Now I don’t generally consider myself an awkward person. In real life, I tend to come across as socially competent, confident, and relatively normal (at least that’s what people tell me). However, all that changes when I run into another Black Jew. It’s like a tiny antenna perks up, sounding “Alert, Alert, Black Jew on the horizon!” and my social skills promptly go out of the window.
But why! What happens? It’s not like I don’t see Jews all of the time, I live in NY, where observant Jews are a dime a dozen. It’s not even like I don’t see Black Jews on a regular basis. Given my family, circle of friends, and my work with Jews of Color, other Black Jews are a constant part of my life. So why is it that when I see an unknown Black Jew, inside I yell a quiet “Woohoo!” and promptly lose all social skills. I’m not talking meeting another Black Jew at an event for Jews of Color or being introduced by a mutual friend, but what I’d like to call a “random sighting.”
A “random sighting” is when you see another Black Jew shopping on Ave J or 13th Ave, eating at a kosher restaurant, davening in your shul, or even just walking down the street. It’s seeing a Black Jew in your “natural habitat” so to speak, where you’re not used to seeing another person (you don’t know) who looks like you. Consciously, I’m aware that I’m not the only Black Jew and that regardless of all the Black Jews I know who live all over the United States and Israel, I don’t know them all. However, I’m often the only person like me, whether I be in Jewish or non-Jewish settings. A random sighting automatically expands your world, it means that there are even more of you than you thought. It’s both comforting and intimidating…at least for me.
Each “random sighting” results in momentary paralysis. What do I do? What should I say? Should I say or do anything? I know its presumptuous to even think that they even care about other Black Jews, forget me specifically. Plus, I don’t know them from Adam, if I do say something, what should I say? I have no idea what they’re interested in, who they are, etc. Should I just acknowledge their presence with a head nod or a smile? But what if they’re not looking directly at me? Should I walk up to them? It’s kind of obvious that I’m only approaching them because they’re black. But then, if I don’t say something will they think it’s an intentional slight? That I’m one of those Black Jews who don’t want to associate with other Black Jews because I don’t want such affiliations to take away from my Jewishness (the mentality exists, just accept it, we can argue about it later). We don’t have to be best friends, but I think acknowledging each other….such minorities within a minority can provide chizzuk. Just another’s presence can make one feel less isolated and strengthen resolve and commitment to Torah despite the stares, the questions, and the dismissals of others. Darn it, then I realize that while I’ve been engaging in this internal debate I’ve been staring the whole time. And now whatever I do it’s going to be weird and awkward.
Sigh, so I generally just give one last look and walk by without saying or doing anything.