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Dec 18 2013

Thanks to My Judaism, I’m Teaching My Kids About Africa

By at 12:35 pm

motherafric

Last weekend, I took my three kids, ages 14, 10, and almost 7, to a performance of African acrobats. It’s a terrific show, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the NYC area before January 5th. It’s totally not Mother Africa’s fault that, in the middle of it, I was thrown into an existential crises (I am prone to those).

Here’s the thing: I am a Soviet-born Jew. My husband is African-American. Our kids are Jewish African-Americans who sometimes speak Russian. At our house, I’m in charge of the Jewish and Russian part, and my husband is in charge of the African-American part. So you’d think we’d have everything covered.

I thought we had everything covered.

Until I sat in a theater on 42nd Street watching a troupe of amazing acrobats and it occurred to me that my kids know nothing about their African heritage.

Not their African-American heritage; their African one. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 6 2012

My Daughter’s Black/Jewish Hair

By at 10:47 am
little girl getting haircut

Who's excited for a haircut?

From the instant the sonogram technician said, “It’s a girl,” (and, for the record, after two sons, I didn’t believe it; I waited till the doctor came in to confirm), my mantra had been, “Hope she likes boys’ clothes, and short hairstyles, ‘cause that’s all I’ve got.”

Well, she’s almost 5 years old now. And guess what? She likes neither.

My daughter will give in to wearing her brothers’ hand-me-downs once in a while, jeans and sweaters with rocket-ships on them—because rocket-ships are cool. But, most of the time, it’s pink, pink, and more pink. Pink dresses, pink coats, pink underwear, and pink tights. (Luckily, she has a cousin with similar tastes, who’s six months older–and two sizes larger.)

Then there’s the hair.

My daughter has one Jewish parent and one Black parent. Ergo, my daughter has Black/Jewish hair.

Yay.

For the first year of their respective lives, all three of my children had unbelievably straight, ebony hair. (In fact, when we sent out a photo of my newborn middle son, a friend responded, “What an adorable Asian baby you’ve got there.”)

And then, right as the first candle got blown out on the birthday cake, a single curl sprung up over one ear. Then over the other ear. The two tufts stuck straight out, devil-horn style, until they got too long and wavy and proceeded to droop downward. At that point, all three of my kids had themselves a nice set of payes. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 30 2011

Kwanzaa: The Other “Other” December Holiday of Lights

By at 3:15 pm

kwanzaa illustrationDespite some people’s–whose business it really isn’t, but what can you do?–taking offense at it, my husband and I identify our children as Jewish African-Americans.

The reason for that is because both the Jewish and the African describe the kinds of Americans they are, giving the latter designation top billing.  (I’m a Soviet immigrant and my husband is a former Boy Scout–we’re big on that patriotism thing.)

We go out of our way to make sure that all three kids are cognizant of their dual heritage, though, ironically enough, I’m usually the one pointing out, “You know the architect who laid out Washington DC was an African-American,” while my husband is the one likely to note, “Jews have won more Nobel Prizes than any other group.”

As a family, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day in the Winter, and Juneteenth (the end of slavery in America) in the Summer.  What we do not celebrate is Kwanzaa.

And not merely because, come December 26, we’ve already lit enough candles in our household.  (Last year, my then 3-year-old daughter announced, “Mama, I’ve figured out how to say Hanukkah in Russian.  It’s Kwanzaa!”)

We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, the best-known African-American holiday, because, to paraphrase Mike Meyers’ Saturday Night Live Coffee Talk creation, “Kwanzaa is neither African nor American.  Discuss.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 5 2011

How is a Racist Kentucky Church like a Conservative Synagogue?

By at 1:45 pm

Stella Harville / AP via TIME. The Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, voted to ban interracial couples after this couple sang a song there.

This past week, a pastor from a Baptist church in Pike County, Kentucky instituted a ban against interracial couples from either joining his congregation or taking part in select church activities.

And I’m okay with that.

(I know, easy for me to say. I live a few hundred miles away in New York City, and, at this time, have no interest in ever joining a Baptist church, either with my African-American husband, or without him.)

Like Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and not Voltaire; although it’s a common misattribution) wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” I heartily and wholly disapprove of the sentiment – but I insist that the pastor had the right to express it.

A church is a private organization, and a private organization can pick and choose its membership based on any criteria they desire. It is then up to the current members to decide if this is an organization with which they can, should, and will continue to identify. (They can also, presumably, vote to change those aspects with which they do not agree – if the association is structured in such a manner, and current news reports suggest that may soon be the case in Pike County, either from the general membership or from higher-up in the church’s hierarchy.)

Obviously, my husband and I would not – even if we could – remain members of a church which did not allow White/Black (or any other combination) of couples.

On the other hand – before anybody gets to feeling too superior – we are currently members of a Conservative Jewish congregation which allows us to pay the family membership rate – but does not consider my non-Jewish husband a member, and does not extend him voting rights.

When we got married 13 years ago, there were rabbis who refused to perform the wedding ceremony. And when we had our first son (and our second), there were mohels who similarly would not do the bris.

And I was – still am – okay with that. Read the rest of this entry →

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