Reading Torah at Camp Be'chol Lashon. Used with permission from Be'chol Lashon

When Black History Month and Torah Come Together

A Black-Jewish poet pens Torah-inspired reflections for Black History Month.

This year, Black History Month resonates particularly strongly for me as a Jew. For this February, Jews around the world are reading the Torah portions that focus on the Israelites, Moses and the journey out of Egypt and towards freedom.

Black history and the suffering of the Israelites are part of the same story. We have always been intertwined in our experiences as slaves, persecuted peoples, and as allies. We worked together during the Civil Rights Movement. Still today, we continue to partner in the fight for social justice, humanity, inclusion and equality. I see our histories as being very similar and our fight as the same. Every day and forever, the Jewish and Black stories are bonded. We need to continue the work of our ancestors and leaders. We will honor those who came before us: Abraham, Sarah, Harriet, Isaac, Frederick, Rebekah, James, Leah, Crispus, Miriam, Maya, Rachel, Sojourner, Esther, Martin, Moses, Langston, Ruth, and Nelson.

In honor of Black History Month, I wrote the following responses to the Torah portions that we will read this month. These poems speak to the connected journey and experiences of Black and Jewish people. They will appear in my forthcoming book, “Butterflies in Fields of Corn.”

Parashat Yitro

We journeyed across the land

and experienced miracles from G-d

demonstrations of his power

after we were released from bondage

and blessed to be alive

We prayed to persevere and survive

We congregated, walked, and rested together

we shared stories

of stress, sacrifice, and success

and sang as we marched on

in the desert

dry and barren

yet we were full of hope

We were weary

and rested together

at the base of the mountain

and communed about

all of the wonders we had seen

after we were let go

as slaves

now trying to thrive

We wanted to persevere and survive

We praised G-d for giving us

the strength to press on

the fortitude to keep moving

and allowing the stars to guide us

leading us to the blessed freedom

of our dreams

and celebrating

our lives

saved and revived

We persevered and survived

We settled by the mountain

called Sinai

and feasted on matza and pomegranates

and drank the sweet wine

of liberty

we relished in our freedom

of no longer being deprived

We honored how we persevered and survived

We celebrated life

wildly

and suddenly

a figure appeared from the top of

Mount Sinai

our leader

after 40 days and nights

to share G-d’s truth

and light

to guide us to a life

that is right.

With scripts eloquently and passionately spoken

our leaders gave all they could give

they challenged us to be people of character

peace and love

to be as G-d calls us to live

The divine texts

blessed by G-d

inspired by the flames

burned in the heart

powerful like the lightning from the sky

sacred verses

received on the mountain top

providing us with ways

to make a new start

Dreams sermoned

from the mountain top

mitzvahs of love and peace

goodness and community

prayers that hate would stop

We vowed to fight

to never again

be in bondage

and never forget

our history of slavery

and always do what is right

Commandments of values, respect

trust, and responsibility

messages of order, justice, and equality

heard throughout the land

encouraging and inspiring us

to live by the laws

of G-d’s love

decrees of peace and unity

Our journey continues

across the land

as we commune for humanity

and work together so all people may thrive

honoring our interconnected history

collaborating as one community

we will ALL persevere and survive.

 

Mount Sinai

 

She walks from Mount Sinai

Gloriously

appearing from the Shabbat sun

a crown of gold and copper

adorning her ebony wooly hair

twisted roots intersecting

representing the history of her

and how her story had begun

 

Her lips

painted with pomegranates

separated like the sea

sharing sacred scrolls

seeping from the crevices

of her ivory teeth

she stood so sure

poised to present

a powerful sermon

her eyes shining

dark and rich

a blend of coal and diamonds

Illuminating her care

her flesh

revealed the light

radiating from her inner being

reflecting hues of bronze

and wood persimmon

her beauty so rare

and spirit so pure

 

She walks from Mount Sinai

dressed in red tapestry

of fine linen

carrying the rules of life

in her hands

her body

inviting aromas

of havdalah spice

from within her temple

she depicts the innocence

of cherubim

and the strength of the beams

holding the tabernacle

facing the east

she nurtures the earth

and engulfs it with the

natural incense

of her energy

soulfully

she speaks

G-d

and commands

her people to

live

holy

She walks from Mount Sinai

Powerfully

she floats

peacefully

welcoming Shavuot

and spreads her arms toward the west and the east

blessing the land

and testifies of promises

clairvoyantly predicting

oppression

and faithfully

fortuning redemption

she shares

G-d’s plan

 

She walks from Mount Sinai

Gracefully

revealing her dreams

and the hopes in her mind

believing that anything is possible

and caring for humankind

she is the root

spreading her love

embedded in the soil

the magnificent universe

is within her

the G-d above

 

She walks from Mount Sinai

Courageously

accepting her fate

knowing that the Israelites

will be persecuted

and pleads for forgiveness

and mercy for her people’s sake.

She walks from Mount Sinai

Beautifully

&

Gloriously

void of judgements

profoundly loving her people

and giving them

the absolute joy of life

G-d’s testaments.

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