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Barack Mandela
Lawyer, Military Veteran, and Philosopher

Identity Crisis: African American Jewish Convert

I converted to Reform Judaism with Rabbi Herbert Morris, and I converted to Orthodox Judaism with Rabbi Abner Weiss. I have been a citizen of Israel for 27 years.

However, my conversion (“giyur” in Hebrew) raises an important question: Am I now part of the Jewish people?

When I converted to the Jewish faith, it was clear that I was accepting the Jewish religion into my heart. It became clear that I can participate in Jewish prayer and Jewish rituals. These are aspects of the Jewish faith.

However, the Jewish community is also an ethnic community. In fact, some people consider the Jewish people to be a “racial group”. Ethnic Jews share a common biological ancestry.

Therefore, my conversion makes me a religious Jew, but not an ethnic Jew. Whereas I worship the God of Israel, I am not part of the people of Israel. Whereas I pray using a Jewish prayer book (Siddur), I am not a descendant of the tribes of Israel. Whereas I participate in Jewish rituals, I don’t have blood ties to the Jewish ethnic group.

Recently, I took four DNA tests to reveal my ancestry. According to these tests, I am 92% African, 7% European, and 1% Asian. However, I have no Jewish DNA and no Jewish ancestry. Therefore, scientifically or biologically, I am definitely not ethnically Jewish.

After I converted to the Jewish faith, I began to feel that Judaism was a threat to my African American heritage. The Black American culture is a well-known culture in the world. Our music, art, literature, slang speech patterns, and athletes are famous around the globe.

From Lebron James to Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan to Oprah Winfrey to Michelle Obama, the African American community has an established ethnic and cultural identity. I am part of the African American people or Black American people. My blood is African American.

There are also many challenges within my African American community such as economic inequality, housing and job discrimination, police brutality, and negative stereotypes.

As a member of the Black American community, I contribute to black organizations such as the NAACP and historically black schools such as Howard University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College.

In addition, I am inspired by African American public figures such as Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Chris Rock. Lil Wayne, Drake, Beyonce, Ice Spice, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Jay Z. I love African American culture, and I support the various African American identities.

In conclusion, I find I need to “find my place” within Jewish communities. Since I accept myself as an African American, I need to create psychological space for Jewish traditions in my life.

I will never be an ethnic Jewish person. However, I can uplift Jewish traditions while praying to the God of Israel.

The prophets Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not my biological ancestors. However, I am part of the spiritual, religious traditions of the Jewish people.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco (Hastings) . I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside. I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law. I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force and United States Army. I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon. 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, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, 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. I am a member of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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