New Faces in Judaism
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For a block or two in every direction from Arbell Matthews’ home, 50 or so African-Americans could be heard belting out the Shema, an ancient Hebrew prayer, gospel-style.
They all were raised as Christians, most of them Baptists. One day last month, each was immersed in a ritual bath, or mikvah, in Memphis, Tenn. When the last of them emerged from the water, almost 3 percent of Cairo’s black population had converted to Judaism.
SEARCH FOR A RABBI
There is evidence of Jews living in Cairo in the 1870s, but the last synagogue anyone remembers closed years ago. Today, the little brick synagogue with stained-glass windows is part of the public health department. It has a clear view of the Bunge North America soybean processing plant that, with 83 jobs, is the city’s largest employer.
The Rev. Larry Potts, pastor of Cairo Baptist Church, said he could think of only two Jews left in Cairo before the conversions.
When Phillip Matthews’ group began talking about converting, Matthews decided that without any rabbis in town and close to 60 members, he needed help.
Looking for help outside of Cairo is a time-honored tradition. Escape is a natural desire in a place Charles Dickens famously described, in 1842, as “a breeding-place of fever, ague, and death.”
In the spring of 2006, Matthews went in search of a rabbi. He found Goldstein, a Reform rabbi from St. Louis who is affiliated with Congregation Beth Jacob in Carbondale.
“Phillip called and asked about conversion classes,” said Goldstein. “Then he asked if there was such a thing as African-American Jews.”
She assured him there were.
The 2001 National Jewish Population Survey found 37,000 African-American Jews age 18 or older. That’s just under 1 percent of all 4 million American Jewish adults.
‘ONCE IN A LIFETIME’
As the group members got closer to completing the course, Goldstein began to make preparations for the actual conversion. All the males in the group who had not been circumcised went through the rite. Those who had, went through a hatafat dam, or a ritual removal of a single drop of blood.
Over four months, each member of the group sat before a bet din, or rabbinic court, to answer questions about his or her new faith. A dozen Reform and Conservative rabbis from St. Louis sat on the various courts.
Goldstein ran into difficulty when trying to secure the St. Louis mikvahs for the conversion ceremonies. Rabbi Zvi Zuravin, executive director of the St. Louis Vaad Hoeir, the area Orthodox Jewish legal authority, said the group asked for a discount on the mikvah’s $165 per person conversion fee. But the committee that oversees the mikvahs was “not willing to discount groups,” said Zuravin.
Goldstein moved the conversion ceremonies to Beth Sholom Synagogue in Memphis, whose members agreed to a much smaller fee. (The Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeastern Missouri and Western Kentucky paid the $1,800 total.)
That ceremony, said Rabbi Aaron Rubinstein of the Conservative synagogue whose members turned out in force for the conversions, was a “once in a lifetime, amazing event.”
The new Jews of Cairo had been official for less than a month when Alpha Gordon, 24, stepped out of Arbell Matthews’ home Jan. 5, a bleak Saturday afternoon in the city. Gordon said he felt different than he had a month earlier.
“I do feel Jewish,” he said. “And that feels good.”
Email Tim Townsend at email@example.com.
(Posted on January 14, 2008)
Of course, Cairo, Illinois also had something else that the Post-Dispatch covered up — and that is a Zimbabwe-style black-on-white purge in the 1970s.
Former Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, who was born and raised in Troy (near St. Louis), and for whom the local MSM wore the word “integrity” out the dictionary when he kicked off, didn’t care about Cairo, and when asked about it, he said he didn’t care because “there are more voters in Cook County than there are south of Springfield.” South of Springfield also includes his native Troy. Some integrity.
Posted by St. Louis CofCC Blogmeister at 6:27 PM on January 14
The definition of being Jewish changes with the time and amongst the different sects.
My Judism course was the most fascinating. Sometimes they were Jewish because of the land they were in, what specific belief their Jewish sect upheld, or what religion their grandmother was.
Now, for blacks in America, it only has to be a feeling.
Religion, tradition, and ceremonies are not the focus. Be individuals. Be patient and pro-active for heart and soul’s sake.
Posted by GAonMYmind at 9:15 PM on January 14
Converts are a scourge upon our nation and, traditionally, gentiles (of any color) are to be discouraged from converting. There have been some converts, however, who have become famous for their scholarship. However, even the famous Ribbi ‘Aqiva, considered one of the greatest scholars of all time amongst Jews, considered himself unworthy of certain positions of authority - because he was descended from converts.
Posted by jewamongyou at 9:18 PM on January 14
Do they expect this to somehow make them whiter?
Posted by at 10:11 PM on January 14
This makes a lot more sense than blacks converting to Islam, considering the long history of Muslim enslavement and genocide of black Africans that continues to this day.
Prominent black Jews: Whoppi Goldberg, Sammy Davis Jr.
Posted by at 10:35 PM on January 14
Blacks converting to Judaism. Now I’ve heard it all. I wonder their motives in doing so.
Posted by Expat Onlooker at 10:59 PM on January 14
That’s strange - I thought that this would be another case of those black nuts who believe that blacks are “the original Jews”, just like blacks were “the original Vikings”, “the original Romans”, “the original Celts”, “the original…”.
Posted by Obscuratus at 11:06 PM on January 14
for those of you unfamiliar with the town of cairo- you aren’t missing anything. just drive through the bad part of town wherever it is you happen to live and think to yourself, “well, at least this isn’t cairo”.
Posted by fred at 11:35 PM on January 14
Jewamongyou is absolutely right. Most Jews consider converts to be fake Jews. Skin color does not appear to be a major determinant. Its mostly a question of, “Are you Jewish or not?”. If not, you’re not a Jew. Most Jews, while appearing to be very liberal on most social issues, remain very clannish if they are at all observant. And there’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it fits in fine with Amren’s social philosophies. Though I’ve never taken a poll, the answer seems very simple: they are proud of their culture and don’t want it diluted. That should not be hard for anyone to understand.
There’s another reason too… one rarely stated but felt by many Jews. It has to do with 2000 years of eugenics and the awesome growth of Jewish intelligence and raw IQ. Why throw away 2000 years of hard work by “marrying down”. You may chuckle when reading this, but I’m actually serious.
Posted by Lonely Jew at 12:42 AM on January 15
According to Jewish law, you’re only Jewish if your mother is. So, Alpha better get his mother to convert, quick. Or, the first “real” Jew in his family will be his daughter’s first born. Just kidding. But really, folks, Alpha isn’t Jewish now and he won’t be even if he follows my advice. Conversion dilutes religion and culture, and it should rarely, if ever, be allowed.
Posted by at 12:55 AM on January 15
jewamongyou: Onkylos, who did the Aramaic translation of the Torah, which is found in every Talmud, was a Greek convert to Judaism. If the Law of Moses allows for conversion under strictly limited conditions, what Jew can object, as long as those conditions are met? I know that there are counterfeit conversions available from the Reform and Conservative Jews, but that is no reason to scorn authentic conversions.
Posted by Schoolteacher at 1:10 AM on January 15
I’m not sure what “jewamongyou is saying”. Indeed, converts are to be discouraged at first, to make sure they are sincere in their desire to become Jewish. But according to Jewish law, a convert is as Jewish as any other Jew.
Posted by nycjew at 1:30 AM on January 15
“Then he asked if there was such a thing as African-American Jews.”
Hasn’t this idiot ever heard of Sammy Davis Jr?
Posted by qwerty at 3:51 AM on January 15
On the other hand, I want to than Amren for running this article. It may help to illustrate what I often write. Jewish is a religion, is a religion, is a religion.
A close read of history will show many instances of conversion in the ancient world, especially in the first century before Christianity had become identified. Many Romans for example venerated Judaism as an ancient relgion of mystery. Nero’s own neice converted to Judaism.
Posted by Whiteplight at 11:23 AM on January 15
Haha. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to make Aliyah; some Jews are more Jewish than others. ;)
Posted by Svigor at 4:45 PM on January 15
I love it! Blacks “converting” to Judaism. Has anyone told Nicholas Stix yet?
Posted by Howard in Las Vegas at 6:12 PM on January 15
Jewish is a religion, is a religion, is a religion. Posted by Whiteplight at 11:23 AM on January 15
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
Repeating it doesn’t make it true. The fact is, Judaism is not a religion in the same sense as other religions. It evolved as a very unique and effective cognitive vehicle for maintaining the racial gene-line identity of a unique human subspecies. And scientists confirm that this differentiation is accelerating, not slowing down, despite what multiculturalism may lead one to believe. Jewamongyou is right that conversion and intermarriage are scourges. And Lonelyjew is also right about the dysgenic effects of “marrying down.” But these are needless concerns, because this exogamous behaviour has already been “factored in” into jewish racial consciousness, so that every generation sees a certain percentage migrate out for the benefit of the committed, inner core. In other words, there is a constant, unseen but automatic self-correcting process like you see in the stock market, that will maintain jewish identity literally forever, barring some unforeseen catastrophe to hit this planet such as a wayward asteroid. Some other small obscure, Middle Eastern and E. Indian clans also possess these dual characteristics of high intelligence and tribal/familial awareness but their impact on world history is virtually nil. Interestingly, E asian nations such as Japan know very well that they don’t possess the high level of instinctive cohesiveness seen in jews to ensure their racial continuity once they emigrate (Japanese-Americans have high rates of out-marriage ). They compensate, however, by not considering them Japanese any more,and being fiercely territorial about their home islands immigration laws — they simply won’t allow foreigners in to any significant degree. In contrast, if you look at the behaviour of Europeans (regardless of nationality )their behaviour is exactly the opposite; it is so consistent and universal that I think there is a strong genetic component to it. Invoking culture, the media, theology, political ideology etc is merely begging the question: why do only whites do it, when many other asians have also been exposed to the same? As Lonelyjew said above, its rather difficult to reverse “2000 years of eugenics.”
Posted by at 8:31 PM on January 15
Jewish is a religion, is a religion, is a religion.
Many Romans for example venerated Judaism as an ancient relgion of mystery. Nero’s own niece converted to Judaism.
Posted by Whiteplight
. — — — — — — — — — -
Regardless of what happened two thousand years ago, in the modern world and modern Judaism that is no longer so and hasn’t been for centuries.
And furthermore, if being Jewish is a matter of religion, then how come so many Jews (most of them that I’ve known) are NON-religious Jews? A non-religious religion? Utter nonsense, Whiteplight! How do you explain THAT?
Posted by at 12:07 AM on January 16
A Jew, as defined by the Law of Moses, is the offspring of a Jewish mother. Conversion is allowed by the Law, but it is strictly limited by the requirement that converts live by the 613 commandments found in the Holy Torah. That miniscule number of converts aside, the only legitimate definition of Jewishness is a racial definition. The Jews are a nation, with all the necessary attributes of a nation: A language, a culture, and a shared ancestry. They also have a country they have called their own for over 3000 years, and, most distinctively, a religion that they share with no other people. I sorely wish that Whites had the racial consciousness that has kept Jews a separate people, even through 1900 years of expulsion from their homeland.
Posted by Schoolteacher at 7:34 PM on January 16
NYCJew, let me clarify what I’m saying. In the old days, when the majority of Jews were still “ethnic Jews” (actually descended from Semitic tribes) there was a lot more to being Jewish than having a Jewish mother. This is why much of the book of Ezra is devoted to documenting the pedigrees of the various Jewish families - by their FATHER’S side. Back then, and through the Middle Ages, being Jewish meant being part of a tribe. Outsiders could join and be considered Jews but not entirely (as explained in The Kuzari by Yehuda haLewi). In no way, shape or form do I belittle the great accomplishment of Onkylus and it was mostly to him I was alluding when I pointed out the great scholarship of converts. Over time, as our people became more and more diluted, it became the (blond haired, blue eyed) descendants of converts who ran the show. When so many of your tribe is mixed, it became difficult to consider them second class citizens. Things have changed but I cling to the old attitudes. That’s just the way I am.
Posted by jewamongyou at 11:30 PM on January 16
“That miniscule number of converts aside, the only legitimate definition of Jewishness is a racial definition. The Jews are a nation, with all the necessary attributes of a nation: A language, a culture, and a shared ancestry.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
And I have no problem with that. That’s fine with me - just so long as they are honest about it and not claim to be a religion one minute and an ethnic group the next, whichever is most beneficial under the given circumstances.
By the same token, we should also have the same right to be ourselves and owe no apologies to anybody.
Posted by browser at 11:31 AM on January 18
“Back then… being Jewish meant being part of a tribe. Outsiders could join and be considered Jews but not entirely … Over time, as our people became more and more diluted, it became the (blond haired, blue eyed) descendants of converts who ran the show. When so many of your tribe is mixed, it became difficult to consider them second class citizens. “
Posted by jewamongyou
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I suppose much the same could be said of Gypsies. Of course, their diaspora has been much briefer. I do see a parallel. There are mixed local people absorbed from the host countries who are considered “sort of” Gypsies - half in, half out - and then there are the “real” Gypsy elite.
I guess they’re just not so orderly and precise about it, writing it all down into scripture and such. The Jews, with their tradition of scholarship, like to be extremely precise and orderly. Sometimes obsessively so.
Posted by browser at 11:45 AM on January 18
Judaism is a religion, Jewish is an ethnicity.
Posted by at 5:17 PM on January 18
“Conversion is allowed by the Law, but it is strictly limited by the requirement that converts live by the 613 commandments”….Posted by Schoolteacher at 7:34 PM on January 16
In other words, only the most cerebral, obsessive, conscientious, dedicated, and doggedly persistent of the gentiles need apply. These just happen to be very jewish traits; so these candidates are already self-selected. It’s a simple but brilliant strategy to prevent dysgenic drift!
” I sorely wish that Whites had the racial consciousness that has kept Jews a separate people, even through 1900 years of expulsion from their homeland “. ..Posted by Schoolteacher at 7:34 PM on January 16
Impulse to group behavior is a facet of personality,temperament,
and psychology — like physical traits and intellectual capacity, is largely determined by genetic inheritance. A visual analogy is
the behaviour of schools of fish - the remarkable coordinated
movement of thousands as if it was a single organism is purely instinctual, evolved for its survival utility. The ones who could
not co-ordinate with the others got quickly eaten and less likely to pass on those “bad” genes. You can teach whites to behave tribally — but only under a highly controlled environment. As soon as that control dissipates, whites revert to their natural, inherited “set-point” and act as atomized individuals, becoming highly vulnerable to exploitation despite their greater numbers, productivity and technical ingenuity.
Posted by at 9:59 PM on January 18