MaNishtana (born February 14, 1982) is a Brooklyn-based African-American Orthodox Jewish author, educator, and public speaker.
A social activist more by chance than choice, MaNishtana entered the blogosphere in 2009 with a mission to nurture unity and strengthen multifaceted identity within the Jew of Color (or “JOC”) community. The psuedonym “MaNishtana” is inspired by the first of the Four Questions of the Passover seder, “Mah nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleilot?/What makes this night different from all other nights?”, with the intent to invoke the question with regards to Jews of Color vis a vis “Why is this Jew different from all other Jews?”. The answer to this loaded question, according to MaNishtana, is “Everything and nothing.”
His engaging, humorous, and often irreverent outlook on Judaism, race politics, and racial issues within Judaism and without—as illustrated through his blogs and videos—have gained popularity through press mentions including The New York Times and New York Magazine. In 2014, he was named as one of Judaism’s up and coming leaders by The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36″. In 2016, MaNishtana was tapped to participate in the ROI Summit in Jerusalem. His speaking engagements have included Boston University, University of Kentucky, and the Eliezer Society at Yale University.
In 2010, MaNishtana expanded his WordPress blog into a niche social media website, MaNishtana.net, which became MaNishtana’s Musings in 2013, and then split in 2014 into MaNishtana’s personal blog site, once again named MaNishtana.net, and an online JOC magazine, JN “Jewnited Nations” Magazine, later renamed Multikosheral.
2010 also saw MaNishtana found JOCFlock.org, the internet’s first Jewish dating site to cater to Jews of Color, later renamed Mosaic Matches.
In 2014, MaNishtana was part of the inaugural writing staff of Hevria, the online magazine brainchild of Elad Nehorai, also known as Pop Chassid. Hevria’s mission is to be the go-to community for creative Jewish and “spiritual” people, describing itself as a group “devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context”.
MaNishtana is also on the Speaker’s Bureau of Bechol Lashon, an internationally active San Francisco non-profit dedicated to celebrating racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community.
In 2012 MaNishtana released his “not-autobiography”, Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe, available at Amazon as well as digitally for Kindle or Nook.
In 2014, he published the full-color coffee table book “Fine, thanks. How are YOU, Jewish?”: A Stream Of Consciousness Stroll Through The Jew Of Color Mind, also available on Amazon.
In 2015, MaNishtana compiled, edited and illustrated The Rishoni Illuminated Legacy Hagadah, a fully illustrated, English-translated/transliterated haggadah, including original commentary with an eye toward global Judaism and observance accessibility.
A hobbyist graphic artist with a comfortable Photoshop background, MaNishtana’s first professional piece, What If: Japan, was featured in the Jewish Diversity gallery curated by Elke Reva Sudin, co-founder of Jewish Art Now.
MaNishtana’s art can currently be viewed at his DeviantArt account.
Punk Jews (2012)
Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana (2016)
Born to two African-American Jewish parents, MaNishtana grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of five siblings in a Chabad family.
A Class of 1999 alumnus of James Madison High School, MaNishtana subsequently graduated from Brooklyn College in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in English & Secondary Education. He has taught English Literature, Math, and Science in both public and Yeshiva secondary schools.
In May 2012, MaNishtana married his wife Shoshana, a biracial American Jew. Her mother is a 1st-generation German-American Jew, her father is an African-American Catholic, and she is a fourteenth generation descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, the 17th century chief rabbi of Prague, and later Krakow, also known as the Tosafot Yom Tov. Shoshana grew up as a Reform Jew and began the journey to becoming an observant Jew while attending Boston College. She currently considers herself “Shomer Mitzvot”.
In September 2013, MaNishtana and Shoshana welcomed their first child, Gadiélla, a daughter.