Embracing A Jewish Henna Wedding Tradition


When my then fiancé and I were planning our wedding, I told him that I didn’t want to circle around him under the chuppah (wedding canopy). His reaction was not what I expected. Instead of him saying, “Okay” or “Why not?,” I got something along the lines of, “What are you talking about?”

Posted on October 7, 2015

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A Family Ritual for Blessing the New Year


With joy we share our family tradition of “Lavar la Cara” (washing our faces in the ocean). It seems that this tradition combines many elements of two ceremonies. The first is “Tashlich” from the Hebrew “to cast off,” referring to the custom of tossing bits of bread in the water to symbolize the casting off of our sins. The second is a healing ritual of the Rhodeslis — those who trace roots to the island of Rhodes, tossing ailments into the ocean and receiving renewed health from the ocean, HaShem and the incantations and blessings of our elders.

Posted on September 9, 2015

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A New Year: Another New Beginning


If I’ve learned anything being a black, observant, Jewish hip-hop artist, it’s that it takes time and patience for something new to be accepted and to catch on. I was told years ago that rap music had no place in the Jewish world and I could never hope to really touch anybody with this kind of music. I wondered, was I being too radical? Did a genre of music that affected me so much for so long stand any chance of being incorporated into the system of Jewish values that inspires and invigorates our connection to the Creator?

Posted on September 1, 2015

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Blessed Are Thou Lord Who Multitasks


Rosh Hashanah is a magical time.  Or at least, we seem to think so. According to the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1.2), on this date “all of creation passes in front of God like sheep in a flock.”  Our High Holidays liturgy takes this idea of “the Day of Judgement” and runs deep with it.  In the Ashkenazi holiday prayer book, the Unetane Tokef painstakingly details the different ways in which God decides on this day how we might die (or live) next year: “Who by fire, and who by water, who by the sword and who by famine.”  The theological underpinning of this belief is that Rosh Hashanah is a heady textured time in which God is busy with deciding the fate of all creatures for the next year, and that our behavior in this time might swing God’s judgment in our favor: “but prayer, charity and repentance annul the severity of the decree.”

Posted on August 25, 2015

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From Monsey to Istanbul


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.

Posted on July 29, 2015

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Passing for Black?: Another Perspective


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.

Posted on July 7, 2015

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