Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Sleeper Must Awaken: The Black Jewish Question

When I first moved to New York I remember once being asked by someone, "What is it like to be Black and Jewish?" My answer to this person was, "It is like being invited to a VIP party and always getting the best seats." This person had a puzzled look on their face, while other people laughed when I said this. This has been my experience as a Jew of Sephardic, Senegalese, French, and African American ancestry.

I have heard stories of people who say they have had all kind of problems, but that has not been my experience. People who have read my other writings on this blog can easily understand why, because I grew up with a different view of the world than many people have. Maybe, what some people perceive as problems I see as obstacles that I willingly overcome. I enjoy life because God has given so much to me and has guided me and guarded me through a number of difficult situations.

So the other day I received an email from a young man in Ghana who is working to convert to Judaism. He asked me the following question about my new life in Israel.

Ghanian Man's Question:
"So how is life like out there in Israel. I am thinking of moving there soon but I have a feeling that I will be the odd one out. Yes, I could be mistaken for a Black Arab, Indian or Ethiopian when my hair is shaved but when it grows, thats where they see my African roots clearly. So how do you cope out there, do they see you as the different one or as a Jew."

Below is my response with pictures of me in Israel.

Ehav's Response:
In terms of your question about living in Israel. Personally, I like it here. It works for me, but it doesn't work for everyone. I know people who have moved here from America and had a hard time and they left. I also know people who have moved here and are doing okay. American women, for example, have a harder time here. As my teacher, Mori Yair Ben-Shalom once told me you have to pray you have to learn Torah and Halakhah (Jewish Law) in order to make it here. You also have to have a strong will, and be able to use logic to work through difficult situations.

If you are looking at moving here you definitely want to pray about that since it is not an easy place to live for anyone. Thanks to God I had a good job waiting for me before I came here. I also had family here, whom I live near. I am a part of the Yemenite Jewish community so everywhere I go where there are Yemenite Jews I am always welcome. So I have a community. It is hard to make it in Israel without a community. The more Hebrew you know before you come here the better. I would also suggest that you visit here before you make a decision to move here. That way you know if it is really for you. I came to Israel twice before I moved.

In terms of how people see me, I don't ever think about that. I speak Hebrew like an Israeli so I don't get any problems in that area. Also, I always carry myself with pride and if you do that people may not give you problems. I like to talk so when people do ask me questions I simply tell them about my family history and such. I come from a mixed family Sephardic Jews, Senegalese, French, of African American descent. If you are legally Jewish either through your mother or through conversion you are Jewish, and people aren't allowed to make you feel different. If they do you have to be confrontational with them and not back down. Once again though this may rest upon the fact that I have a community here so I don't need anyone to approve me for anything. Also, my mother taught me to walk with confidence so I don't have problems maybe because of that. So I feel accepted everywhere I go because I have met some really nice people, besides I like to argue so if someone started trouble I would argue with them.

I do know some African Americans who moved here and have said they have problems. Most of those people I think though are around the type of people who talk bad about other Israelis such as Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Moroccan Jews, etc.. Also, some people don't have good jobs so it makes it so they depend on others more. The biggest thing is to make sure you have the ability to acquire a job that will pay well and allow you to advance. Without this it will be really hard to make it here.

In the end the only way one can make it here is in Israel is with the help of God. I have seen how my moving here how God has helped in situations, and ways that didn't have any human explanation. I have also been able to accomplish things within a few weeks that most new immagrants to Israel don't accomplish after months of being here.
  • Most people do a pilot trip to Israel to decide where they want to live and such before they move.
  • Most people don't move here with a job. Most people save up money for years then they move, and normally don't start looking for work until about 6 to 9 months after they move here.
  • Most people don't find an apartment that quickly. My cousins here looked at 15 apartments before they found the one they wanted.
With me the situation was completely different.
  • With me, I found a job before I came.
  • I didn't have a lot of money saved since I originally didn't plan on moving for another 5 years.
  • My job offered me a car and to pay for gas.
  • I found an apartment in about three weeks, and I moved in after only being here four weeks.
  • I was already a part of a community before I came here since I pray with the Yemenite Jews.
All in all if God guides, protects you, and has mercy on you many things can work out in ways that aren't normal. That has been my experience.

Ehav's Basic Rule #1: Stick with the Yemenite Jews they take care of you!


Wanda said...

ill remember to stick with the Yemenite Jews lol. I suppose you probably get asked on your experience being Black and Jewish often. Even though I grew in a community with a really strong Jewish population, I had never seen black jews in my life.
Excuse my ignorance, but I honestly didn't even know they existed. It wasn't until seeing an Orthodox Jewish black family walking down the street on Saturday, did I realize the you could even be black and jewish.

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Wanda,

Think of it this way. Yemenite Jews have some of the best food, music, and dancing. You can't go wrong with them. lol

Yes, there are a variety of African, African American, etc. Jews. It is a complex and diverse history. Yes, a person can be of any ethnic group and be Jewish. When Jews migrated to places they initially brought in a few women from the local population. After a population was established they pretty much kept to themselves. I wrote, or co-wrote a number of articles on Wikipedia about Jews from Africa. If you do a search on African Jews you can find it or you can find it at:


I am going to do an article on my blog soon about the Jewish community that used to exist in Senegal and Mali.

Ehav Ever said...

Also, when I lived in Kansas City, there weren't many Jews who were African American. Now in Overland Park there are more. Kansas City is not a very diverse Jewish city. New York is really diverse. In NY you can find Yemenite Jews, Iranian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Moroccan Jews, Syrian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Hebrew Israelites, etc.

rivkayael said...

Ehav: I second you on the food. Oh the food...oh the food...(I want to be Yemenite during Pesach).

Wanda said...

thanks for the link! I also agree, I never saw much of a Jewish community in Kansas City. Never ventured to much in to Overland Park though, unless going to the mall.

Tr8erGirl said...

Great advice, I admire your attitude!

Ehav Ever said...

Rivka Yael - That is too funny. Pesahh is good, but you must try the food on the other Hhaggim. You at least have to try Yemenite for one year.

Tr8ergirl - Thanks for the words and for always stopping by.

Aussie Jewboy said...

Awesome blog!

You are the champ!


Australian Jewboy :)

Aussie Jewboy said...

I am wondering, how many Black Jews lives in USA and Canada?

and do u know any good website of Black Jews population around the world? cause when I was googled for that and it only shows the pop of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, Ghana, and some in Africa but not outside of Africa/Israel and Im very curious how many Black Jews in Australia and other countries...
Cause here in Australia, I only know few Black Jews (mostly ethiopian israeli) and have 4 Black Jews (One from Jamaica, two Ethiopian Israelis and one from Kenya) and they are awesome ppl... :)

Have a goodone!
Shalom :)

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Aussie Jew,

Thanks for checking out the site. Sorry for the late reply. In terms of your question about the Black Jewish population that is a tricky one for several reasons.

When you speak of Black Jews the term can mean anything depending who you are talking about. Example, Ethiopian Jews, African American Jews, Sephardic Jews with Sub-Saharan African ancestry, Hebrew Israelites, etc.

The is not exactly inclusive depending on how it is being used. I know that there are around 150,000 Ethiopian Jews for example. In terms of other groups I don't know. Because there is no such thing as a Black Jewish Eduth that covers all minhagim for Africa I wouldn't know the numbers.

Black jews said...

We black Jews do exits and we live in Jamacia,for over 300 years now .