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September 29, 2004

Black Jews

Today is Sukkot, I think.

I listened at length to an interesting inside story about a Jewish cat who found the equivalent of a Jewish Almanac which had references dating back about 350 years. He is using it to help wayward Jews find their way back to knowing Sukkot and other holidays as more than just dates on a calendar.

It immediately occured to me, as such parallels do, that 350 years is the kind of authenticity we modern Americans drool over. So it comes as no surprise that this cat made it to NPR's radio show. But it didn't escape my notice, as he began describing the feeling of connectedness that this newfound old knowledge game him, that it sounds precisely like what blackfolks are often found wanting. I know, having represented, how cavalierly some folks have dismissed Kwanzaa as a wannabe Jewish holiday. I take their point, but only so far.

As the Jewish cat rambled on about the significance of doing things just like the enslaved Isrealites, my tolerance hit a wall. Nobody really wants to be an Isrealite slave. Reenactments are so bourgie, and modern. What we want is the feeling of home and belonging. Everybody wants that, and especially wayward Jews and American blacks. But can anyone really trace their bloodline back to the house of Levi? That's very dubious for the overwhelming majority. What Jews have, after all is said and done, is their faith. Faith is learned. Those who do, get. So as you can imagine, I began to become slightly peeved at this cat whose newfound pride had him representing the Israelites, kinda like Whitney Houston at the Slave Castles.

So what have Jews got that blacks don't? It's a dumb comparison that everyone keeps doing. It's the slavery thing, it's the political thing. There is supposed to be the special bond that Jesse Jackson famously unmade for us way back when the Rainbow Coalition was still something of a good idea. But the fact is that Jews have nothing blacks don't, culturally speaking, because whatever Jews can get by faith, blacks can too. Just join your local synagogue.

Huh? What?

There's something slightly unbelievable about a 40 year old man receiving First Communion in the Catholic Church, but there is nothing unserious about it. I don't see why it is that Evangelical Christians should get all those who 'get it' later in life. Furthermore, there are so many different degrees and sects of Judaism, there must certainly be one ready for new converts. Considering how many slacking Modern, Reformists for Jesus there are (if you believe the Lubavichers) it's a wonder that more folks don't take to Judaism. Well, I can see why certain whitefolks might think they have something to lose, but for blackfolks that might not apply.

As for me, I'm rather devout to the church of American Black History, so I've always looked at our acceptance of our Africanness not so much as a necessary recovery but as a global cosmopolitanism. There was a time when I considered myself a New World African, never so much as when I was dating an Afro-European within a year of my first trip to Europe. It was a Diaspora thing and she did a lively business in Kente and Mud Cloth. But that was then. The point is that I'm hardly looking for that ineffable something that Jews supposedly have 'over' us putatively 'rootless' blackfolks. I know my family tree back 7 generations. That kind of kills a lot of longing for me - and I think the more one knows one's family the more ideological Black Nationalism suffers, but I digress.

For those who need a groove and something a bit more historically weighty than Kwanzaa.com, the Jewish faith should be wide open. So consider it.

Posted by mbowen at September 29, 2004 09:58 PM

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I think the thing Jews have isn't only traditions that go back many years. They also bond within the group. Don't black people have opportunities to bond? Black Family Reunion? All the service clubs? Historic (and I do mean historic) black churches? Maybe it's just around here.

Posted by: Laura at September 30, 2004 10:36 AM

There's Holy Orthodoxy . . . a good number of early Christian saints were African - St. Moses the Black, St. Monica, etc. Here's a good page about St. Moses the Black . . . http://www.stmaryofegypt.net/saints_moses.shtml . . . also, look at the other pages at this site.

Posted by: Lola at September 30, 2004 11:00 AM

Sure blacks have plenty of room to bond, but I sometimes perceive a petty jealousy of Jews, because nobody particularly says that Jews' traditions are 'invented' for a sense of self. But of course they are, as are everyone's.

Posted by: cobb at September 30, 2004 11:37 AM