Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Converts: Racism & Judaism

Jewish Journal Aliza Hausman

Did you hear the one about the black Harvard professor who got arrested breaking into his own home? No, this is not a joke. It was the beginning of a Shabbos lunch that left me traumatized.

It's always the same. I feel safe, comfortable and carefree, and suddenly, punched in the gut, violated, uncomfortable, and all the cares of the world weigh on me. When I feel safe, I feel part of the Jewish community, but when I do not, I feel like an outsider on the outskirts, not fitting in.

My husband and I started speaking out about racism in the Jewish community when a friend asked us to speak at a synagogue in Washington Heights, in my hometown of New York City. As an interracial Jewish couple (my husband is white, I am Dominican), our friend was sure we'd have plenty to say. I wasn't. But as I started to write about my experiences in Washington Heights (from both white Jews, who thought I was dark and foreign, to Dominicans, who thought I was too light and American), I filled four single-spaced typed pages. I knew from the stories of other Jews of color that this meant I was lucky. I learned still others had been even luckier.[...]


  1. Let her stop looking for racism, and she won't find it.

    The biggest and most acceptable racism in America today, is anti-white racism.

  2. the Monsey TzadikAugust 4, 2009 at 8:54 PM

    TroppeRony would like to revoke her conversion. I am not sure if ms. Hausman covers her hair 24/7 or sometimes wears pants. But one her conversion rabbi is rav Haskel Lookstein a Modern Orthodox rabbi who mattir women prayer groups R’L.

    It was Lookstein who was involved in this conversion which made TroopeRony all worked up.


    While TroppeRony hates rav Bomzer most he also hates rav Lookstein as well.

    I hope r' Basil Herring will realize one day that Tropper is not a friend of the RCA

  3. There is plenty of racism among Jews toward people of color whether they are Jewish or not.

    I am Moroccan with brown skin and kinky hair (hidden). I hear a lot all the time. And my parents and grandparents also heard it.

    I also want to mention that Jewish women from Arab countries have always worn loose fitting trousers with long, knee length tunic tops. Our Rabbis hold that this is modest dress for women.

  4. We pulled my son out of his first elementary school when his rebbe referred him to him as "the n-gger" to the other kids in his class. By the time we were informed and reacted, the rebbe had driven a wedge in between him and his classmates of 8 years (including preschool).

    Compounding it, the principal gives us a line to the tune of "Well, we don't understand why Rabbi XYZ said that, but he is an accomplished and beloved mechaneikh with decades of experience; he must have some technique we're not fathoming."

    And no, he has no geirus to question; he was born of a Jewish mother and black father who placed him up for adoption.

    More common, though, is the bend-over-backwards friendliness. Where people don't just treat him like one of the guys, but instead as a "project". "Look, I'm nice to the black guy."

  5. About Jersey Girl's tangent... There are two issues raised WRT pants.

    The first is "keli gever" (the prohibition against female transvestism), but if it is common for women to wear pants in your culture, that shouldn't be a problem.

    The other is tzeni'us ([sexual] modesty), and being able to see where is the pisuq raglaim ([top] end of the legs). But that's taken care of with the knee-length tunic.

    So, why would anyone think there would be a problem.

    Besides, it would probably be prohibiting the dress of nearly every Jewish woman who lived from Sarah to the end of the period of Chazal.


  6. It's obvious that Joseph is white.

    The racism in the U.S. is simply unbelievable. I have an employment agency and see it exercised every day by so called "equal opportunity employers."

  7. Joseph said...

    Let her stop looking for racism, and she won't find it.

    The biggest and most acceptable racism in America today, is anti-white racism.

    See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil... In other words go through the world blind, deaf and dumb and all will be well. The reality is that when R' Ovadiah Yosef's granddaughter can't get into a B"Y school because they have their "quota" of darker skinned Sephardim there is very obviously a problem.

    When my own Roshei Yeshivot, as far back as BMG, tell me to send my wife to speak to perspective schools, because one look at me in combination with the family name and the answer will be "No".

    I guess however that some will think that this is "looking" for racism and discrimination.

  8. "When my own Roshei Yeshivot, as far back as BMG, tell me to send my wife to speak to perspective schools, because one look at me in combination with the family name and the answer will be "No"."

    My father got the same advice. My mother has a Sephardic mother (Ashk father) but is very fair and speaks Yiddish.

    I would sincerely advise against getting your children into a school that will not want them.

    My mother did get me into an Ashk. girls High on a full scholarship.

    I was tortured, ridiculed and abused by the Rabbis, teachers and other students. (Hair, skin, facial features, clothing, my "shvartze" or "Puerto Rican" father, and the "Rabbis" called me "dumb" in front of the whole class every time I asked a question etc etc).

    I was not only miserable but both my sister and I became non Observant in High School as a result. As soon as I got out of there, I became Shomer Shabbat again, but I was very angry at Hashem for creating "Rabbis" who would treat girls like me and my sister like that because of color or hair.

    I burned my hair off trying to iron it smooth. My sister even used the skin bleach that is sold for African American women and bleached her hair blond.

    We thought that we blended, but still we were ridiculed and abused.

    My sister and I are not unique. I know of several Sephardic girls in Ashk. schools who bleach their skin a process that is known to cause cancer and put lye on their hair which often causes painful scalp lesions and damages the hair.

    I do not believe that we are doing our children a favor when we try to get them to "blend" into an environment where they never can.

    Nothing has changed in the thirty years since it was me and my sister. I see the same problems among my nephews, nieces and mychildren's friends as my sister and I experienced.

  9. Micha-

    "So, why would anyone think there would be a problem."

    You are correct, there is not any halachic reason why this type of dress would be prohibited.

    But, I have friends (who came over in the 90s) who dress this way and the Rabbis in the schools are always telling their children that their mothers (who cover their hair) are not "frum" because they wear pants.

  10. There is clearly a huge disconnect between the experience of darker skinned Jews and the perceptions of "white" Jews. I just can't get my head around the idea that a Rebbi would refer to a student as a nigger. This is a frum Jew we are talking about?

  11. Jersey Girl,

    For the record, I am familiar with the type of dress you are speaking about. The Abuchatzera's, most especially the Baba Sali is known to have opposed it, as well as the Ben Ish Hai.

    Furthermore the Kaf HaChaim and R' Ovadiah Yosef rule that Sephardim should adopt the standards of dress in the countries of which they live. Ultimately if you or your family moved to a country where the standard for Orthodox/Haredi women was that pants were Ossur, then those Rabbis who opposed this more traditional dress were in fact correct.

  12. The case mentioned in the shema yisrael link is too familiar:
    An intermarried couple get involved with r' Tropper and the EJF, after he threatened the woman he will revoke her conversion if she wears pants, fail to cover her hair, go to college or whatever they got scared and decided to get converted by Modern Orthodox beth din.

    R' Tropper who is known to be very vindictive and unforgiving is stalking them trying to raise doubts on the conversion.

  13. Thank you for posting my piece and giving it more exposure. I do hope that people will go to the Jewish Journal link and read it in its entirety. (In fact, it would be more "kosher" if only the first paragraph had been posted with a link back to the original website.)

    If you'd like to hear more of my thoughts on racism or being a multicultural Jew, please check out my website.

  14. In response to Aliza Hausman's request have cut the posting down to 3 paragraphs.

    This apparently wasn't an issue of fair use of the sources since I hadn't posted the whole essay. On the other hand the 1 paragraph she initially requested said nothing that would enable someone to decide whether the article was worth reading.

    She agreed to allow three paragraphs.


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