Wholly Jewish: Erika: Check Your Assumptions at the Door

What do we all have in common? We all live - and balance - complex and nuanced identities, that, when braided together, make us wholly ourselves - and “Wholly Jewish.” Join April Baskin, the Union for Reform Judaism’s former vice president for Audacious Hospitality, as she speaks with Jews of Color who share their experiences, insights, and how their identities enrich and create a more vibrant Jewish community.

In this episode: Full of both insight and advice, this week’s guest is an avid dancer and lifelong learner who talks about the energy, intentions, and relationships that differentiate deep and sometimes-uncomfortable conversations – about Judaism and beyond. Meet Erica Riddick.

Three ways to listen:


[Erica Riddick:] I understand having questions in your mind.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] We all do. That's how we navigate the world. Umm, but...

[April Baskin:] We don't always ask them.

[Erica Riddick:] Right. You don't always ask.

[URJ Intro:] Welcome to "Wholly Jewish". A podcast from ReformJudaism.org. Everybody knows there isn't just one way to be Jewish and there isn't just one kind of Jew. In this podcast. We talk to people about their different identities and how those identities intersect with their Judaism or in other words what makes them Jewish and, and. And, what makes them "Wholly Jewish". This season, The Union for Reform Judaism's immediate past vice president of Audacious Hospitality, April Baskin, interviewed members of the Jews of Color cohort of the JewV'Nation Fellowship. Today she's talking to Erica Riddick.

[April Baskin:] So Erica, I am so thrilled to find out from you: What's your Jewish and, and identity?

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. You know I really love that question, because I like thinking about identity and who am I, and where am I going in the world?

[April Baskin:] Great. So, I am Jewish, and the first thing that always comes to my mind is dancer. I've noticed when I have these kinds of conversations with other people - so I am a woman and I am brown and I never forget those things, but they're so integral to who I am that when I think about my and identity... Right.

[Erica Riddick:] Those are so foundational like they usually don't come to mind first. So, I've danced since I was in elementary school and that is a really important and joyful part of my identity.

[April Baskin:] And it's also one you chose, right? It's basically what you just said. But that's also an identity that's something that you constructed.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah, yeah, I like that. That's a great point. It is something that I chose. And then, when I go beyond there, I tend to think about the kind of characteristics about myself that I love, like I'm deeply curious.

[April Baskin:] Yes, you are.

[Erica Riddick:] I know, I'm deeply curious and so that's Jewish and dancer and curious.

[April Baskin:] Fantastic, perfect. And how do these identities interact with one another, being Jewish and a dancer and a woman and brown and deeply curious? How, how, what's, what's...can you give me some sense of what that interplay of those different facets of your identity - how that manifests in your life?

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah, it kind of creates this constant feedback loop, actually.

[April Baskin:] How so?

[Erica Riddick:] Everything is connected. You know I believe that deeply and I see that in how my brain works, because a thought in one area connects with something in another area and then an aspect of another identity starts to inform the whole thing. And then I find myself weaving in and out of them all. So, I don't know what would happen if somebody strapped me up to one of those brain machines, but I think it might go crazy.

[April Baskin:] And can you give me a couple examples of the scenarios that you just mentioned?

[Erica Riddick:] It's a little difficult. I can't think of one that has happened recently, but when I find myself, when I, when I get still physically, my mind starts to...my mind's always working, but when I, like, go to bed at night there's a moment of stillness. Let's ramp up into overcharge. And, so whatever is on my mind...so for instance I found out that August twenty third is an international commemoration for the slave trade and its abolition. So this is a U.N. international holiday that I had no knowledge of.

[April Baskin:] And I didn't either until, until this past summer. It was actually the first time that I'd learned of it as well.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. And what's also interesting is there are two other associated events with it. Apparently, there is like a decade of brown people and that's I believe 2014 to...then add on 10 years. And then there's also a slave trade project which started in 1994. And so, I've really been trying to read...

[April Baskin:] Can you say a little more about that?

[Erica Riddick:] Not a ton because since I just recently found out about it, I'm still in the research phase.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] So I did find out that the day, and it goes back to like nineteen seventy something, I think 1979, just when it was in idea form before it was decided, determined as a day. I never figured out when it actually has been a day, so, like how many years have I not known about it? But I think about how deep the systems are in place to kind of devalue that kind of commemoration you know and how that does plug into all of my identities. And I've been doing a lot of work recently on thinking through the internalized ways that I support the system. Because, you know, that's one of the biggest things that I can impact myself.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] And so I decided I was telling everybody because I feel like there's lots of levels of silences that we all kind of buy into.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] And so I put that as a tagline in every email I sent August 23rd. Yeah. And I talked to, I had a lot of conversations about it. So that was my first celebration. And that doesn't exactly answer the question of how all of my identities are interconnected and how that creates this, you know, feedback loop. But, so, that's one thing that really surprised me. And then, all of my identities, you know, the woman, as a brown person, as a Jewish person...you know how does that make me feel and how does that affect my life? And where do I go from here? You know, all of those things plug into that response.

[April Baskin:] Right. So, the second question that I'm eager to ask you is, was there, was there a pivotal moment that affected your Jewish identity?

[Erica Riddick:] You know, that is a really great question. I'm so glad that you asked me and there's two things that spring instantly to mind.

[April Baskin:] Great.

[Erica Riddick:] One is, you know there's so much focus, attention...and probably...the more icky feeling one is, this assumptive and demanding quality of wanting to...I was going to say know my story, but that's not...that's not really what it feels like. It usually is more...it's smaller. There's an assumption that I converted and there is a demanding of that confirmation. Sometime that's before my name is even asked for or their name is even offered. I used to...I used to respond to that with a conversation, thinking that, because I at heart, I don't believe that people are inherently trying to be mean or separatist or bad in anyway. I think that it's just a subconscious thing that doesn't quite make it to their conscious mind and they don't recognize how that ends up landing and feeling on the other end. And so, I thought that, you know, having a conversation would be fine and it would be good. And I started to realize, because the conversation really never drifted from that one point, and then once that information was received, that was the end of the conversation and kind of, it felt like it was validating not needing any more information. So, I kind of just decided that I was going to stop answering the question because... First for several reasons. One is, I just, I'm not sure what it answers and I'm not sure how it's important. And I'm not sure why the focus is there, and I've never really come to any conclusions about that.

[April Baskin:] That's fair.

[Erica Riddick:] But I'm worried. I have this small concern that it adversely affects the Jew of Color community. Because I feel like we're all one and, you know, I don't want there to be this a part of the community is sanctioned because they grew up...And I'm air quoting over here, you can't see that...but somebody else is like some, I don't know, leech interloper who is just hanging out temporarily and they're not for real, for real.

[April Baskin:] Just cause, we're just doing Jewish, just cause. Could be watching Netflix, but instead we're going to synagogue and eating kugel. You know, just randomly.

[Erica Riddick:] I know, just randomly. I once had a White South African woman, Jewish, be like "Oh, you're not really Jewish". And I was totally floored by the situation. I had no idea what to do, I was like, "I need an adult, I need an adult". We were connecting, and then the train fell off the track. So, so I did happen to convert, but when I think about where my Jewish identity starts, I mean, it was so long ago. It was when I was a child, really, the things that I really connect with as integral to Judaism for me. And I don't really, like, I don't know my mother's family at all. So, I don't know who they are and where they come from.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] And I know my father's family a little bit, but it's, it's gotten really weird. I feel a little bit like an orphan. My father is...has passed away, but my mother is still alive. So, the other event that I think really affects how I feel about this is, kind of this feeling that, if you did convert, that that's a new thing. Like that only just started happening. And it's intriguing for a lot of reasons. Because one...

[April Baskin:] For many reasons...

[Erica Riddick:] For many reasons. I mean, one, we know of the people that we've been historically past fascinated with that converted...

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] You know the famous people. We won't list them. But we know they're there. And you know, I don't know if they have children and where they are in the world, but surely there's been more than the current generation of brown Jews running around that have been hanging out. But the other thing is, you know Egypt is in Africa, so when the exodus happened...I don't know...the whole idea that it would be infeasible for...

[April Baskin:] For the lost tribes or where the lost tribes dispersed to...

[Erica Riddick:] To stay in Africa and go south from Egypt versus west or north.

[April Baskin:] Correct.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. And so that's interesting and sort of the, the intensity with which kind of there is a refusal to acknowledge what seems like a simple and logical conclusion is intriguing to me and so, my follow up questions mentally are, you know, I don't think it's, not only do I not think it's recent, but I think that it was from so long ago that, I want to know where those histories are. You know I am actively searching for them and I crave them. I need them and I think a lot of us do. And more than just Jews of Color.

[April Baskin:] Right, yep. Absolutely.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah absolutely. So, I want the stories and then in the modern time, beyond the shock, the surprise, I won't say horror...beyond the shock and the surprise, where are all of these Jews? They're out there somewhere. So, we've lost so many people. And at a time when a lot of synagogues are looking for butts to be in pews, there's a whole group of people that are just hanging out somewhere.

[April Baskin:] Yes absolutely.

[Erica Riddick:] And we've lost them. We've lost their talent, we've lost their insight, we've lost their interaction. And I feel like it's a real loss.

[April Baskin:] It is a real loss. You are preaching my Torah, Erica. I'm big into this. And we could come up with brand new shiny things to try and engage people. But actually there is a whole group of people who, if we just cleaned up some stuff and learned a little bit more, who, who are already a part of us and who we just need to more effectively reach out to and… how deep and meaningful it will be. Because tragically and factually for so many of us, so many Jews of Color have been so fundamentally deprived of it, that it's something that when we do encounter it very often, not always, but very often, we don't even come close to taking it for granted.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. And then that's what brings us full circle, is that these assumptions which happened to be true about me, when somebody who has been living a Jewish life, even under the circumstances that some - a white Jew would accept, I can imagine just how you might get to this point where you're like you know what. I don't need this. And then you're gone.

[April Baskin:] I have, I have a couple rapid fire questions to ask you.

[Erica Riddick:] Okay.

[April Baskin:] The first is a two part one and then the final is the one part one. Thank you so much by the way. This has been such an enriching conversation. And the way...

[Erica Riddick:] Oh, it's been my pleasure.

[April Baskin:] ...That you share your thinking I think is just so clear and expansive and detailed and deeply, deeply enriching. I'm explicitly avoiding using the word articulate. Pro tip. So, as a person who is Jewish and a dancer and a woman and brown and deeply curious what's something that you never want said to you ever again.

[Erica Riddick:] You know, and I apologize in advance, that's a really difficult question to answer because what I've, I've learned is that it's not the question. It's the energy behind the question. Because I've had the questions that have set me off in a way that creates intentional honest truly open connective conversations. And I love those moments.

[April Baskin:] So for you it's more about energy and intention.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah.

[April Baskin:] And so what's, what's an energy or intention that you never want to experience again?

[Erica Riddick:] The energy and intention that I don't want is sort of this assumptive right to possess me.

[April Baskin:] Oooh, wow, that just hit the nail on the head. Do you want to say a little bit more about that?

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. So, if someone comes with me, comes to me, with a question, you know, I would appreciate a little thinking about what relationship do we already have. Do I have the right to ask these questions? Do we have the framework, the groundwork, the relationship status to dive into someplace? Like, I understand having questions in your mind.

[April Baskin:] Right.

[Erica Riddick:] We all do. That's how we navigate the world. But...

[April Baskin:] You don't always ask them.

[Erica Riddick:] Right. You don't always ask, right?

[April Baskin:] Hashtag discretion.

[Erica Riddick:] The example I give is, you know, you wouldn't necessarily just ask me for my social security number but if my mother asked me for it, you know, like we have that kind of relationship.

[April Baskin:] Right. Great example. Great example. Thank you.

[Erica Riddick:] You're welcome.

[April Baskin:] And so the second half of the question is, what's something that you would love to hear? Or what's an energy or intention that you would love to feel or experience.

[Erica Riddick:] You know, for me it's joy. Like, there's this, and I'm going to go ahead and use the word rhetoric, rhetoric, of doing everything joyfully in the Jewish community. But I feel like that gets lost some of the time. And so, I find that if, if someone really wants to connect with you...And then, it's not about this specific question. People are often, when they're in that framework, willing to go wherever the conversation goes. Because every aspect of the conversation informs them about you.

[April Baskin:] And is a value to them.

[Erica Riddick:] And it's a value to them. And so, when you can you can feel that when you are kind of meandering down the same stream and you happen to be connected. So that's, that's, what I seek. And I love connection. You know and this relates to my love as a dancer. You know you could dance to that connection. It's such a great feeling. So, I'm always looking for that out in the world. And it often happens through conversation, but it doesn't even need to embody words. Sometimes you make that connection just through eye contact. We've all experienced it.

[April Baskin:] Absolutely. Absolutely. I just I love how you assemble and express your thoughts. It's really beautiful.

[Erica Riddick:] Thank you.

[April Baskin:] You're so welcome. And so, the final question which you can answer with as much serious or whimsy as you prefer, is who or what inspires you to be a better Jew?

[Erica Riddick:] I think it's a multipronged answer. No surprise there, right? So, um, one person...I feel really, really, just deeply lucky and blessed in life. My best friend is now a rabbi. I knew her before she was a rabbi. So, she's just my friend. But that has given me a lot of support and safety and we laugh a lot. And so, I feel like I can ask fun questions with her that, unfortunately, I don't always feel like I can ask in whatever setting or with some rabbis. And so that, that's deeply enriching to my life. And so, she just makes me want to be a better person just because of the unconditional love we have of each other. And then, see, the other individual person, that comes to mind is the Rabbi that I first studied with, who has since passed away. And he had an ability to, to see me when I didn't think I was being seen, which is a truly wonderful experience, when you know when you're seen with sort of openness and acceptance.

[April Baskin:] Right. Absolutely.

[Erica Riddick:] Yeah. And he had a really great way of, and not just with me but whoever was in front of him, treating them like there was no other person and nothing else more important than the interaction he was having right then and there. Which was an amazing gift that I cherish and still think about to this day. And so, there would be times, when you know, I would be butchering Hebrew or carrying on. I get excited and you know I start rattling on and he never made me feel like that was not enough. Especially when he saw I was excited. Because there would be times when I realized, oh, we've gotten to the end of our time and I would I would stop myself and he would be like, "are you ready to stop"? And a couple of times I said no, and he was like then “continue”.

[April Baskin:] Wow.

[Erica Riddick:] And that just, it still gets to me. That kind of love and graciousness. Yeah.

[April Baskin:] Wonderful. Well Erica, this has been such a treat. I've, I've, so enjoyed speaking with you during our conversation. Thank you very, very much.

[Erica Riddick:] Well, thank you. You've been a great host and I really appreciate it. And it was a lot of fun.

[April Baskin:] You were a lot of fun.

[URJ Outro] Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of "Wholly Jewish". Tune in again for our next episode. And in the meantime, you can find daily ongoing conversations about Jewish holidays, pop culture, current events, and more at ReformJudaism.org. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism and on Twitter, our handle is @ReformJudaism. Hope you have a good week. L'hitraot!