Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Comparisons: African Americans, Jews, and Asians Business Support

Not long ago I came across an interesting blog by Notta Goldigger. She had a number of topics from 2006 that I found real interesting and I felt that my perspective as someone who was both Jewish and African American could shed a different view on the topic. Unfortunately, I missed all of the good debate and I still wanted to be able to respond in some sense. Then enter the idea of my own blog.

The following is my response to her topic about Black People supporting Black businesses in similar ways to how Jews and Asians support businesses run by the members of their ethnic group. I feel that often people don't understand why Jews and Asians support their own business. I also think that there are some issues that Black people would have to solve for themselves in order for something like that to be successful.

Notta wrote:
If you look at other communities, namely Jewish and Asian communities, they do a superb job of keeping wealth "in the family."

Ehav Ever's Response
I think that you have to look at little bit deeper at your point here. For example the only Jews who go to other Jews for services are ones who have a specific need that can only be obtained from a fellow Jew. For example, there are a lot of Jews who don't go to Jews only when it comes to their plumber or their electrician. Anybody is good at the job can get that job. Even when it comes to grocery stores we can shop at non-Jewish owned stores as long as what we are buying is Kosher. (The U with the O around it denotes Kosher, as well as the letter "K" that see on some products.) Because there are stores where EVERYTHING is Kosher it is at times easier to shop at those as compared to a non-Kosher store.

Yet, Jews primarily own Kosher butcher shops or Judaica stores (Stores that sell Jewish books, and religious goods). Because a Rabbi has to be present to inspect if food is Kosher or not, there is less of a chance that a non-Jew would open a Jewish butcher shop. (There are stores here in New York that are owned by non-Jews, but because there is a large Jewish population here that is religious, semi-religious, or at least strict on Kosher food they have made themselves available to Jewish requirements.

In terms of Judaica shop, once again this is an industry in itself that requires connections because of elements of Jewish law about who can produce the items. Also, most Judaica comes from Israel, so very few non-Jews have a connection to religious Jewish communities that provide these kind of services. Also, Jewish communities world-wide were forced to live in closed off and tight knit communities. These communities whether they were in the Middle East, Africa, Asian, or Europe historically revolved around the synagogue.

Notta wrote:
Many times, they almost exclusively use services or buy goods from their own. They are also quick to seek and offer referrals to each other to maintain the wealth within their communities.

Ehav's Response
This is idealizing it a bit. For Jews it goes back to products that are not common in the non-Jewish world. For example, when I visit Lexington, KY for work I can never go to a restaurant to eat. The reason is because there are NO kosher restaurants there. There are three synagogues in town, but they are all reform. Non of them are open during the week for prayer, Jews pray 3 times a day with at least 10 men present at a synagogue. When a city does not have at least this every day the chances are great that there are no Kosher restaurants either since most Reform Jews believed the Bible to be outdated codes of conduct. So when I go to to Lexington I have to go to the grocery store and buy kosher. As long a product is Kosher with correct markings to show it is, and checked by a Rabbi, I can buy it even if a non-Jewish company made it.

Notta wrote:
I understand that these groups differ from us in that they willingly came to this country to benefit from its opportunities, but at some point we have to stop making excuses and just make it happen.

Ehav's Response
Once again I think you are looking at it from the wrong angle. Here's an example. Jews from Iran are a very closed off community, even amongst other Jews. Any Jew can go and pray with Iranian Jews, be a part of their community, but they (Iranian Jews) have less than a 5% intermarriage rate, even amongst other Jews. The reason is that back in Iran during the 1800's for about 200 years the Jews in many parts of Iran were forced to become Muslims. In order for the community to survive they hide their Jewish practices. In the open they practiced Islam. In private they hid the fact they were still practicing Judaism. They even married off children young, and betrothed them before they were born to prevent Muslims from marrying their children as to preserve the Jewish line secretly. When the regime changed and Jews could legally practice again, they went back to Judaism.

Why do I mention this? When Iranian Jews began to immigrate to America most of them moved together into a neighborhood in Brooklyn. This was due to their common religious and cultural experience in Iran. When a new immigrant came the previous group helped them by giving them jobs. Then in turn that immigrant was grateful to the Iranian Jews who helped him/her. So when he made it helped other Iranian Jews. This was because a bond going back several thousand years as Iranian Jews was formed. Their religion and culture is the same, and they live in the same neighborhoods, they know the same families, and they marry into the same communities.

The struggles of each Jewish community whether it be in Yemen, Ethiopia, Morocco, Germany, Spain, England, Tunisia, Mali, etc. Jews by faith or by law had to live in the same area and marry only Jews. The Bible dictates that Jew marries either a Jew or a Ger (i.e. a convert). Converts can come from ANY culture and once they convert they can join any Jewish culture or community and are just the same as someone born Jewish.

You also have to remember that Jews and Asians also have languages that make them distinct from people who are not from their cultures. Most Jews who speak Hebrew, or are native Israelis, have a common language. Even further Jews also spoke the vernacular from the countries they came from. Asians have a similar situation in that they often unite under national and linguistic ties. There are many Africans and Haitians who do the same for the reason mentioned above.

Also, there have been Jews in America since the 1600's. The first synagogue was a Spanish/Portuguese synagogue founded in 1634 in New York. They came here to escape the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

There are some African Americans in the Southern part of the East Coast have a similar situation. The Geeches for example are African Americans who have their own language, culture and their own community.

One other thing I would like to mention. In order for money in the "black" community to remain and rotate in the "black" there would have to be a clear sense of what is meant by "black community." For example, people who have a similar culture, language, and origin normally form communities with like mind people. People who have goods that they can ONLY get from members of their community, will gravitate to those who have these goods. When you have defined what a "black" community i.e. its culture, morals, needs, wants, and common historical sense. Then you can deal with the next question. What goods or services do ONLY African Americans need, and can only be provided by African Americans? In my previous example I discussed how this works in the Jewish COMMUNITIES worldwide.

A community is formed when there is a synagogue (a place to pray), when there 10 Jewish men, and when there is the ability to obtain Kosher food. With the exception of the last one the first two functions can ONLY be performed by Jews, and with the last one, kosher food, for the most part on Jews open Kosher restaurants. There are other services that only Jews open that eventually also open after this first three things are met. As more people move into said community, there are more restaurants. So then there is a Kosher Moroccan, Kosher Yemenite, Kosher Deli. Then another guy opens a clothing store. (Jewish clothing isn’t supposed to mix linen and wool.) Then non-Jewish businesses see the value of stocking Jewish products since for example Passover generates a lot of money. All of this starts with a synagogue, a group of 10 or more Jewish families, and a Kosher resturant. Money comes back to fellow Jews BECAUSE, as certain business owners get rich they give what is called in Hebrew "Tzedaqah" which loosely translates into charity, but essentially means Justice. It is required by religious law that every Jew gives 10% in charity. So if the synagogue receives charity then from the rich they then have the ability to help less fortunate Jews. In EVERY Jewish synagogue when you receive certain honors it is customary to give a certain amount of money. For example, at my synagogue whenever we are called upon to read from the Torah scroll, we normally denote a certain amount of charity for the honor.

At the heart of all of this is 1) a common belief system, 2) a common culture (with minor differences based on location), 3) a common need for certain products and services, 4) a common language, and 5) a common homeland. Any group of people who have those things, at least in part have the ability to form a culture.

1 comment:

Yael said...

Shalom,

I really enjoyed this blog as well as you photos of Eretz Yisrael! I haven't been there yet and your photos gave me a pleasant view of what I can look forward to seeing in person. Continue promoting the love of Torah and the Most High God of Yisrael.

-Yael Bat Yisrael