12/13 June 2020, 20/21 Sivan 5780


I wanted this week to share the words of our member Elijah Michael, writing for him and his brother, Benji. I’m immensely proud of his eloquence and what he shares with us. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

This is my take on what it’s like being black and Jewish. This is the same for Benji also.

In an article by the Jewish Chronicle in 2019 about the experience of young, black Jews – which is my demographic – the common theme throughout was that they experienced ignorance but not necessarily racism and I’d argue that is the same for myself. 99.9% of my experience of being black in the Jewish community has been positive and uplifting. However, there have been cases which need to be addressed. One remotely ignorant comment that I’ve become almost numb to is “you don’t look Jewish”. I don’t perceive it as explicit racism, but I do regrettably perceive it as the internalising of the racist trope that all Jews are hook-nosed, no taller than 5’5″ and engrossed by the prospect of vast monetary wealth. It also reflects an imaginary idea that I’m not typically Jewish by a specific ‘standard’ simply because I’m a person of colour, which is rather ridiculous. Another I come across is “do you play basketball?” which I’ve received from a few of the older members of the congregation. Whilst it is a racial stereotype, I am aware that in the context of the scenario they weren’t intending any offence and most likely meant it as a compliment and I am also conscious that this is as much attributed to my tall height (6’2″) as it is to my skin colour. They shouldn’t be chastised for it, but educated as to why that is offensive and how it resembles an unpleasant cliché that pigeonholes me based on my skin colour.

Often I find myself sticking out in most Jewish settings throughout life; whether it be JSoc, school or synagogue and the only thing I ask is that I am treated as a normal human being. I have noticed that there is a certain glamour associated with my skin colour and often when I mention to another Jewish person that I am also a Jew, a tumultuous delight about me ignites in them. 1 in 2 Jews in Israel are of colour and you are as likely to come across a person of Ethiopian descent with a yarmulke on their head as you are a Chasid with a streimel. Black Jews are not the unicorns they’re often perceived to be and it is something that needs to be made more of.

It must be said that in light of the recent events of America, it fills me with pride that the Jewish community – regardless of sect or domination – has rallied in rigorous support of the black community and the black Jews within the community in the face of racism rearing its ugly head again.