We All Belong: A Letter in Response to #TogetherattheTable
On August 15th, OneTable Executive Director sent out an email to our community inviting everyone to come together at the table in response to this weekend’s painful events. Avigayil was one of many to respond and share the movement, but her passion, warmth, and words stood out and we’re grateful to share them with you all.
I just want to say that your email this week was very wonderful to read, especially after the occurrences this past weekend. But there is one reason in particular that your email resonated enough with me to reach out to you.
My name is Avigayil and I’m a multiracial Jew. Being multiracial and having three other siblings meant that because of our diverse background we also looked different from each other, particularly in our varying skin-tones. This never seemed like a difference to us because both our parents come from multiracial backgrounds, and we were so used to seeing people in the family who look light, dark, and in between. My oldest sister passes for being white, my second oldest sister is dark complected, and both my younger sister and I are medium. Whether it was the African-American, Latino, or Jewish community, there was always some reason we felt like, or were told we didn’t fit in fully. There were many times people even tried pitting us against each other for reasons like having fairer skin, straighter hair texture, and even facial features, but we all stuck up for each other.
I’m the only one of my sisters who practices Judaism, and I don’t blame them. It’s not easy for me, and I constantly struggle for where my place is especially living in Crown Heights. Plenty of Jewish guys who find out I’m Jewish assume I’m a convert or think my Jewish background is invalid. In fact my mother was nervous, because my great grandmother had a hard time trying to be apart of the community in Crown Heights even though she spoke Hebrew and Yiddish and was very well versed in Judaism. Now I spend days, hours, and minutes before an event to prepare myself for people asking me “what my story is” 5 seconds after meeting me, or happily stating “you remind me/have to meet, my friend! She’s also a black convert! You would get along great!” I always feel so violated, and scared that I can’t walk into a jewish event without feeling stares and whispers. People tell me I’m overreacting. A rabbi once told me “well look at you,” when I asked how to properly respond to people questioning me. The best thing I can tell people is to think of someone with a scar, missing limb, or disability. Picture how many times people come up to them to question how they got that way, or think they can’t do something for themselves. It gets tiring, and can chip away at your self worth.
Not every person who questions my Jewish background means harm. But I get flat out told “there’s no way” I could be Jewish, and some who just say they’ve never met anyone Jewish who looks like me. Regardless, it always made me feel uncomfortable. I think that whether by birth or conversion, a Jew is a Jew, we all belong.
The first OneTable Shabbat dinner I went to was hosted by a guy named Joshua.
I had seen OneTable but I had always been too nervous about going and feeling “alone.” I needed a Shabbos meal at the last minute, and thankfully I was apart of Kehillat Harlem, a small budding shul that was not only racially diverse, but also accepting of all on many levels. My friends invited me to go with them to Joshua’s, and I immediately felt a relief when not only the host, but another person looked like me. After kiddush, Joshua gave some background information on OneTable as well as how to take part. Eventually we spoke about the struggle of embracing our Jewish roots but not quite always being accepted. It felt safe; even the other dinner guests were supportive.
Without even knowing what I was going to, I was able to experience what OneTable is all about. For me, it was a such perfect environment.
You have created an opportunity for people to open their homes and celebrate Shabbat together. I look forward to going to more OneTable dinners, and hosting in the future as well.