Saturday, October 6, 2007

Self-Image: The Present

Before reading this post I suggest you read part 1 Self-Image The Past first.

When I speak of the present and my self image, I include my entire life as a part of this. Taking stock of the information in part 1 about my family's past, I take all of that into consideration when I look at my life from its beginning to the present. Every decision that have made in some way contains elements of my family history along with my personal experiences. As I grew older I began to relate more with the Jewish ancestry on my father's side that came about of Iberia (Portugal and Spain) as well as those who came out of the Bilad es-Sudan (West Africa). Those combined experiences in turn determine on a day to day basis who I am and where I stand.

I was born in 1975 to Eliyahu Ever and Sallie Ever. In 1978 my father passed away and my mother made a number of decisions about how she was going to raise me since she was then a single parent. My father's mother, Elnora Lyons-Ever, came to live with my mother for about a year in order to teach my mother how to raise me. I did not grow up around the majority of my close relatives on either side of my family. In Kansas City most of my family were either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd cousins. I was an only child and I was one of the youngest children in the family I had in the area so as time went on I was on my own for the most part. During those years I didn't have much interest in my family history or culture. Up until my college years I didn't really think there was much to my family because the past was something that only grandmother Elnora Lyons-Ever would talk about.

My journey's in life can broken up into the following categories.
  1. Early Elementary School: Attending predominately European American school where learning English and French was a requirement, and lived in a closed off African American neighborhood in Kansas City, MO. Most of my friends at school were of European American descent and in my neighborhood all of my friends were African American. Part of our family lived in an Orthodox Jewish community, and until they moved I spent some time with them. Off and on I also spent the summers in various parts of Texas with different family members.
  2. Okinawa, Japan: I was around Americans stationed on the Marine base there and some of the local residents who lived near or on the base. I later returned to Japan in 2006 for work, but that time to the main land as I was in Kawisaki.
  3. 7th Grade to 8th Grade: I attended a predominately African American school. During my 7th grade year my mother and I lived in an African American neighborhood. During my 8th grade year when I attended this school my mother moved us to a European American community in the suburbs. Most of the residents of this community were baby boomers or elderly European Americans of with unknown or no visible cultural background. Most of the residents of the community kept to themselves so I had limited contact with them.
  4. High school: I attended a school that was 60% European American, 30% African American, and 10% other ethnic origins. I had a mix of friends from various African American, European American, Asian American, and Latin American cultures.
  5. College in Texas: I attended a predominately African American university and I lived in several different neighborhoods. I lived on campus for two years, three years in a mixed neighborhood, and two years in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. Most of my friends on campus were from Ethiopian, Indian, Jamaican, and African American ethnic groups. Many of my friendships after 1996 were made of up members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.
  6. California: I lived in a mixed neighborhood made up mostly of Latin Americans. I worked in a mixed environment and my friends were African American, Vietnamese, Filipino, Ethiopian, and Lebanese.
  7. New Jersey: I lived in a predominately non-Jewish Euro-American neighborhood. Most of my friends were members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
  8. Ethiopia: In Ethiopia I stayed in Addis Ababa and during this period all of my friends were Ethiopian of Tigrenya and Oromo ethnic descent. There are about 50 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, each with their own languages and traditions.
  9. New York: While I stayed in Manhattan I was around a varying group of people. In the initial stages of my life in New York I was around Syrian Jews, Moroccan Jews, African Americans, Orthodox Hasidic Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and Conservative Jews. During my later years I was around Israelis of Yemenite, Ethiopian, Syrian, and Moroccan descent. Some of my friends were religious and some were not.
  10. Maale Adummim, Israel: Currently, I live in a mixed neighborhood made up of Yemenite, Moroccan, Ashkenazi, Religious, non-Religious, etc. Israelis. I have seen some Ethiopian Israelis around but I think they live in another neighborhood. I have some cousins that live down the street.
During the first 7 phases mentioned I spent a number of years searching for the path that I should follow. Because of the fact that I had been in a number of places and cultures I was not certain what I was supposed to do with my life. I was also not certain who God was or what exactly I was to believe. It was not until college by chance that I received an invitation to a Passover Seder from a source that I did not know that something hit me. I read the invitation several times wondering how anyone knew about me, and why they sent it to me. At that time I had no rudder in my life, if the wind blew east I went east. If the the wind blew south I went south. It was also during this time of searching that I made a number of mistakes about where to place my loyalties and who truly represented truth with a capital T. It wad during these those times that I walked into and out of many false or weak ideologies and I have since never looked back.

About year before my grandmother Elnora Lyons-Ever passed away that I began to see that something was missing. One day when I spoke to her on the phone she asked me, "What do you believe?" I wasn't sure what she was getting at so I just babbled off some things. She once again asked me, "What do you believe?" At this point I didn't have a clear answer for her because I didn't know. It was then that she said, "Soon I am not going to be here anymore and you are going to have to make a choice. Not just because I told you something, and not because your mother told you something. You are going to have to find it for yourself."

I was a little scared by her words because they were laced with the reality that I was going to have to find my way back to a path that I had not fully walked upon, and I was going to have to do it alone. By the time I was born, all of my grandfather's had passed away. My father had passed away and much of the family was scattered to the four corners of the earth. So when I returned to Judaism I did so ignoring my family past, and I did so with the only path that was available to me: the Reform and Conservative path.

That was until a Rabbi of West African and Spanish descent told me, "You can't return to a place you didn't come from." His words meant that if I was going to return to Judaism I was going to need to do so through the history of my family i.e. Jews of West African, North African, Spanish, and Yemenite descent. Trying to be a Jew while ignoring my family's past and the past of the regions they came from was not going to bring me back to where I needed to be.

It was during the times of numbers 8, 9, and 10 that I began to ask questions of my family, and I began to reseach our family origins. What I found was that the entire time who we were was there staring me in the face. I just had never asked the right questions and I didn't ask the right people. Just last year I came into contact with Sheikh Abdel Haidara of Timbuktu, Mali and he helped identify where my past resided he offered me a chance to come to Timbuktu and learn more about Jews who were once there. I hope to take him up on the offer sometime within the next 5 years.

All of the above experiences make up who I am in the present. My decisions about where I live and how I live my life are first and fore most grounded upon my faith. Next, they are rooted in the cultures that my family came from. Then they are weighed with the life that I have personally lived. This is what made me want to start this blog because the places I have lived and the people I have been around have shaped a number of my opinions on life. I am not one to say that my opinions are superior, they of course are not, and I won't lay claim to be the only one with them. They are simply the result of the world that I have lived in.

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