Author Archives: Aliza Hausman

Aliza Hausman

About Aliza Hausman

Aliza Hausman is a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, blogger and educator. Currently working on a memoir, she lives in New York with her husband.

10 Questions with Author Ernest H. Adams

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:ghetto_to_ghetto.jpgCan 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 couldn’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 uncle’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 “Whites Only.†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. He’s an observant Conservative rabbi and a wonderful human being. I love him dearly. He’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 aren’t used to seeing black people, they wonder how you got there, who you are. I think it’s a natural part of a person’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?

The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Converts

Don’t ask.

The number one question you want to ask a convert is exactly the question you shouldn’t. Asking someone why they converted, just after meeting them, is a little like asking to see their underwear. It’s like you’re asking us to get very naked about something deeply personal when we’ve just met. Like anything else, wait until you really get to know someone before expecting them to bare their souls. People will often let you see the skeletons in their closets when they’re comfortable with to talk to a jewish convert

Don’t tell.

If a convert does tell you about her conversion, that doesn’t mean it’s your story to tell. My friend Danielle says her former roommate told everyone Danielle was a convert. Danielle didn’t want people to know (and no, not because she was embarrassed about it). It just wasn’t her roommate’s story to tell. I know you’re wondering, “Why can’t I tell someone that Danielle is a convert, it’s a fact!” Remember how Judaism feels about gossip? What if people were discussing your personal business behind your back without your permission? Indeed, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b-59b) forbids us from oppressing converts by treating them as anything other than a regular member of the tribe.

Remember, no one looks like a convert.

“James William? That’s not a very Jewish name!” People of color and blondes with oh-so-blue eyes, the “exotic” faces in the Ashkenazi Jewish fold, frequently get questions like this that try to get around directly asking, “Are you a convert?” In The Color of Jews, Yavilah McCoy, whose ancestors were converts, says, “When I walk into a room and say to people I meet ‘I’m Jewish’ often I will get the response ‘but you’re Black.'” Since when are the two mutually exclusive? People often make offensive racial assumptions about Jews (and converts) of color. Just like we’re not all named Rosenberg, one convert of color says it’s helpful to note that “Judaism is not a ‘race’ of white people. One of the things people should be mindful of is not to assume all people of color in the synagogue are converts (or the help, for that matter).”