As the 20th Anniversary of the Crown Heights riots between blacks and Jews comes this summer, it is worth noting that since biblical times mainstream Judaism has had a strong contingent of black folk among them.
They are the Ethiopian Jews that trace their roots to the days when Moses led a band of Hebrews out of Egypt. Roughly 14,000 were airlifted to Israel in the 1980s. Others made it overland on their own having survived Sudanese refugee camps. Still others remain in Ethiopia and other places in Africa.
One such person is Ahuva Adanaani, whose mother and father were in the airlift and who was born, along with her eight siblings, in Israel.
I met Ahuva, who now lives in Brooklyn, on the subway one day and have remained friends with her since. As such, she straddles the two worlds of being black and Jewish with an equal pride and I asked for some of her perspectives.
“The black people here are very surprised when they learn I’m Israeli and I think it’s very important they know there are a lot of black Jews in Israel,” said Ahuva. “They ask me a lot of questions about Israel and how I’m treated. For them it’s very special, especially for Christian blacks. They are very surprised because for them it’s very unique that there are African Jews. To me they miss something.”
Ahuva believes that even many white Jews have trouble understanding that among the ancient Hebrews that wandered the desert for 40 years with Moses many were black.
And although Ahuva said she hasn’t experienced prejudice in Israel, other Ethiopian Jews do hear derogatory names about their color, and do face prejudice.
It should also be noted that many of the Ethiopian Jews live below the poverty line in Israel.
This is not to say though, that Ethiopian Jews are any less mainstream to the religion and for their love of Israel. Ahuva, for example, keeps Kosher, attends synagogue, believes strongly in God and follows all the main Jewish holidays.
“I love my country. I think it’s very special and beautiful, even if it’s a small country. It’s very unique and blessed,” she said.
Ahuva now calls Brooklyn home. It’s a place she loves and where she dreams of becoming a successful make up artist one day. It’s a world in which she feels equally at ease on both the black side and the Jewish side of Eastern Parkway.
As such, she believes the Jews could learn a little from blacks about their sense of tolerance and compassion for others; and blacks could learn a little more about love and respect of self.
Here’s my disclaimer, which I’ve mentioned before, but it’s worth mentioning again.
I’m not a particularly pious man, but I am a Jew, estranged from my black Christian wife, with four biracial children.
My only agenda is to advance stronger bonds than the already strong bonds between blacks and Jews. We should continue to learn and love from each other.