Whenever I visit somewhere new, whether in my country of origin or somewhere foreign, I typically stand on the periphery at first to “take it all in.” As Friday night services ended at a new place recently, I watched the locals exchange the global sabbatical salutation of Shabbat Shalom (Good Shabbos). Like the usual prayer attendees, friends asked about each other’s well being, they exchanged hugs and handshakes, and like any community, they eventually made their way toward the door. Only something was different. No matter their appearance, no matter their observance level, no matter if they were lay-leader or rabbi, one by one they removed their kippot. One by one they tucked away their (tzitzit) fringes. Just as the “Shabbat Shalom” blessing can leave one’s lips without much consciousness, so did they remove their kippot i.e. the common external identifier that qualifies them as a Jew.
I am black, and I am Jewish.
“’…But, mother, I won’t be alone. Other children will go with me,
My maternal great-grandfather was a German Jewish immigrant named Adolph Altschul. His wife was a freed slave woman, Maggie Carson. She was so light-skinned she could have passed for white, and one of Adolph’s and Maggie’s daughters did when she grew up. In the 1870 census records Adolph and Maggie’s names appear. Everyone’s race is indicated by a “B” for black, except for Adolph. Beside his name there is a “W” for white. Even though he was white and Maggie could have passed for white, they chose to live in the black community.
Week after week, I light two small candles. I move behind my children and put one hand on each of their heads and I begin my prayer: Y’varech’cha Adonai V’yishmerecha. I ask that they be blessed and kept safe, favored and granted peace. I kiss each child on the forehead, oldest to youngest, as if my kiss affords them my own protection, and then give them into the keeping of a new week, bending towards a new Shabbat, where I will give them this blessing again.
“For they (the teachings) are our life source, and what lengthen our days, and so we meditate on them day and night.”— Siddur
This piece is being published on the yahrzeit of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory, may his teachings endure.
I’m a convert. I converted. I wasn’t “BORN” Jewish, whatever the heck that means.
Recently at work, one of my co-workers, who is a Chinese originally from Taiwan, stopped by my desk to ask me a question. He spotted the calendar on my desk.