10 Questions with Author Ernest H. Adams

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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?

Posted on June 8, 2009

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