I was surprised to see a police car parked in front of my congregation on the last Sunday of February, 2023 as I entered the Temple to teach an Introduction to Judaism class. Two days later I read this wonderful blog in the Times of Israel by Barbara Washington that I want to share with non-Jews who may be thinking of joining the Jewish People.
Barbara Washington is an independent investigative journalist, a mortgage loan originator, a copywriter, a wife and mother of six, a fiesta enthusiast, cat lady, and a survivor of violent crimes. She is based in Wilmington, NC where she runs her multilingual, tri-coastal, biracial, multiethnic, interfaith, trauma-informed circus, and rabidly debates issues surrounding Jews and Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East with anyone who will listen.
“My first day of Jewish conversion class began the morning after antisemitic US citizens declared a National Day of Hate” writes Barbara Washington.
“My teenage son asked to stay in the car, where he sat and waited for me, while what appeared to be armed security guards in neon jackets stepped out the back door of the synagogue office space where we were scheduled to meet. They began moving up and down the line of parked cars, peering around at passers-by and nodding.
“I had come looking for hope, community, and insight. Recent changes in the Israeli government had the potential to deeply affect my already-complicated conversion experience, and as the dust settled and I made decisions, I was looking to connect with a variety of different ideas and see things through a lens other than my own.
The security guards were looking for something too — anything out of the ordinary. Something possibly violent, and destructive. Signs of hate. The contrast was startling.
As a survivor of multiple violent crimes, strangely, even an antisemitic one, long before I made the decision to give in and officially become what I am, I felt the familiar rush of possibility that sudden, terrifying activity could erupt at any time. If risk is nearby, I can smell it. My body learned long ago to sense danger and to note every detail of my surroundings.
Armed with this superpower and the awareness I’d been gifted in therapy that I was in control of my hyper-vigilance and it doesn’t control me, I breathed deeply and mindfully, remembering my purpose was to explore Judaism.Several older women could be heard loudly and happily chatting, while baking hundreds of hamantaschen in the back kitchen for an upcoming Purim celebration.
I have built a home for my children where they are not allowed to say the word “hate.” Yet hate had not given up on us. Outside our home, you could feel a tangible potential of something other than love hammering away at our windows. You could feel it here outside this synagogue. It was familiar to me. Inside, all I could see was a messy, committed, and reverent display of joy and peace. I was struck by how hard I had tried to build this very thing into the fabric of my home, and how many tears I had cried trying to make peace happen. It was hard work. But not here.
Here, it seemed I had transitioned from tension to peace by simply moving through a room filled with commitment to remembrance. Here, even a lone stranger on a “Day of Hate” was offered a drink and a place to sit… and a job to do. Here everyone seemed to be family. What was this world I was entering?
I looked at the hamantaschen, vaguely recalling a story I’d read, which claimed they traditionally have three sides because of the old expression: “Ask two Jews, get three different opinions.” It struck me as I looked at the little triangular pastries that I was oh-so-familiar with triangles.
As a long-term domestic violence survivor, triangles have often been used against me, when the perpetrator wanted to influence my thoughts by influencing my relationships.
I felt like these women inherently understood that life was like that as they worked with their hands in the dough. Ask two Jews, get three different opinions. Ask one potential Jewish convert, get three different life lessons:
Hate stays outside.
When words aren’t enough, make art.
And keep telling your story. We never know what’s coming, so let’s get together today… to bake, and to learn Torah and the class hadn’t even started yet.
Welcome to our tribe Barbara, may all Jews be enriched by your Jewish soul. There are hundreds of thousands of people from Africa with Jewish souls. Their ancestors came to Africa during Roman times. Most of them lived in the area around Ethiopia and never lost their connection with the Jewish people. Almost all of these Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel.
Many other Jews who lived in smaller communities in east and west Africa eventually lost contact with the Ethiopian Jewish center and assimilated into African pagan culture. In later centuries these assimilated Jews were drawn to Islam and Christianity because it reconnected them to their Jewish origins.
In the last century some of their descendants inherited a Jewish soul from one of their original Jewish ancestors. This led them to return to the Jewish people by forming separate Black Hebrew sects (both in Africa and in America) or by individual conversion (like Sammy Davis Jr. or the grandfather of opera singer Marian Anderson). How can you know if you have a Jewish soul?
Signs of a Jewish soul.
1- You like to ask questions? But when you asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied you, although others didn’t seem to have a problem with this view.
2- The trinity never made any sense to you even as a young child. You couldn’t believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus couldn’t go to Heaven.
Even though you were told to pray to Jesus, you preferred to pray to God the father, rather than Jesus, the Son of God.
3- You always related to the stories in the Hebrew bible more than to the stories in the New Testament.
4- You found you related well to Jewish people you met at work or at school even though they were very different culturally and religiously from your own family.
5- When you first learned about the Holocaust you reacted more emotionally than did other members of your own family.
6- When you started to learn about Judaism; you felt Jewish ideas and values were very reasonable, and Jewish traditions and heritage were very attractive. You felt you were coming home.
If most of these statements apply to you, you probably have a Jewish soul.