Jew-Bashing on the A Train

Yup, that’s right.  I got Jew-bashed on the train tonight.  Who’d a thunk that being a black Jew (in training) was such a big deal?  I’ve been reading the Tanakh and I’m in Exodus.  It’s getting good, although I’m pretty sure I know how it ends.  I board the train at 14th street with my nose in my Bible.  I squeeze passed a woman with her nose in her own book and find a little spot, hold on until the next stop where a passenger gets off and I squeeze myself into a seat.  I’m just to the part where God instructs Moses to have all of the houses in Israel paint the blood of a lamb on their door posts when the guy across the way starts,

“Excuse me, miss, are you Jewish?”

“Yes, well, I’m converting,”  I answer.

“You do know that Jews are black, don’t you?”

“Nowadays I think that Jews come in almost every color, but yes, the first Jews were black.”

He then starts to quote Bible scriptures that state that Jews are black. 

I hold the belief that all first humans were black.  Whether you believe in the creation story, which this new Jew does not, or you believe in evolution it is widely known that all humanity started on the continent that is now Africa.  People in Africa are various shades of black from the brown-skinned Arab nations up north to the darkest of the black nations in the west.  With migration of people overtime, their skin colors changed, the shapes of their eyes changed, the texture of their hair changed, their religions, beliefs, spiritualities, cultures changed.  These things I seemed to have forgotten when the man was talking to me.

“And in this verse, ” he was saying.

“Look, I appreciate your opinion but I’m just trying to read on my ride home,” I said.

“I’m just letting you know that you don’t need to convert to Judaism because it says in the bible verse something I can’t remember as I reenact this for my readers that Jesus was the messiah…”

“Again, I’m just trying to read and get home so I appreciate your opinion…”

“It’s not an opinion, it’s there in that book that you’re reading!  Jesus is the messiah!  He died for your sins!”

“Okay.  I’m annoyed now so, please,  just stop talking to me.”

I went on reading and didn’t look in his direction.  I sort of feared that he’d be getting off in my neighborhood but what would a Christian man be doing in a West Indian/Muslim/Hindi neighborhood?

Thing is, I suppose it wasn’t bashing as much as it was a difference in opinion.  The thing about these encounters on the train or any time when you’re baited into a debate that you’re relatively unprepared for is that you always think of the zingers or the “right” things to say later.  One of my favorite scenes in “You’ve Got Mail”, one of my favorite movies of all time, goes something like this: 

Kathleen Kelly to Joe Fox via vintage AOL Instant Messager, “I know what you mean.  Except what happens when I’m provoked is that my mind goes blank…   What should I have said, for instance, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?   Even now, days later I still don’t know.  ?”

I love Christians.  I really do.  My parents are Christians, the majority of my friends would say that they are, and it was Christianity that shaped me into the person that I am today-A Jew in Training.  Thing is, and I’m sure I’ll find this in Judaism as well,  people really fuck things up.  I mean, I’m sure that this world that we live in today is not the world that Jesus had in mind when he passed on his message to the first Christians.  I’m sure God curses the day when he/she promised Noah that he’d never destroy human existence again (I don’t actually think that story is true, either). 

When I got gay-bashed on my 29th birthday outside of the Museum of Natural History by the awful and bigoted man disguised as a Christian I asked him, “Did not Jesus say ‘he who is without sin cast the first stone’  Did not Jesus befriend the sick, the diseased, the outcasts of the city?  Did he not marry a prostitute named Mary (sorry, that’s just my opinion)  The man didn’t listen and instead continued to damn me to hell for being who I am, all in the name of Jesus.

I’m sure this man on the train meant well.  I’m sure he felt like he was doing his duty as a Christian and “spreading the good news” but, if the good news is, “I’m right, you’re wrong”  I really don’t want to hear it.  I actually love having discussions with people about religion and faith.  Over the weekend I attended a PhD party with Mirs and had the best conversation with some Israeli Jews.  Some of my favorite scholastic moments were in religion classes when people actually listened, appreciated, and learned from others.  Thing about Christianity, Islam, Judaism is that they’re basically the same.  Almost exactly the same, give or take a messiah or prophet.  Yet it’s rare that “they” see eye to eye.  That’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who appreciate, understand, and respect other faiths.  I rarely hear those people.  I was reminded tonight that many people who quote the very book I’m reading aren’t actually getting it.  I can’t read that book and take it word for word because God gave me free will.   The Bible says a lot of stuff that people tend to forget when they’re using it to make their points and it says a lot of stuff that works for them when they’re trying to make their points.  I’m sure when the first brown Jews put oral words to paper that what we have and read today isn’t what they intended.  I don’t pretend to think that I’m better than anyone else, and I definitely don’t have everything all figured out.  I do, however, I appreciate an opinion and love hearing them, just as long as mine are heard, in turn.

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5 thoughts on “Jew-Bashing on the A Train

  1. I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you. I think most Jews run across that odd hodgepodge of zealotry, antisemitism, selective interpretation and a sort of manic necessity that shows up in some Christians on a regular basis–G-d knows I do. They’re implacable, they’re inarticulate and illogical, and you cannot simply refute them. They don’t listen. They gather facts, and they launch them at you like missiles. They ignore whatever you have to shoot them down, or counter their arguments. Bringing race into it, while obviously not what Caucasian Jews will get most of the time (at least from Christians–too many writers discussing the ‘false Jews’ around these days), isn’t surprising. Presumably, after hearing that you didn’t have to convert, you were supposed to throw up your hands and say “THAT is convenient. I’ve been at this FOREVER! Now, what’s this NEW testament all the kids are talking about these days?”

    Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Stay who you are. You’re Jewish–or at least, you’re working on becoming recognized as such. That means you’re a target for one of the oldest and most dangerous forms of hatred in the world. You’re already doing the right thing–not hiding who you are. There’s a reason we were given the commandments on pieces of stone–G-d wanted to make sure that they lasted as long as we did. In today’s world, you have to be a rock to get through the antisemitic flood. Don’t let it wear you down. G-d wrote His commandments on you. Together, as a people, we’ll hold ourselves together and not break.

    • Thanks, Cam
      What a great reply to read this morning! I was talking to my girlfriend, who is Jewish, and she said, “Welcome to being a Jew.” She routinely was told she was a sinner and going to burn in hell by her Christian classmates in Texas. The beauty, though, of being a lesbian who’s black and converting to Judaism is that throughout my life as a black woman, I’ve been told that there are things I cannot do or have-whether spoken or subliminal. It’s only made me stronger and more determined. Thanks again for your kind words.

      • I’m trying to think of racial or sexual counterparts, and I’m having a hard time coming up with any. All I can tell you, or warn you about, I suppose, is that the relationship between Christians and Jews is…weird. I still have trouble with it. They grew out of us, but it was a weird version of us with a lot of extra stuff added on. Conversely, they look at us and see us as both their theological predecessors and creators of monotheism, but not so much the rightful heirs of Abrahamic religion anymore. Sometimes I think of Christians as being a group of really dedicated but kindasortamissingthepoint of Judaism fans that somehow became three thousand times as popular. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did on this, but I can’t quite convince a lot of zealots that we only have all this stuff in common when you look at it from the christian perspective.

        As for Black Jews, I remember my first trip to Israel and sharing an apartment with an Ethiopian Jew, one of the first black Jews I’d gotten to know. We had a conversation that stuck with me.

        Me: You know, you’d have a hard time fitting in where I live.
        Him: Oh yeah? You’re from America.
        Me: I’m from New York. It’s a bit different. But I’m from Crown Heights. Blacks and Jews there have sort of hated each other on a pretty regular basis.
        Him: Why do they live right next to each other if they hate each other?
        Me: You’re asking this in Israel?
        Him: Oh. Fair point. Do you hate blacks?
        Me: I don’t think so. Probably not.
        Him: Good thing we’re over here, then.
        Me: Guess so.

        Just reminded me that there’s more uniting us than dividing us. Anyways, have a good day. Eat up. Tisha B’av at sundown.

  2. I have considered quite a few religions over the last few years, but I still find myself agnostic. I just think that what people need to be is respectful to others religions. I did an essay on gay marriage a while ago, and visited a site that had a few large Bible passages that were translated as homophobic- that’s what put me off the Bible personally. But everyone has their own interpretation of it you know? Whenever religion comes up between friends or family, I always say we should drop this guys, and it takes a couple minutes until an argument begins and we drop it. I think it’s awesome that you like to talk about it, and based on a lot of the topics you’ve recently posted, you seem like someone I could have endless life chats with lol

    • @ Cam-It’s difficult for many people to realize where they come from. In terms of religions, race, class, etc. It’s always a little “weird” and I’ve grown up as the slightly “weird” girl. Thus, the meat of my memoir I’m working on! 🙂 It’s always a little difficult to trying to talk sense into people, or at least trying to see things from an alternative point of view. The gentlemen in train irrational at my use of the term, “your opinion” in relation to Jesus and Christianity. It’s a little absurd, but I like to try in any situation. Many people thing that I’m wasting my time when I try to reason with bigotry or plain stupidity but I feel like I’m giving in, or accepting their hatred if I don’t speak up. It’s liberating to do so and it makes me feel better know that I didn’t let them think I was a door mat.
      @ Alanna-I agree that in mixed company conversations about religion and politics are best kept between friend or family. Even then it can make for a sticky situation. I like to have intellectual converstations and even debates with people on either subject matter so long as they are even-sided debates. It’s great to learn from someone else, even if they’re opinion differs from your own I find that I walk away a little more learned and a little more open-minded, dare I say tolerant? It’s hard, though, to find like-minded people who are interested in sharing and recieving information.

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