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Breaking the Color Barrier

Breaking the Color Barrier

In this month's Reform Judaism magazine, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis writes about her congregation's efforts to include, embrace, and celebrate Jews of all colors. Rabbi Talve writes that, as with welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenders Jews, "We soon learned that welcoming wasn't enough; we had to listen and respond."

Here's my favorite excerpt:

1997 was a transformative year in our congregation: The beautiful
Josephine was born to a white Jewish mother and a non-Jewish African
American father. There was no question that her parents would raise her
to be a Jew. And when I held her at her naming ceremony, I promised
her: By the time you begin to notice how you fit into your
surroundings, we will have a community that includes others who look
like you. You will see yourself reflected in the diversity of our
temple. Your parents' good intentions [to stay active in the synagogue]
and our own [to treat you with respect] are not enough.

As a first step in fulfilling my promise, we invited as a speaker
and teacher Julius Lester, a black Jew, professor of Judaic Studies and
history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is also author
of Love Song, an autobiography reflecting on his Jewish
journey, from learning that his maternal great-grandfather was a German
Jew to converting to Judaism as an adult. Julius taught us that for him
becoming Jewish was less a choice and more a naming of who he really
was. While he had found a niche in the Jewish community, I sensed he
didn't hold out much hope that CRC would ever become an integrated,
safe, and welcoming place for Jews of color. As an African American, he
resonated with the sounds, rhythms, and stories of black America. That
wasn't our culture at CRC, not then.

I began to understand that to authentically embrace black
culture, I'd need the help of black Jews, but this would not be easy in
St. Louis, where separation and segregation run deep. I worried about
my promise to Josephine.

So was Rabbi Talve able to fulfill her promise to Josephine, who will become a bat mitzvah this year? Click through for the full story.

Published: 2/25/2010

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