Black (Jewish) History Month
Voices and sources that inspire and educate.
In Jewish tradition, one of the ways of honoring someone who is deceased is to study Torah in their honor. Since this is a newsletter exploring Jewish thought, I’m putting my own spin on that and dedicating this week’s drop to a reader and a great human who passed away this week. Phil was an incredibly kind and sweet person who cared about Judaism and Israel as much as he cared about others. He read this newsletter, and said he looked forward to reading it every Friday - I even quote him on my about page! Well, Phil, I never did get that cocktail with you, but I’ll be pouring one out in your honor this weekend. And I will always think of you whenever I see a bag of M&M’s.
In honor of Black History Month, I’m sharing Black and Jewish voices I find educational and inspiring. There are many others, especially the voices of those we often do not hear because they are silenced, so I encourage you to do your own research as well!
Tova Ricardo an award-winning spoken word poet, writer, and Jewish advocate from the San Francisco Bay Area. As a Black Ashkenazi woman and an emerging Jewish professional invested in Torah, Israel advocacy, and uplifting American Jewish communities of color, Ricardo's community engagement work and writing has been featured in Hillel International, Jewish Journal, Jews of Color Initiative, Jewish Federations of North America, and UJA-Federation of NY. She posts her poetry and advocacy content on Instagram as @tovathepoet.
“I am a poet, & through my art I process the experiences I’ve faced in my life as a Black Jewish woman. I write because I need to. I write because there is something I have to say & my ears need to hear it. & yet, I can only hope that my words & expression can be communicated to others so that someone feels more seen & less invisible. I speak into existence all of the strengths & weaknesses & fears & hopes that I have compiled. I pray that I can honor them as the history of me & the legacy of this beautiful Blackness, Jewishness, & womanhood I carry.”
Rabbi Sandra Lawson is the Inaugural Director of Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Reconstructing Judaism. She’s also an activist, speaker, and musician, and made history in 2018 as the first openly gay, female, Black rabbi in the world. She was featured as one of JTA’s 50 Jews everyone should follow on Twitter and is known as “the Snapchat rabbi.”
Fun bonus: her wife makes Shabbat Shalom Bitches mugs that we all positively NEED.
Westside Gravy (Noah Shufutinsky) is a hip-hop recording artist and producer from San Diego, California, now living in Israel. He raps about his mixed heritage as a Black Russian Jew, and about social consciousness.
“I’m a proud part of the diaspora / in my heart I hold Jerusalem and Africa”
“I come from a people that have been forcibly disconnected from their homeland, whether that was my roots on my mom’s side [West Africa] or my dad’s side [Former Soviet Union], where they were forced to adapt to diaspora culture, but still they made the effort to make everything available to me to make sure my siblings and I had the opportunity to explore our roots and take pride in our identity.”
Elisheva Rishon identifies as a Black female Orthodox designer and content creator. You can find her work on Instagram at @ElishevaEli7Designs. And she wrote an article on Shabbos makeup for Allure (umm hello Queen!).
“Being a part of two of the most historically marginalized groups in America adds a special lens to how I view the world. I’m a physical embodiment of the definition of “nuance” as someone who exists in Black spaces, Jewish spaces, Orthodox Jewish spaces & Black Jewish spaces simultaneously. As a result, I have a deeper understanding of the inter-communal and intra-communal issues within the Black & Jewish communities.”
More Sources for Black History Month (but make it Jewish!)
‘Blackness Deserves a Seat at the Seder’ (NY Times) - Black American Jews say they are seeking ways to bring their full identity to the symbolic food of the Passover meal.
Racism in the Jewish Community (Evolve) - This essay examines the assumption that all Jews are white, while touching on a myriad of interrelated issues: conversion, interracial families, adoption, Ashkenazi privilege, and political correctness.
Michael W. Twitty’s food memoir ‘Koshersoul’ named Jewish book of the year (Times of Israel) - Jewish Book Council hails book, which details US chef’s career of fusing Jewish and African American cooking, for its ‘deep dives into theology, identity, and, of course, food.’
13 Jews of Color to Follow on Social Media Right Now (Kveller) - Here’s a list of 13 Black Jews who are spearheading discourse on race and Judaism on social media. Follow them, support them, and learn from them.
9 Black Jewish Americans in the Music Industry (Instagram) - Black, Jewish, American & in the music industry? Yes, they exist!
Jews of Color Initiative - An organization that works to build a truly multiracial, anti-racist Jewish community in which Jews of Color can experience joy and reach their full potential and belonging as leaders and community members.