On hearing that I had converted to Judaism many African-Americans — family members, friends and even recent acquaintances, have all basically asked the same question “How are you being treated…?” Typically I give recent acquaintances the succinct response of “Well.” With family and friends I offer a more nuanced response. I tell them of my experience meeting Rabbi Oleon or, better stated, of how she spotted me, the stranger approaching the tent, and came out to greet me. I tell them of the people I have met and of those who have left an impression upon me. I speak of moments and encounters, of my “adopted Jewish parents” who invited to my first Break Fast long before I became a Jew-by-choice, of my “auntie and uncle” whom I do not see regularly but who are always glad to see me and I them, and of my “big sister” who helped direct me to the entrance of Temple Sinai on that faithful day, Friday, March 23, 2012. Yet, while these experiences were seminal moments on my path to Judaism, it has not always been easy being in this space.
It takes chutzpah to enter a religious space that historically does not have a significant African-American population, this despite the joining together of the two seemingly dissimilar communities during the civil rights movement. In this space I have been stared at, not with a glaring look but with a look that lasted one second longer than it should have. And sometimes there is the experience of being in Temple and no one says hello. I am reminded of a quote by the Noble Laureate Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.” I have felt pangs of aloneness caused by this indifference while sitting among those who value, or so it is taught, the importance of community. Yet, in spite of these all too frequent moments, I have found a community that I value.
A community of people who are not only welcoming but inviting, offering not merely the perfunctory “Shabbat Shalom’ but an invitation to become a part of the fabric of their lives. In my short time at Temple Sinai I have been fortunate/blessed to have not only attended multiple Shabbat dinners, Break Fasts & Passover Seders, but just regular lunch outings, talking in the Temple’s parking lot long after Friday night services have concluded, and taking a road trip to Baltimore to visit the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
Becoming a part of a community where one has no innate attachment can be a daunting endeavor. It is an experience that has, thus far, been filled with the highest of highs and unfortunately, the lowest of lows. However, the journey into and within Judaism is still being written.