Columbia University, and a law degree from New York University. I recently spoke with Adams about his first book, From Ghetto to Ghetto: An African American Journey to Judaism, a memoir about his conversion with a whole lot to say about race in America, the African-American experience, and the Jewish community. Here’s what Adams told me about his book and what he has learned from his amazing journey to Judaism:Can you tell us a little about the book without giving too much away?
I was born in Harlem during the Jim Crow era. Growing up in Harlem defined and refined my personhood: how I think, feel, understand, and perceive the world. I experienced racism up close and personal, in the raw, grew into a young black man with anti-white and anti-Semitic sentiments. I morphed into an African American man who fought and overcame my prejudiced feelings to become a Jew. The rest is commentary.
What experiences led you to become racist against whites?
I had experienced so many racial assaults that I couldnâ€™t distinguish between individual whites. I assumed everyone was going to act the same way. There was no one I could really trust. As a child, I saw a White Castle and I wanted a hamburger. I got out of my uncleâ€™s car and he tried to grab me but I scooted out of the car and started running towards White Castle. When I got there, there was a sign that said â€œWhites Only.â€ I was stunned. Beyond stunned. It was my first direct stab wound to the heart with racism.
Did you have similar negative experiences with Jews?
No, being anti-Semitic grew out of an American culture with stereotypical notions of the stingy Jew. I had imbibed the whole notion of Jews being money-hoarders and exclusive. There were no specific Jews that did anything personally to me.
How did you overcome those stereotypes?
I got to law school and I met Meyer Goldstein. After graduation, we became good friends, we became like brothers. His father, Rabbi Baruch Goldstein, became an inspiration for me to become a Jew. Heâ€™s an observant Conservative rabbi and a wonderful human being. I love him dearly. Heâ€™s 86 and he just published a book about his experiences in the Holocaust!
As a convert, does it bother you telling people the story of your conversion? Do you feel put off by it?
No, I like it! To me, it shows people are interested. When you find yourself in those sorts of social circles sitting at a Shabbos meal where people arenâ€™t used to seeing black people, they wonder how you got there, who you are. I think itâ€™s a natural part of a personâ€™s curiosity. Most people want to know “how” I came to convert, and I explain that I unhitched my anti-Semitic wagon when I met Meyer Goldstein, and Rabbi Baruch Goldstein treated me like a son. I converted in 1997, Conservative; in 2003, I had an Orthodox conversion.
What was the hardest part of converting to Judaism? What was easiest?