Barack Mandela
Human Rights Attorney

Healing Wounded African-American Soul with Judaism


Barack Mandela, who served in both the United States Army and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was personally healed by Judaism. (Courtesy)

This is an intensely personal journey of healing inspired by Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish community, which touched my heart and soul, bringing me from the brink of being a shattered self. In short, Judaism literally saved my life from the brink of disaster and destruction.

I was born and raised in East Long Beach, California which has a tough reputation as a harsh inner city ghetto, a gruesome and thuggish hood, that produced infamous gangster rappers such as Snoop Dog, Warren G, Nate Dogg, Dr. Dre, Lil Half Dead, and NWA.

As a child, my favorite cousin, Shawn, founded and led a vicious street gang called “Eight Ball Crip”. His gang name was “Crazy S”. passed away in 1990.

Car Jackings, drive-by shootings, home invasion robberies, broken homes, prostitution, sex trafficking, drug dealing, and gang-on-gang shoot-outs were common in my not-so-nurturing environment. I call it the “Ecology of  American Fear and Urban Terror”. Instead of raining water, it rained bullets and knives. I was a traumatized, African American child raised in the failure of America.

As poet and activist Ani Difranco once wrote, “It is the failed America in me. It is the fear that lives in a forest of stone, underneath the corporate canopy, where the sun rarely filters down, and the ground is not so soft”.

In 1995, I walked into Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco where I was introduced to Rabbi Herbert Morris, a gentle and accepting spiritual leader. Rabbi Morris invited me to attend Shabbat (Sabbath) services at the Reform and Conservative synagogue. The peace of Shabbat tore through the thick veil of psycho-trauma which I inherited from my brutalized ancestors.

Soon, I underwent a Reform conversion to Judaism after studying with well-known Jewish scholar, Patti Moskowitz and Rabbi Morris.

My journey to Judaism continued when I underwent an Orthodox conversion at the Rabbinical Court of Los Angeles led by Rabbi Abner Weiss who, himself, grew up in Apartheid South Africa. Rabbi Weiss, who had championed racial equality in South Africa, was highly sensitive to my pain and anguish as an oppressed African American who directly descends from enslaved Africans.

My brit milah (Jewish circumcision) was completed by Rabbi Chanan Feld of Chabad of Berkeley. This was the highlight of my life.

Barack Mandela in the Golani Brigades @ “Bezeq” military base near the Palestinian town, Jenin, during the Second Intifada. (Courtesy)

Once I moved to Israel for nearly 6 years, I underwent psychotherapy in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with Dr. Shaul Livnay-Weisbrot. Our super-intense talk therapy sessions helped me to release thousands of years of pain and oppression.

Mentally, I returned to my African ancestors who were brutally enslaved in a quasi-genocidal campaign of socio-cultural destruction and then brought to America. By unpacking my ancient baggage with Dr. Livnay-Weisbrot, I healed my own soul and the black-on-black souls of my ancestors.

In my journey of black African healing, I learned that the goal of Judaism is not to conceal; rather, the goal is to reveal. The God of Abraham is ultimately a healer who brings internal healing within the depths of our being.

When I was a child, my favorite cousin was a gang leader named “Crazy S”—a hard core thug who eventually lost his life.

With the help of Judaism and Israel, empowered by the God of Moses, my heart, mind, soul, and body were healed from the dark web of trauma and intergenerational pain. I traveled from the slavery of ghetto trauma to the Promised Land of inner peace, moral stability, and psychological healing.

Today, I am similar to the Prophet Moses standing atop Mount Sinai listening to the healing and nurturing voice of God; who by His power, I am healed and whole. The hole is whole.

Let us all thank the God of Israel for creating a blueprint for psycho-spiritual healing, divine restoration, and personal empowerment.


The author would like to thank Aish HaTorah Yeshiva Jerusalem and Machon Meir Yeshiva Jerusalem for allowing me to engage in rabbinical studies while healing my inner child. The God of Israel is, indeed, great.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1997). I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside (1994). I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law (1991-1992) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law (Summer 1996). I am a military veteran of both the United States Army and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon (2006). I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and Jerusalem spokesperson Haggai Elias.
Related Topics
Related Posts