Racism Within the Jewish Community

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I will start my story by saying that what you are about to read is not an attempt to demonize an entire community. The Orthodox Jewish community has the amazing potential to practice true Ahavat Yisrael and to grow. The keyword here is “potential”. The Baal Shem Tov understood this, and he spent his life trying to show Jews that they are supposed to be responsible for each other and to show each other love. The concept of Ahavat Yisrael is deeply imbedded in Judaism, yet, in my experience, as a Black Jewish woman, it is a concept not always properly embraced.

I grew up in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Crown Heights and Flatbush. As a child, I only saw myself as Jewish and equal to everyone else. I loved singing Adon Olam at the top of my lungs. I loved going over to the men’s side for the Kohanim’s blessing, and I smiled as I felt the warmth of Hashem’s love underneath my Abba’s tallit. I loved saying “Shabbat shalom” to people, even though they never said it back to me. But in spite of my enthusiasm at being a Jew, I learned at a very young age that some members of the Jewish community did not share this enthusiasm.

I went home and looked in the mirror at myself for hours until I saw that I was black. Once I saw it, I then understood that being black made me “bad” and “dirty”. Until then, I only thought I was Jewish.

I will never forget my earliest memory of being introduced to racism in my community. This earth-shattering moment occurred when I was about 8 or 9 years old, in a shul in Crown Heights. On Shabbat, during the Torah reading, a group of kids would always go out to play in the courtyard, and being shy, I never knew how to ask them if I could play with them. Finally, one day, I gathered up the courage and approached these girls, who were playing with a ball, and asked them if I could play. The girls made faces and said, “No, you can’t play with us—you’re black and dirty!”

I didn’t understand.

I checked my hands and showed them that they were clean. They laughed. I insisted to them that I had just washed my hands in the bathroom. They told me the “dirt” was all over my body, and then made a reference to the word “black” again before running away, laughing.

I was still confused.

That Shabbat, I went home and looked in the mirror at myself for hours until I saw that I was black. Once I saw it, I then understood that being black made me “bad” and “dirty”. Until then, I only thought I was Jewish.

The pain of this discrimination got even worse after I was introduced to the concept of colorism (prejudice based on shades of skin tone).

The shul girls would never play with me or my younger sister once they established that we were “black”, “bad” and “dirty”. However, once a year, this rule was relaxed, when most of the other kids went away to summer camp upstate.

With fewer kids to play with, the ones who were still around felt it was “ok” to play with us—the black kids, the leftovers.

In this instance, I was standing side by side with my younger sister, and the girls were deciding whether or not to play with us. I remember them saying they would play with my sister but not me, because she was the “lighter shvartze”, and “better” because she was “less dirty”.

When my younger sister went off to play with them, I ran to the bathroom—the bad, smelly one that no one went into—to cry. I stayed there until I heard davening conclude with the kids singing my favorite song, Adon Olam.

The girls repeated this selection process over and over again throughout the summer. Now exposed to colorism, I secretly began to resent my sister, who was shades lighter than me.

I also began to resent my dark skin and would try to wish it away or scrub at it unnecessarily, in the hopes that it would make me lighter.

Looking back on it now, it was utterly ridiculous, yet to my young, developing mind, these negative interactions—followed by many, many more similar situations—were creating deep trauma in my psyche.

Coming into adulthood, my experiences of racism within Orthodox circles only became more complex and troubling. To be clear, not every racist situation I have had to endure was always done in such an obvious manner. Some racist interactions are absentminded ones. However, most racist exchanges are less apparent and very subtle—aka microaggressions. They are much more common than loud, screaming racism.

I have experienced these microaggressions in everyday situations, such as:

  • Walking into a Jewish store with Jewish friends and being the only one watched and followed by the store manager.
  • Being at a job interview with a Jewish employer who makes comments like, “I was expecting a Jewish girl from Brooklyn,” and when I say, “I am a Jewish girl from Brooklyn,” he looks at me with smug disbelief.
  • Being on a shidduch date, and having to tell the man to stop touching me since I am shomer negiah, and then he smirks and uses various words to insinuate that I must be immoral because, in his experience, someone who “looks” like me doesn’t act appropriately.
  • Being at a singles shabbaton in a hotel, dressed in fancy Shabbat clothes, wearing a Magen David necklace, and still, several fellow Jewish attendees throughout the event approach me to ask me when their dinner will be served or why I am there.
  • When someone refuses to believe that I am Jewish or was born a Jew and says, “You don’t look Jewish.”

These microaggressions don’t go away with time or when “people get to know you”, as some in the community love to claim. No—they are persistent to this very day, because this behavior is generally tolerated in Orthodox Jewish culture. It is inescapable. And it is something that eats away at my neshama, hurting it, every day.

We can’t fight these battles on our own—we can only work on this together as a community.

Another awful aspect of going through these experiences is telling my friends in the community what is happening, and then being told 1 of 3 things, or even all 3 things at once:

1. “I don’t believe you. Prove it.”

2. “Stop being so sensitive. Everyone has a tikkun—yours is being black. Deal with it.”

3. “Stop being so negative. If you were more positive, people would not be racist toward you. Also, stop making a Chillul Hashem by talking about bad things other Jews do to you.”

It is so frustrating to hear these responses repeatedly throughout your entire life. It makes you feel helpless, as you are being victimized again. It makes you feel like you are being a bad Jew by discussing being treated poorly, differently or both, just because of your skin color. It makes you feel anger and humiliation, as no one wants to make a change and would rather label you as the problem.

It also places a huge burden on you to handle this constant behavior on your own—something which directly goes against the concept of communal responsibility associated with Ahavat Yisrael.

I hope that I have brought some awareness to the community by writing this article. I would like to ask the members of the Orthodox Jewish world to be more mindful of other Jews and what they teach their children, and to listen to Black Jewish people and believe Black Jewish people when we tell you we are dealing with situations of discrimination. We can’t fight these battles on our own—we can only work on this together as a community.


65 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing this Elisheva! I went through similar things as a child; but I did not become Jewish/frum until I was an adult. All I can say is that it is mind numbing that as much as the Orthodox strive to not be like the ‘goyim’, they’ve adapted and embraced their racism lock, stop and barrel (because racism is not a Torah concept).

    • Shona sorry you went throught this. I hope you find healing in that the Ethiopian tribe from Africa now in Israel has the Prestly bloodline. Being. Black does not make you bad, dirty or anything negative. Do some research. Have you done a DNA test? Many of the Jews of today ancestors were converts from the Kazars/ Turks but because the Jews of darker skin was in hidding in Africa and many exterminated in different countries including Africa the world assume the original Jews were absent of color. Not so DNA test show truer evidence. I believe H’Shem says he going to gather his people from the four corners of the earth. Europe is not 4 corners.

      By the way it’s lock, stock and barrel. Never let anyone make you feel less than you are.

      • Thank you for the correction! Yes, I did several DNA tests…..not to see what I am. I already know that. But to see if I could find lost family members (I had a little success with that…not as much as I hoped).

        I am hardly European – less then 10%. And I am most certainly not Jewish (not enough to show in any of my results at least). I am 85% African and South Asian mix. And that is perfectly fine. Because I have the best yichus there is – that of Avraham Aveinu and Sarah Imenu.

        Speaking of Avraham Aveinu, the ‘Children of Israel’ was never exclusive to any bloodline. From the very beginning, Avraham gathered everyone from all of the nations under his tent. When the Jews were exiled from Zion they were tasked to be a light to the nations and created converts. The Jews took in converts under the threat of death. So I have no hangups about not having “Jewish blood” (whatever that is). It ultimately is of as much significance as the color of someone’s eyes or hair in regards to Jewishness.

        • I am sorry for what you went through. I actually dated a black guy, he was a convert and was very sweet. We dated for a long time and we spoke about a wedding. It didn’t pen out for different reasons but I don’t know, I didn’t see a color I saw an amazing personality… the problem was – we both had kids and it was too hard to root them out with schools jobs and all – the long distance killed it in the end. my kids loved his kids, and they got along really well…
          I wish you the best of luck!
          And I wish our community to finally mature and grow up! And be more open minded. ❤️

        • You do know that there are two midrashim / medreshim about Matan Torah / Giving of the Torah. One is that HaShem Held Mt. Sinai over our heads and asked if we wanted His Torah…and if not, He Would’ve Dropped the Mountain on us…GONE! But the other one is about going to all of the nations and asking if they wanted His Torah. Everyone rejected it after inquiring what was in it…and He Told them whatever sin they enjoyed doing, e.g., killing, stealing, etc. Only the Jews said “Yes…now tell us what’s in it!” So…we are told that in every nation that refused the Torah, there were those neshamas who wanted the Torah…and it is THOSE neshamas who come back in another transmorgation and decide to convert. So…good chance that your neshama was one of those at time of the Matan Torah who has yearned to be a Jew observing His Laws!

        • Isn’t that exactly what the author is trying to dissuade?

          That SHE’S Jewish, too, and other Jews, who happen to be white, were not being kind to her, and that this continues today.

          THAT, the LaShon Hara towards other human beings, who happen to merely look different than you is what needs to stop. Or Moshiach will never come!

      • The Khazar theory has been debunked by every single genetic study and every piece of historical evidence. Anybody, Jewish or not, who continues to push this narrative is as racist as the people the author complains about. Sickening.

      • shut the hell up. european jews are just as jewish as african and middle eastern jews. the priest cast exists as cohens, among europeam, african, and middle eastern jews.

  2. This is a MUST-READ. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and read this right now. Then insist that your rabbi include this important essay in his or her sermon. And insist on a school assembly to discuss racism.

  3. I wish you lived here so I could proudly be your friend. In fact, you might find Israel to be a much friendlier and open community. My yeshiva edicated children went to school with Ethiopian friends and my frum yishuv is home to a young, wonderful Ethiopian family.

      • It truly is! I so wanted to make Aliyah and as much as I love Israel and my friends who live there. I know that I would have the same racial issues I have in the stated if not worse. I literally cringe at the thought of going back to visit because of how intense and stressful the security check is for a person of color and don’t say you’re Jewish because then it’s a pass to shame and exploit you in front of an entire airport.

  4. Your experience breaks my heart. I’m so sorry, my sweet child. There is no place for the hateful behavior you’ve had to endure. The community behaved ‘bli chesed’ without loving kindness, actually going further by committing a terrible inexcusable act against an innocent. You’re so brave to bring this to the forefront in order to help usher change within our people.

  5. Elisheva,
    I read this and my heart just ached. I became frum in my twenties. I happen to be of European Ashkenaz and TUrkish Sephardic descent, but my skin is white and my hair blonde. I’m happy I grew up in New York in a good public school system, where I was always exposed to people of all different races, backgrounds, religions etc and was highly educated on multicultural awareness and acceptance. Yours is not the first story I heard of this type and the fact that it could happen in Crown Heights, a Lubavitcher community (ive had such positive experiences with chabadnik a but I’m not blind that there are Problems even in chabad communities) is just even more upsetting and stomach churning. I don’t know how this even is allowed to exist in our communities. We are educated in the Torah, which teaches us to be a people of light and a beacon of love and morality. Sadly, the truth is darker then we want it to be. I’m thinking of starting a WhatsApp group talking about timely topics. This is one of them. Maybe you can be on board with this with me on one video. Just know, not all people think or behave with ignorance and we are working to change it because it’s a disgrace!!!! Thinking of you with fondness soul sister!

  6. Your story is heartbreaking and makes me so so angry that you have had to face issues like this throughout your life. I wish I went to Shul with you to stand by your side and remind anyone who wants to be racist that there is no room for that in our community. There is so much hypocrisy in the orthodox community, this is another example of it. You are a brave, strong, intelligent woman and I thank you for writing this as we need to listen and learn from people’s lives experiences in order to change.

  7. Thank you for writing this very brave article. It is so hard to be an Orthodox Jewish person of color. As an Indian Jew I know exactly how you feel. So sorry about your childhood experience.

  8. Hi Eli7, I too am an Eli7 & often write it that way. I grew up in Queens NY & have quite a few black friends. They were always played with & I’m still best friends with one of these amazing girls. This is not a negative response, and please don’t feel like I’m diminishing your very real experience or feelings. But I’ve dealt with harsh realities ( as I’m sure we all have on different levels) & it helps me grow, be more sensitive to others, know who I am and know my worth. I hope your struggles have done that & more for you. There are so many accepting amazing Jewish communities with incredible people. I hope you find ( if you haven’t already) a place to call home where you feel comfortable and happy. Thanks for your article and sharing your experience. Sending you much love & support.

  9. Thank you for writing this and speaking out. What horrific experiences you must have had. I am deeply sorry for these terrible remarks and the scars they must have left, for the intolerance, racist, and hatred these mean words and actions spread. Its evident what a special person you are, what a beautiful Neshama you have and how brave and strong you must be. We all have to learn from you strength and perseverance! In Israel – things are tough but might be better than in the Hassidic Brooklyn, come visit us here! Sending you hugs from Tel Aviv!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story, Elisheva!
    As a mother of a Jewish POC I know those wounds run deep. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability and hope that West Coast Jews are better behaved.

  11. Racism in the Jewish community is nothing less than internalized anti-Semitism. Jews who accept the intrinsic superiority of white Europeans — and I regret there are many of them—are constantly trying to show that they are just like them, or just as good. People of color end up paying the price for what is ultimately self-hate.

  12. Elisheva I totally hear what you’re saying. Unfortunately, orthodox communities are often driven by bias and clicks. My family was demonished and bullied after I made a child line report against another child inappropriately harassing my child. The new immature rabbi degraded and publicly embarrassed me at the synagogue and tried to have us thrown out on Simcha Torah. He went around telling the men not to dance with my four year old son who doesn’t have a dad. Absolutely disgusting behavior. I had been a part of for 20 years. This hatred and isolation is not a religious moral, yet it is Acted upon all the time including by people that call themselves leaders. Luckily, I was raised in a great high school. I actually was in class with Rochel the creator of Nashim. Regardless of becoming secular I don’t feel judged by the girls I grew up with and would hang out with them at any time. But I can’t say the same for the rabbi who destroyed our lives here. So each person makes their own decisions.

  13. You are amazingly brave and courageous for sharing your experience, sadly shared by many. I recall my Birthright experience and what it was like standing in the line for customs “justifying” my name, culture, and existence to strangers. I support you 100%!

  14. This resonated so strongly for me because I literally am still moving past the PTSD of trying to make it through an orthodox conversion, for almost 5 yrs.

    I couldn’t deal with the disrespect, the staring at me like i’m a science experiment, the constant rejection in just trying to learn and move forward. All because my skin was different and I was seen as not worthy!

    I’m a firm believer in some people being born with their Jewish soul and some finding there’s later in life! None of this makes anyone less or better than the other! The term “tribe” is meant to be inclusive of all regardless of how authentically Jewish one thinks they are or someone else should be.

    I know that I’ll never be accepted in the orthodox community (particularly here in Boro Park) but I’m happy that other areas of the Jewish community see my good, my love of all things Jewish along with how it resonates in my soul.

    Please stop shaming, outing and just being mean to Jews of color, we’re not monkeys, we don’t take anything away from the community and we are human beings above anything!

    #JewishIsNotAColor #ChesedPlease

  15. Never seen a jew with that skin color recieve different treatment then any one of a different skin color personally in my experience .. not saying it doesnt happen, but if it did I would address it right then and there and defend my jewish brother

    • Good for you Nachshon. I’m just curious: do you have friends who are Jews of Colour, and would they feel comfortable talking to you about racism they’ve experienced? Because I expect we both know the author isn’t lying, so maybe you just haven’t been looking?

  16. Thank you for writing this important essay. I am sorry for not being mindful of how racists we are. Miriam was struck with leprosy for speaking this way about her sister in law, Zippoah. Today we are called out on the internet.

  17. Your story is a wake-up call for all of us in the Ashkenazi Jewish world. May Hashem bless you, guard you, and encourage you to keep telling your story with such courage and care. Your words are a tikkun for all of us.

  18. Black, white, red, yellow, or brown, regardless of race, sex, nationality, or religion, WE ARE ALL PEOPLE, members of the human race. Bad with the good.

    We are defined by our culture, not by our race.

    I’m white, and I experienced antisemitism.
    I was raised in a secular home, was told my mother was Protestant but buried as a Jew

    I was raised in a secular home, my father was raised in a broken Orthodox Jewish home. My father lived with his mother, his sister and older brother lived with their father. His mother was a very strict and stern Jewish mother, my father told me that she drove him away and he abandoned his Jewish heritage. He joined the Army before the outbreak of WWII.

    My father married my mother after his Airborne training at Ft. Bragg NC, just before he was shipped off to North Africa. Many soldiers married before shipping off to war, as an anchor, a reason to come home. My father was a career soldier, 22 years in the Army. Not many Jews in the Army, so we never lived in a Jewish community. As a child I never knew what it was like to live as a Jew.

    One day when I was 8 years old while on the school playground during recess a gang of boys surrounded me and started pushing me and hitting me, they called me a Jew boy and that the Jews killed G-d and that Jews didn’t believe in G-d. I didn’t know what they were talking about, I never knew that I was Jewish, and I was confused, how could anyone kill G-d? G-d created life; he’s all knowing and powerful. They tied me to a tree and beat me; I remember seeing a girl standing by the class rooms watching the boys as they beat me. Then the bell rang and the boys ran off to their class leaving me tied to the tree, then I saw the girl again with the teacher and she was pointing at me, the teacher untied me and took me to the principal’s office and the principal called my father. I had no idea that I had Jewish roots and so I was very confused and couldn’t understand what the boys were saying, I asked my parents why the boys were calling me “Jew boy” and why they were beating me, and why they hated me.

    My parents tried to explain and answer my questions; they gave me Bible stories for children that had a lot of pictures in it. I was raised in a Christian home; my father rebelled against his Jewish roots because his mother was very strict using Jewish law and mitzvahs from the Torah as guidelines to raise her son. I read the Bible stories, and studied the Bible as I got older, I read the Bible three times, the last time I not only read the Bible I studied it, using other books to answer questions about the Bible.

    It was when I was 16 years old when I decided to adopt Judaism as my personal religion, and make Israel my home.

    I started writing to Jewish relatives on my father’s side of the family telling them that I wanted to be a Jew and asking them questions. They sent me books on Judaism and Hebrew, my uncle Sam, my father’s older brother told me about a program where Jewish children can go to a Kibbutz in Israel for a summer vacation. I talked to my parents and they thought it would be a good idea, I wrote to the Kibbutz and they sent me a pamphlet and an application form. I studied the pamphlet and it said that Jewish children could go for free, I was so excited. My mother helped me get my passport and to complete the application form. After a few weeks the Kibbutz accepted my application, but I had to pay about $300.00 for airline tickets, something I didn’t know is that the Synagogue or Temple the children attends pays for the airline tickets, I didn’t attend either a Synagogue or Temple because I lived in the country and the nearest Synagogue or Temple was 110 miles away, I was heartbroken, I wanted to go so bad.

    The older I get, the closer I come to my faith as a Jew

    https://canund.com/read-blog/49_am-i-a-jew-or-wannabe-jew.html

    • That’s nice. But this is about her experience in our community. Your story has nothing to do with it, and you are talking over her. She is talking about how fellow Jews treat her badly, you’re waxing poetic about randomly things. This was hard for her to write and painful…shut up and listen

  19. Elisheva, it is unbelievably sad that we have racism in our community! We, Jews, of all people! We are the people who have been persecuted throughout all of our history!
    I am of a Russian Jewish descent (I was born in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to the States when I was 13). I have experienced plenty of anti Semitism when I was a kid in the former Soviet Union. I became frum shortly after I moved to America . Elisheva, believe me, some people would not even consider to go out with Russian Jews! Even the children of the Russian Jews who were born here! You could be of a pure jewish descent, as frum as anybody else, but unfortunately “Russian Jew” is a Taboo for many people.
    I personally concluded that we (Jews) developed racism and a sense of eliteness as a result of persecution. It is a very negative defense mechanism. Some of us find it to be “healing” to be on the “other side”- the side of
    “I am better than you “. It is a pseudo eliteness! In reality, all of us jews (regardless of our skin color or place of origin) are dear to HaShem!
    Elisheva, stay strong and ignore idiots! Rely on HaShem and may you have a revealed good and brachos in everything you do!
    I don’t do social media, but if you would like to contact me via email, I would be honored!

  20. I’m Sephardic but light skinned, my sister’s however are dark. So I always heard the comments towards them from people who were nicer to me. Sadly this still happens today. Recently in a kosher store nearby and Sephardic Orthodox woman was shopping and a little girl asked her mother why “Goyim shop here” pointing to the woman who was clearly an Orthodox Jew. My best friend is Indian and most people think she’s not Jewish even though her father is a rabbi

  21. I went to the Moroccan Center in 2003. One of the ladies there asked me if I planned on keeping my name. I asked why? She stated that there is a lot of racism in Israel towards sephardim and mizrachim. Also that it would be more difficult to get a job or good placement in schools. It’s sad that we are our own worst enemy.

  22. I am feeling sad that you had to go through this tough moments in your life. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I know I get something different because I do not wear the right hat. I think being a positive person is making you a hero to many. You are a hero and a daughter of Israel because you will not give up on you beliefs and on you. We all have challenges that we are given to make us strong and be a better person. So cheers I will have a cup of coffee in your honor please keep it up because the world needs lovers. Shalom!!!

  23. Thank you
    I truly understand and feel every word you wrote.
    I wish we would not only write, but have events, gatherings where we could meet, talk, support each other.
    I currently live in Crown heights and I can’t wait to leave !!!!!

  24. My heart aches for your pain, learning once again that there are Jews who cannot see beyond another person’s skin and recognize a fellow Jewish soul, a brother or sister in the Covenant we share.

    Many many blessings to you.

  25. We are in exile because we have yet to rectify the sin of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. As the exile comes to an end and the redemption approaches, you and all Jews of color have the majestic task of teaching our people to finally live up to our ideals, and see and treat each other as souls of the same Soul. As our teachers please be patient and forgiving. Don’t allow bitterness to divert you from your holy task. May Hashem help you feel the strength He gives you to persevere. Thank you 💓

  26. I believe there encounters happened, but some details appear inaccurate which takes away from the credibility. For example, Chabad nusach does not sing adon olam at the end of davening, although you place yourself in Crown Heights for that incident.

  27. Ali7,
    So sad. How can we be a light unto the nations if we can’t see the light? One would hope that 400 years of slavery and 2000 years exile would have taught us to love each other and live the golden rule. Instead, the years of persecution taught us to fear that which is different. And it’s not just us Ashkenazi Jews. Syrians, Persians and other Sephardic Jews won’t marry anyone outside their community. Some don’t even accept converts. So yeah…even our minority communities have their baggage.

    That being said, I am an Ashkenazi Jew married to an Orthodox Filipino convert and we have four beautiful mixed race Children aged 16-26. Yes, they have all experienced the microaggressions you speak of. But fortunately for them, they didn’t experience overt racism in our community (although it’s not as hardcore as Crown Heights). All kids went to Jewish day school, then a year of Yeshiva or Sem, and then onto YU and Stern. And they’re doing really well, BH! All I can say to you is “it’s getting better.” I think, in many communities, the younger generation sees less color and more inclusivity. Even in orthodoxy, they are learning to embrace diversity. But every community is different. I think you need to take your message to the teachers and the rabbis and the parents and help them teach our children about inclusivity, racial sensitivity, and acceptance. Jews come in all colors, and from all corners of the world. It’s a great lesson to impart upon our children…so they can grow up and TRUELY be a light unto the nations.

    PS: it is changing. My daughter, who
    is a WOC was featured in a series of ads and videos for YU. I was proud of them for taking that step. It’s about time!

  28. We adopted from birth a lovely mixed race girl who presents as black. She is being raised Jewish and my father-in-law is a Rabbi at a small (liberal) conservative congregation, but that is about two hours from where we live.

    Where we live, reform and conservative community members have been very welcoming (but almost out-of-their-way forced in some cases). Unfortunately, our local Chabad has been…concerning. One of their members regularly appears on a public access show that espouses racist and anti-immigration views. Occasionally, they’ve had a Chabad Rabbi on who doesn’t challenge those views and is also a “supporter.” It makes me very uncomfortable around the orthodox, and I used to go to Shabbatons and more observant Jewish institutions. I don’t know how this racist strain infected the Orthodox community. I look at how they voted in NYC and I want nothing to do with that.

  29. The problem persists in the Jewish world because racism is actually TAUGHT directly to the children in Jewish schools! The more religious the school, the more blatant it is!
    When people talk about the importance of our children being in Jewish schools, and they pay outrageous amounts of tuition to have them there, I cringe… Even though I am an observant Jew, I would never put my children in any of those schools – where they are taught Jewish supremacy and blatant racism. (Even telling Sephardic Jews they “are not real Jews”, while they themselves have the clothing, food and customs of their old oppressors – but that’s a whole other can of worms)… They are also not taught true history, but instead white-washed fairytales.
    It IS a huge systemic problem in Jewish schools the world over! It is high time that parents who can be honest in confronting their own biases (for even those who deny racism still need to examine some of the things that were ingrained in them) – and stand up and demand a change!

    While we DO “see color”, it is about HOW we see! (I respect and love my very diverse background that, while a [Sephardic] Jew, also includes Irish, Native American and African American) – Bob Marley said it best: “The color of a man’s skin should have no more significance than the color of his eyes”.

  30. Elisheva, I just read your op-ed and many comments below. It is such a painful experience. I am a baal teshuva. I grew up completely not frum and spoke little other than English. As I became frum, I had a mixed experience with frum individuals and kehillos in the US and Eretz Yisroel. Some treated me just how you were treated, and some with great respect, brotherhood, and empathy. Some looked at me harshly because I didn’t speak Yiddish or Ivrit. Some treated me with love and offered to teach me Torah anyway. How would my experience have been had I been more than 1.5% Nigerian (my only African ancestry recognized so far)? I can’t say. On the other hand, it has definitely been a mixed bag experience becoming frum around people of African ancestry. I have received interactions all the way from hatred and disgust at me (clearly because I am white and/or Jewish) to respect, warmth, and friendship (much of which is because I am Jewish). An African ( dark skin, born in Africa of royalty) friend of mine at the University where I became frum was very excited when I started wearing a yarmulke publicly. He expressed that he did not know I was Jewish, then gave me a big hug. I think most of my negative experiences with the black community were actually with rastas in Brooklyn. It definitely wasn’t even close to the majority of rastas, but I do believe almost all the haters were Rastafarian. I can’t help but ask to step into the shoes of light-skinned Jewish kids growing up in NYC, especially Crown Heights. When they grow up fearing black people because of regular negative interactions, who is responsible for that racism? Just look at the news reports stretching back to the Crown Heights riots. These are horrible things. From mass property destruction, “knock-out games” being inflicted on young boys and old men, to first degree murder. All were done by black men in Brooklyn to white Jews. What if these experiences carve the minds of these Jews to bias them against ALL black people so that they pass racism to their own children? It is really hard to change someone’s mind when they live in NYC and all their experiences are filtered through such an environment.
    I judge each person on their behavior, and have opened my mind since I was a child not to judge anyone by skin color. This is in spite of growing up mostly in the southern USA. How would the world be if we could look at each person as a brother or sister, looking at what we have in common?
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. They were eye opening and I feel your pain in my heart. I know very well how harshly people can be treated in NYC frum kehillos when they don’t fit in with the cookie cutter expectations. Been there done that. I hope you have much better experiences and get to share them with us as well.

  31. You have my complete understanding and sympathy. I’m not a person of color, but I am an Irish-American Jew. When I joined my Orthodox congregation I was regularly asked “Are you SURE that you’re a Jew?”. Or when I’d say that my father was a native-speaker of Irish from Co. Donegal, “Oh, so your MOTHER was Jewish!” (My response: “Yes, she was. So was my father”)
    You and I both fall into a category which I’ve named “Unexpected Jews”: Black, Latino, Irish, Italian, etc.
    Just stand up, look the other person in the eye, and say “I’m as much of a Jew as any other Jew. If you have a problem with that, it’s YOUR problem, not mine, and not HaShem’s”

    • BTW, I recently read about another “Unexpected Jew” in the news: Raquel Montoya-Lewis is the newest justice on Washington State’s Supreme Court. She’s a Jewish Native-American (Pueblo), and the very first Native-American to sit on any state’s highest bench

  32. THough I am hardly a practicing Jew, I have been to several Orthodox temples in NYC because I felt if I was going to show some observance in worship, I wanted to be with the people who “did it right”.

    I couldn’t believe my ears around the Shabbos tables to which I was invited. Someone would make a nasty racist remark, or even just something horribly ignorant about something science had proven long ago, and no one would speak up against it. Sad to say, I didn’t either. Don’t know if I can blame Orthodox culture, but I sure heard it more than a few times in their homes.

    I discovered long ago that Judaism is a religion, not a race, and I make it a point to walk up to Jews of Color at gatherings and be as friendly as possible. It’s not earth-shattering, just simple manners, but I hope it makes a difference.

    On a more personal note, I find Jewish women of Color to be extraordinarily attractive. Something about the modest dresses set against such a rich dark tone.

  33. Kol ha’kavod. We Jews have a lot of reckoning to do with our internal racism and this will be such an important read for so many. Thank you for your strength and vulnerability in sharing this.

  34. Kol ha’kavod. Thank you for your strength and vulnerability in sharing your experiences. I know how difficult that must have been. We Jews have a lot of reckoning to do with our racism, and this will be an important read for many, and not just those in the Orthodox community.

  35. Eli7, (I love this way of writing your name! Never thought about it before)

    I’m angry and upset to hear that you had such experiences and continue to have them as an adult. It’s true, we Jews as a people have a lot of work we need to do to improve both acceptance and understanding within our communities. I have lived in and been a part of Jewish communities in 3 countries and several cities within the U.S. I have seen racism occur and beyond this, I’ve noticed a quiet, overlying culture in many communities of hypocrisy and insensitivity to people who may be different from the hypothetical ‘norm’. Take for instance my friend who came to visit me a few years ago over the chagim. She is biracial and of Ashkenazi and South-east Asian descent. Several people came up and asked me if she was ‘really Jewish’. (Egh.) I was not born Jewish, but am of European descent. I’m still pretty wary when a Jewish person I don’t know asks me about my family or background. I’ve had a few strange interactions with fellow Jews who just don’t seem to know how to make sense of someone who doesn’t ‘fit the norm’. It’s strange.

    By the way, I think the dating experience you mentioned is so, so awful. I don’t really know what exactly can be done to change this, except that each of us as Jews can do our best to educate and accept our fellow members of the tribe. We should be working harder on v’ahavat l’recha k’mocha!

  36. I am sorry you have been through this. I have reddish blond hair and am often questioned as to my Jewishness, esp as a child. One woman saw my chai and said in a shocked voice, “Really? You’re Jewish??? BOTH parents???” I am not writing this to minimize your experience but to say that this happens to others, so hopefully you will feel a little less alone when people make comments. It’s horrible that they do, but hopefully by being Jewish and looking “different” we can all help people see that Jews come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

  37. You are a brave courageous soul for speaking out. Kol Hakavod! This article was sent to me and I cried and shook after reading it. The sender cried as well. You see I am a Jew of color. When visiting a synagogue with my husband and introducing myself to the Rabbi, he yelled at me, “You can’t be Jewish, you’re black!” My husband and I were horrified. This problem has to do with ignorance of Jewish history and good old fashioned racism. Just this past week a woman asked me, “Which one of your parents is white?” As if to infer, one must be white to be Jewish. It is not the first time I have heard this question. Another is, “How are you Jewish?” My response is “I got it from my momma” or “I was born this way”. Many times these comments are made before one introduces themself.

    These microaggressions are tiresome and hurtful. There are no apologies when Yom Kippur approaches even when you open the door for an apology.

    I spoke with my Rabbi about this article and he is going to use it as a talking point. Racism has no place in the Jewish community. Racism is not a Torah value. I know there are Jewish people of color who speak in Jewish communities to educate fellow Jews what it is like to be a Jew of color. I have spoken to fellow Jews to call out racism when you see it. To remove racism is a step towards creating unity.
    I would love the opportunity to talk to you. You have given me much needed strength to shine light on this topic. We Jews of color need more advocates. It is time for the Jewish community to be a light onto the nations and not copy them. Stay strong Elisheba!

  38. Jewish man here. White, Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi.
    I am so ashamed of my people for treating you this way. It is WRONG WRONG WRONG. It is the very opposite of what the Torah tells us, and yet… No one is perfect, but this is way beyond the pale of acceptability! That you suffered these indignities as a child is more than I can stand. And yet you are still here. I would have run as soon as I had the chance.
    May Hashem grant you much strength. You are going to need it all through your life.
    Blessings and peace to you and yours.

  39. Hello all I am Elisheva, the author of this piece. Let me start by saying thank you for the outpouring positive comments. I hope that these positive comments will transform into positive actions to combat racism in our culture. This was an extremely painful piece for me to write and I almost did not submit it because it was so hurtful, deeply personal & I feared the usual backlash.

    Also I want to thank Nashim magazine for being brave enough to print this article when orthodox Jewish publications typically don’t discuss it or have the courage to publish it. You are the first Nashim and I applaud you for taking this historical step.  

    That being said, I want to address some of the comments I have seen here and specifically through social media once it was reshared:

    I purposefully omitted specific locations, names of shuls , shabbaton programs and whether the people I was speaking about were ashkenazi, sepharadi or mizrahi. I did that on purpose so that the readers would not blame a particular group/ethnicity and would instead view the issue as it is– a cultural communal issue. I did that because in spite of the treatment I have to continue to receive from the jewish community, I still love and care for my community. However these omissions did not work and it pains me to see some of these responses.

    Somehow certain readers began to say racism is an “ashkenazi issue” and that it is a chabad issue and that they are the perpetrators of all racism in the orthodox world — even though I never wrote that. 

    Focusing on blaming ashkenazi Jews for all I described not only is unfair & untrue– it is also counterproductive. This piece was written to call on ALL Jews in the orthodox world to do self-introspection and to fully embrace the meaning of Ahavat Yisrael. Pointing the finger at one group doesn’t help racism go away at all because racism is a disease present in all parts of the orthodox world– chassidic, yeshivish, modern orthodox, etc — and it rots away at proper Jewish values.

    Please don’t turn this piece into an opportunity to attack Chabad. The Chabad world is extremely diverse with members from multiple ethnicities & races unlike any other sect of orthodox Judaism. There are racism issues there (as with everywhere else) but it is still a beautiful branch of orthodox Judaism that takes Kiruv seriously.  My experiences occurred in all parts of the orthodoxy. Today as a full adult I now identify as VERY Modern Orthodox & therefore some of my current experiences take place in those settings too. 

    Please don’t turn this piece into an opportunity to attack all ashkenazim. It isn’t fair– there is no scapegoat here. Every situation I mentioned I have experienced from Mizrahi, Sepharadi and Ashkenazi people. It is a universal issue.

    Please don’t say that this is a “new york only” issue as I now currently live in Los Angeles and one of the examples from my story, the job interview, took place in LA. 

    Also black jews who reached out to me to thank me for writing it because they also deal  with the same experiences don’t all live in NY — they also live in Atlanta, Baltimore, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, etc. The experiences of racism faced by Black & Jewish Americans is not only limited to New York.

    Please see this piece as the way I envisioned it– to start the conversation on anti-black racism and to start the process of creating steps to effectively remove this cancer from orthodox Jewish culture.

    I understand that there is a lot to unpack here and it is overwhelming to most readers. But the proper reaction should not be to blame. It should be to focus on how to make things better.

    Thank you
    Elisheva R.

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