Four Entered Pardes…

Alright. So it’s 11 Av and the Three Weeks are FINALLY over in every way shape and form for every minhag on the face of the planet. That means it’s meat time.

And who wants meat? You want meat.

Even you, vegetarians. After all, you don’t see us meat-eaters trying to order a burger that tastes like carrots and soy, do you?

The only question which remains is WHERE should you eat all the meats?

About two years ago, long after we’d become acquainted through filming Punk Jews, my friend Saul Sudin kept telling me about this chef. This chef who would constantly complain to him.

“If MaNishtana is supposed to be the JOC spokesperson, how come he’s never come to eat in the only kosher JOC-owned restaurant in Brooklyn?”

For two years this went on, with Saul dutifully relaying said chef’s laments, and me vowing to eventually stop by. Then one night, my wife and I finally caved and had a double-date with the Sudins at Brooklyn’s indeed only kosher JOC-owned restaurant, Pardes.

It was an interesting experience I feel like I can sum up in just one word: salty.

No, not the food. After all, Chef Moses Wendel is of the rare variety of Ashkenazi cooks who knows what the meaning of “seasoning” is (honestly guys, how did you go through the Crusades and all you came out with was salt? Were you out sick they day they were giving out the coriander and thyme? Also, adding copious amounts of black pepper does NOT mean something is “spicy”. It means it tastes like suck).

 On the contrary, by “salty”, I’m talking about Chef Moses himself.

Equal parts Popeye, Chef Ramsey, and a North American grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), Chef Moses is of the kind of tough-talking, two-fisted Philly-boy variety that, well, let’s just say Justin Bieber shouldn’t ever try peeing in his mop bucket. Or better yet, maybe he should.

 As for Pardes’ JOC-ness, Chef Moses’ better half Shana is the restaurant’s co-owner and resident JOC who prefers to stay behind the scenes, in all likelihood making sure there’s discretionary funds to put toward unexpected bail money should a woman-man-boy decide to pee in a mop bucket.

Now, is Pardes pricey? Yes. But so is Entenmann’s, and I don’t particularly see you boycotting those rich frosted donuts, so tell your wallet to man up. But, no worries:  you WILL get your money’s worth here, AND not starve.

Case in point, my first time there I ordered some Frenchy-French sounding thing (Chef Moses’ culinary background is very French-style), which according to the menu, was some kinda beef marrow. I ordered it, deciding not to get my hopes up too much. After all, if it was terrible, at the very least I could take solace in the fact that I’d represented, namean?

And then I got a plate with marrow which had not only been hollowed out of the bone, but arranged into a patty. And served with the bone. Which had been stuffed with a salad. That’s right. This place serves salads inside of the bones of animals.

If other restaurants ever caught wind of this, the number of salad-eating men would multiply exponentially.

I’m not too sure whether the dish I ordered is even still on the available, though. Chef Moses likes to keep things fresh and different. No two visits will ever have the same menu.

However, what pretty much DOES stay steadily consistent is an amazing selection of quality beers. Forget wine. Don’t come to Pardes to drink wine. You can drink wine at home. Because at Pardes? Even if you’re not a beer person, by the end of the night you will be a beer person. Hell, by the end of the night you might even be a BEER.

Also, speaking of beers, try not to say something like “Beer is for niggers” to Chef Moses. It will only make things very awkward later should you ever happen to meet his nigger family, you inelegantly racist f*ckhole. (Yes, that was a true thing that was said. That happened).

Vegetarians, fear not. You will not die here. I’ve eaten at Pardes with more than a few of your kind, and you all went home admirably sated.

In short: I loved this place.

Real people. Real food. Real good. Real salad inside the bone of an animal.

So go ahead and head on down to Pardes. Tell ’em MaNishtana sent you. Unless you’re going to be a douche.

In that case just go to Basil.

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No Justice. But Plenty of Pieces.

Here it is the Ninth of Av again. I’ve been doing this for four years now, today.

When I started this blog, it was meant to offer commentary on all my worlds, Black, Jewish, Black Jewish. Somewhere along the line it became a little bit more niche, talking about the Black every now and then, sure, but mostly focusing on the Jewish and Black Jewish worlds. And here, on my fourth birthday as MaNishtana, I’d like people to remember I am very much “just” Black too.

Especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial. Yes, I said Trayvon Martin’s trial, not George Zimmerman’s, because apparently it was Trayvon who was on trial for his own death. And, unsurprisingly enough for me as a Black man in America, justice was not served.

However, the majority of White America, especially and infuriatingly my fellow Jews (again, the white ones), want to tell me “it’s not a race issue”.

Oh really?

In May 2012, Marissa Alexander, a Black Florida woman with no prior  police record, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot into a wall to scare off her husband who she felt was threatening her. Alexander was estranged from her husband, Rico Gray, and had a restraining order against him, even though they’d had a baby together just nine days before. Thinking he was gone, she went to their former home to retrieve the rest of her clothes. An argument ensued, and Alexander said she feared for her life when she went out to her vehicle and retrieved the gun she legally owned. She came back inside and ended up firing a shot into the wall.

She invoked Stand Your Ground self-defense and was denied. Why? Because the judge threw out Alexander’s “stand your ground” self-defense claim, noting that she could have run out of the house to escape her husband but instead got the gun and went back inside and therefore created her own scenario.

Wait…So then doesn’t that mean that George Zimmerman likewise shouldn’t be able to invoke “stand your ground” as a defense since he was ordered by the 911-operator to NOT get out of his car or pursue Trayvon? Did he not create the scenario in which Trayvon was fighting him?

Yet somehow, when a Black woman is confronting a person who she has a RESTRAINING ORDER against, she can’t invoke “stand your ground” because she created the additional scenario, but a White guy (and please stop saying “He’s not White, he’s Hispanic!” as if you’ve never filled out a form in your life and seen “Black, not-Hispanic” and “White, not-Hispanic” as ethnicity choices) can invoke stand your ground when the fact is if he stayed in the car, Trayvon would’ve had no idea he was even being followed in the first place. Right.

Let’s not even talk about James Dooley, a 71 year old Black man who was denied stand your ground against a White attacker 30 years his junior…who was choking him and reaching for his own gun.

Because this isn’t a race issue.

“People want to make this about race when it was about justice. There was reasonable doubt! Race had nothing to do with this!”

As if “law” and “justice” were ever synonymous in this country when it came to Black people. As if they forgot that everything Hitler did in Germany was actually legal. As if here in America–in NEW YORK–our illustrious Mayor Bloomberg hadn’t just said two weeks ago that  “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.” …Despite the fact that white New Yorkers make up a whopping 9% of Stop-and-Frisk stops. While Blacks and Latinos comprised over 86%.

“Don’t compare the Third Reich to the American court system,” someone said to me.

He’s right, actually. I really can’t. The Third Reich was actually defeated.

Yet here, on the cusp of the Ninth of Av, my Facebook Jews could not see any kind of correlation. Which to me is hilarious. Because I happened to come across some things while Googling.

Things have apparently not been awesome in Poland recently. Over the last five years or so, there have been an alarming amount of incidents involving the mishandling of justice when it comes to Jews.

In 2006 Nachman Marczewski was killed while leaving from his aufruf which had stretched late into the night, after being fired upon by three police officers who did not identify themselves. The cops were found not guilty.

In 2009, while on the ground after being arrested at a subway stop, unarmed Mikhail Korczak was shot in the back by the arresting officer. Mikhail died seven hours later.

Last year, Jewish teen Hayyim Aronszajn was arrested and placed in the back of a police vehicle, handcuffed. Mysteriously, he died in that backseat of a gunshot to the head. The arresting officers claimed Hayyim shot himself. In the right side of the head. In the back of a police car. While handcuffed. And being left-handed. The coroner’s office signed off on it. No charges were ever brought.

And then there is the troubled town of Lubusza. In 2006 two private security guards—one the son of a local police officer, the other a volunteer for the department—killed a Jewish teen with a gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges. Then, in 2010, the son of a Lubusza police lieutenant, sucker-punched a elderly Jew outside a bar, and officers on the scene released him without charges. He eventually surrendered after video of the incident materialized online. The police chief at the time was ultimately forced into retirement. As it would turn out, the same patrol sergeant in charge on the night of the assault on the Jew outside of the bar, would also be the first supervisor on the scene of the shooting death of Jacob Steinhaus in 2012, a teen who was gunned down by a paranoid neighborhood watchman believing Steinhaus to be trouble. The gunman got off.

This year, Stanislaw Tarski, another Jewish teen, would be gunned down at a gas station for playing his music too loud.

So tell me, what’s different between those scenarios and the Trayvon Martin case? How exactly are those two situations and climates different? Let’s hear some excuses. Don’t tell me governmental sanctions or precedent of supporting policies to mistreat Jews or past history of blood libels or Nazi involvement, because I’ll just shoot back Jim Crow laws, 3/5 of a person, lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, and, y’know, that whole foundation of 400 years of slavery thing.

Because there is no difference. Because the stories I just told were false.

All I did was substitute the real life recent racial history of the town of Sanford with a random Polish town. All I did was swap out Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant and Chavis Carter with some nondescript White Jewish kid. I didn’t even change the dates.

Now go ahead and finish pretending like you didn’t get riled up and upset just now about hearing Jews being picked off like flies. About how your blood was boiling at anti-Semitism. And then try to tell me again how “it’s justice”, “it’s the law”, “it’s not a race thing”.

Then again, the sad part? Is that in all likelihood none of those events I described even seemed remotely familiar to you, which is how you just fell for it. Because, since it didn’t affect you and yours, you probably didn’t pay attention to it in the news ever. Because unjust loss of life of African-Americans really ISN’T a race thing to you.

It’s just a normal thing.

manishtanasignoff

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How Jewish American Heritage Month Can ACTUALLY Honor US Jewry

Hi, I’m MaNishtana. And it’s May. You know what that means.

No, not those tired “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars Day memes (or their slightly cooler Cinco de Mayo cousin “Revenge of the Fifth”). I’m talking about Jewish American Heritage Month.

Every May Jews across the United States honor Jewish American Heritage Month, an annual commemoration begun by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Each year, the month is honored with lectures, educational programs and parties across the US, recognizing the contributions US Jews have made to the national landscape over the course of more than two centuries. However, despite the proliferation of public figures such as Shyne, Sophie Okenedo, Lisa Bonet, Craig David, Zoe Kravitz, Maya Rudolph and the like, it still sadly seems like Jewish American Heritage Month is afraid of the dark.

Which is unacceptable for a celebration created in the 21st century.

Jewish American Heritage Month is not a black-and-white (or Black and White) issue. It comes in all shades, colors and ethnicities. So let’s try advocating awareness about actual Jewish American history this month.

jewish history month

 

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Accidental Idiots

Hi, I’m MaNishtana, AND WTF?? HAVE YOU HEARD THIS “ACCIDENTAL RACIST” SONG BY BRAD PAISLEY? AND LL COOL J? LL COOL J??!??!!!

*ahem*

1-I’d like to thank Chef Moses Wendel for bringing this to my attention. Who’s Chef Moses Wendel? Well keep your eyes peeled next week and you’ll know…

2-WTF. If you didn’t click on that link to listen to the song up there, here’s the lyrics:

To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms
Lookin’ like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the southland
Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin
But it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin

‘Cause I’m a white man livin’ in the southland
Just like you I’m more than what you see
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
And we’re still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new fangled Django, dodgin’ invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinkin’ it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book
I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here

I’m just a white man
(If you don’t judge my do-rag)
Comin’ to you from the southland
(I won’t judge your red flag)
Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be
I’m proud of where I’m from
(If you don’t judge my gold chains)
But not everything we’ve done
(I’ll forget the iron chains)
It ain’t like you and me can re-write history
(Can’t re-write history baby)

Oh, Dixieland
(The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin’)
I hope you understand what this is all about
(Quite frankly I’m a black Yankee but I’ve been thinkin’ about this lately)
I’m a son of the new south
(The past is the past, you feel me)
And I just want to make things right
(Let bygones be bygones)
Where all that’s left is southern pride
(RIP Robert E. Lee but I’ve gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)
It’s real, it’s real
It’s truth

Yeah…

Apparently this was a song meant to end racism. Apparently it thought it’d be different and try taking a disingenuously racist approach. (Wait, is that what the title means? That they were being accidentally racist when they were writing it? That the song itself is accidentally racist? If so, then well played, sir. That is some Alanis-level of irony right there, then.)

I dunno about anyone else, but (aside from the fact that for some reason LL Cool J decided to GIVE A SHOUTOUT TO ROBERT E LEE at the end) this song can’t even get past the opening lyrics without being problematic:

To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south”

…or in non-lyrical parlance:

“To the Black guy who served me at Starbucks, don’t get pissed off when you’re in a lower wage job than I have and I’m wearing the Confederate flag which is a symbol of the slavery which you are still symbolically under oppression of.”

Also, there’s this lyric:

I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame”

Really?

Southern “blame”? Sure you don’t wanna just put “shame” right there instead, sunshine?

Also: “Fighting over yesterday?” If you mean that literally, then sure, I guess Trayvon Martin was a little bit over a year ago. But if you’re being, like, artistic and stuff and using hyperbole, then honestly? The only people fighting over yesterday are all those Tea Partiers and Klans-folk who are still mad from that one time we took all their slaves away.

Also: Um, did LL Cool J really just 1-Apologize for the slave-holding-willing-to-go-to-war-to-keep-their-slaves South getting their (excuse my French) shit wrecked? 2-Equate jewelry with slave chains?

Actually, maybe I’m being too hard on LL. He probably meant it as some kind of sly metaphor/commentary on the bling-bling hip-hop culture slave mentality.

(If you don’t judge my gold chains)
(I’ll forget the iron chains)”

Oh.

Nope.

Nope, he wasn’t.

He was apparently saying that all Black people need to forgive slavery is for White people to say that they’re HUGE Mr. T fans.

I can’t. I really can’t with this song.

Maybe, you can’t rewrite history. You could try at least rewriting the song, though.

You could go back to the drawing board and just, y’know…Not.

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twitter.com/MaNishtana

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Something That Shouldn’t Just Be Passed Over…

“Even if we were all men of wisdom, understanding, experience, and knowledge of the Torah, it would still be an obligation upon us to tell about the Exodus from Egypt.” –Passover Haggadah

Hi, I’m MaNishtana. So about a week before Purim (and Dov Hikind), my wife, mother, and I were talking to this Rabbi acquaintance of ours.

Upon reading excerpts from my book (*shameless plug* Buy Thoughts From A Unicorn HERE *shameless plug*), the Rabbi asked what rabbinical school I was considering attending, to which I answered Yeshiva Chovevei Torah. He grimaced, then asked about the hearsay that he’d heard on whether or not founder Avi Weiss calls women up to the Torah (He doesn’t. But he doeshave organized all-female Shabbat services during which such things happen. Which is okay if there are no men present. But it’s really amusing/ironic that YCT is “otherized” just as much as non-Orthodox Jews otherize Orthodox Jews).

Anyhoo, said Rabbis then asks me why I don’t just go for smicha at Yeshiva University. He figured I’d have enough people scrutinizing me just because I’m Black, why go to a “radical” yeshiva on top of that? I replied that YCT is a lot more closely aligned with my personal philosophy vis a vis Torah and Orthodox/non-Orthodox denominational relations, and that YU generally pumps out the kind of Jews that caused me to write my book in the first place.  In fact, the end of one of the chapters directly involves an unpleasant encounter with YU students.

“But they’re pretty progressive,” he countered, surprised.

My wife, mother, and myself then proceeded to attempt to impress on our Rabbi friend that as “progressive” as YU is on religious/secular/social issues, when it comes to dealing with the intersection of religion and race and treating your fellow Jew as a fellow Jew regardless of tint, YU is very sadly somewhere in the Mesozoic Era.

I mean, wasn’t being “just old fashioned” the excuse being given when Rav Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva of YU, gave a shiur involving the word “schvartze” and proved my point?

(By the way, the “just old-fashioned” defense for White people racial snafus just tickles me to death. Brown people should start doing that. Y’know, like someone African just blowdarting someone White in the face when they’re insulted and saying that they’re just “old-fashioned” when it comes to some social interactions.)

Like, really though, people were bending over backwards to explain away Rav Schachter’s words. (“The Forward Doesn’t Understand Rav Schachter”, was particularly amusing).

For those who haven’t heard yet, Rav Schachter gave a shiur to a British audience warning against reporting sex abuse crimes because “they can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a… black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

“But, no! He didn’t mean schvartze as a derogatory term! He was just using it as a Yiddish word meaning ‘black person’.”

Fine.

Let’s say he was. Does this sentence read any better now, then?

“They can put you in a cell together with a Black guy, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

Wow. That IS so much less-inflammatory now.

Also, apparently White-supremist Jew-killing neo-Nazis are no longer a thing in prisons.

And no, people rushing to the Rav’s defense, his awesome knowledge of the scope of Talmud and Gemara doesn’t give him a pass. It only illustrates why this is NOT the school I’ll be pursuing smicha at. Because it pumps out more Rabbis like that. Ones who think their Torah knowledge outweighs a responsibility of human sensitivity and respect.

Perhaps all these “men of wisdom and experience”, these Dov Hikinds and Rav Schachters, should pay extra attention to the Haggadah this year, and remember the experience of the Exodus and how it should inform a Jew on how to treat and respect his fellow man.

Or that just TOO old-fashioned?

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The Spirit of Purim Past

Hi, I’m MaNishtana.

Imagine the following scenario with me:

It is Halloween and an African-American politician decides to dress up as Shylock, a character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, complete with hooked nose, a bright red wig, and in “whiteface”.

When questioned on his decision of costume choice, said African-American senator’s response is that he can’t imagine why Jews would be offended. After all, he is being respectful and wearing the costume with the intent of the sympathetic 19th century interpretation of the Shylock character first introduced by Edmund Kean, not its generally assumed anti-Semitic version. At any rate, it’s all in good Halloween fun.

When pressured, he eventually offers a begrudging apology stating that he is sorry that Jews were offended—not that he realizes his actions were in fact wrong—and emphasizes the fact that it was Halloween and dressing up is what people do.

Would that be enough of an apology?

Would the cavalier dismissal of the fact that the Shylock character has been employed as THE stereotype of a Jew for centuries be seen as an adequate admission of wrongdoing?  Would the lack of acknowledgment of the use of Shylock in Nazi propaganda in the face of wanting to wear something “fun” for Halloween be tolerated?

No it would not.

Yet we—African and Caribbean Americans, Jews (yes, there are Jews who are offended), and Jews of Color (that’s right, some of us Jews actually wear that skin you think is a costume every day)—are supposed to be content with Assemblyman Hikind’s tepid apology. An apology which stresses over and over again “It was Purim!”, as if it’s okay for this one day on the Jewish calendar every year, to ignore the racial history and oppression inextricably linked to the use of “blackface” in minstrel shows just because someone wants to have “fun”.

Notwithstanding the fact that one of the most famous minstrel performers was the Jewish Al Jolston.

Nice move. And during Black History Month to boot.

Is this something Dov Hikind would accept himself? After all not even a month ago, Hikind was lambasting designer John Galianno for sort of dressing in clothes that might be perceived as Chassidic garb (despite the fact that last I checked, no Chasidic Jews wear ascots).

So to unapologetically engage in literally the same kind of insensitivity so soon after rebuking another for the same offense reeks of hypocrisy to the highest level.

Lastly, as an Orthodox Jew, as a Black man, I’d like to address Hikind’s claim of the costume being in the “spirit of Purim”.

He is actually right about that. Just not in the way he intends to be.

See, the Jewish holiday of Purim, as related in the Book of Esther, chronicles how Ahasuerus, ruler of the Persian empire, holds a lavish party for all inhabitants of his capital city Shushan. The Jews of his kingdom also attend and eat and drink despite the fact that the serving utensils at the party are vessels looted from the Temple in Jerusalem. Ahasuerus orders his queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests, (a euphemism for showing herself off in the nude). She refuses. Ahasuerus thusly removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent that orders all beautiful girls be presented to him so he can choose a new queen. One of these is Esther, the niece of Mordecai, leader of the Jewish people at the time. Esther finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen, but does not reveal that she is Jewish.

Shortly afterwards, Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan and declares that on the 13th of the month of Adar, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King.

Esther invites Ahasuerus and Haman to a banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus orders Haman hanged and allows the Jews to defend themselves on the 13th of Adar, resulting in the deaths of over 75,000 Persian attackers. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim, and Ahasuerus awards Mordecai a prominent position in his court.

G-d’s name never appears once in the Book of Esther, instead His presence is hidden and events plays out like a string of coincidences. Thusly, the custom has emerged of wearing costumes to likewise “hide” ourselves, in recognition of G-d’s role in the Jews’ redemption.

So how is Hikind’s costume in the spirit of Purim, you ask?

Simple.

The Jews attend a banquet using holy vessels looted from the Jewish Temple and can’t imagine why G-d might be offended.

Ahasuerus orders Vashti to appear naked before his guests and can’t imagine why she’d be offended.

According to traditional sources, Haman wore an idol around his neck, therefore anyone who bowed down to him was also bowing down to the idol. But Haman’s not sensitive to those with different religious and social experiences and can’t imagine why Mordecai won’t bow down to him because of it.

In fact, even Hikind’s apology is in the spirit of Purim, as Haman isn’t apologetic because he realizes that exterminating the Jews is morally abhorrent. He’s apologetic because he’s sorry the queen is affected and offended by it.

In short, we—Jews, non-Jews, Black, and White—deserve a real apology from Assemblyman Hikind. And if someone who has made a career out of being offended on behalf of Jewish sensitivities cannot reciprocate said sensitivity, then perhaps he has outlived his political usefulness.

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An Open Letter to Dov Hikind, New Forward For the Brooklyn Nets

Dear Assemblyman Dov Hikind,

Hi, I’m MaNishtana. I came across an article this morning which related that for the holiday of Purim which we celebrated this past Saturday night and Sunday, you, a European Ashkenazi Jew, hired a professional makeup artist to transform you into “a ‘basketball player’ with a costume that consisted of an afro wig, sunglasses, an orange jersey and brown face paint.”

Your rationale for your choice of costume to engage in the tradition of Purim in this manner was quoted as being:

“I was just, I think, I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players. Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player…I can’t imagine anyone getting offended. You know, anyone who knows anything about Purim knows that if you walk throughout the community, whether it’s Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, people get dressed up in, you name it, you know, in every kind of dress-up imaginable. Purim, you know, everything goes and it’s all done with respect. No one is laughing, no one is mocking. It’s all just in good fun with respect always, whatever anyone does it’s done with tremendous amounts of respect and with dignity, of course.”

As someone who knows anything about Purim—and who happens to also be Black to boot—I do know that for some reason some Jews take it upon themselves to treat skin color as a costume and delude themselves into thinking they’re “being respectful” or behaving in the spirit of Purim.

They are not.

One would think that a political figure who so very recently fought so very public a battle of defense against perceived attacks against one’s identity would be slightly more perceptive to such matters himself. Unless you are not the very same Dov Hikind who so vehemently opposed a BDS panel being given an audience at Brooklyn College this past month?

Seems slightly hypocritical for you to declare that their right to voice their “anti-Israel” opinions should not be protected by the First Amendment, yet hide behind Purim to continue to perpetuate an act which has historically been used to dehumanize and ridicule an entire ethnicity, no?

Are you not the same Dov Hikind who lambasted anti-Semitic designer John Galliano for dressing in pseduo-Chassidic garb in this past month as well? How exactly do you perceive this situation to be different?

Or did your experience protesting the BDS panel somehow imbue you with the ability to determine whether or not the ethnicity you are appropriating for “fun” will be offended by your actions…despite the fact that you are not of said ethnicity and would therefore have no idea whatsoever what would or would not be found offensive. I do so hope that you were not among the Jews who found Prince Harry’s Nazi Halloween costume offensive. After all, I’m sure he couldn’t imagine that Jews would get offended because they’d understand that no one was laughing, no one was mocking the Jews, and it was just really a costume worn with tremendous amounts of respect and dignity, of course.

“I came out and I wiped my face and I still had stuff on my face. It’s going to take me a while. But it’s all worth it, I would do it again in a minute.”

Please. Don’t.

In fact, for future instances you should probably stick to your regular costume: that of an Orthodox Jew.

Clearly, you have the outfit down.

The ideology of responsibility to elevate Jews and Judaism in the eyes of others?

Not so much.

But if you keep scrubbing, you might get all that Chillul Hashem off your face by Yom Kippur.

manishtanasignoff

MaNishtana@manishtana.net

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New York, New York!

Hey gang, I’m MaNishtana. Time to kick this whole “2013” deal off with a bang!

So dunno if anyone missed it, but yours truly, and a few others were featured in a New York Magazine piece entitled “The Black Orthodox”. Pretty sweet, huh?

Well, yes and no.

Personally, I felt a little underwhelmed by the article. The pictures, yes, were amazing and carried a certain gravitas. However, the text? Not so much. After all, this was a piece which was originally meant to be a photoessay, with the text supplementing the pictures. The final result ended up feeling like a half-finished, one-dimensional article, with quotes cobbled together from different sentences in some instances.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I do know that my and my wife’s interviews took place over the course of three days. You can see for yourself how much was actually used. And then slightly misquoted at that. (For the record, my actual sentence was “For some Jews, there’s this sense that ‘We’re the chosen people, so we think we’re better than you.’ But when those kinds of people are faced with someone they assume is of a lower social rung because they’re Black or Asian or something, and then they realize that person is also Jewish, which means that they’re ALSO chosen, and therefore an EQUAL, it ends up being really unsettling for them and they can’t deal with it.”)

Also, my wife made of point of saying that while, yes, we are an Orthodox COUPLE, and our home is an Orthodox HOME, she personally identifies as just “observant” or “shomer mitzvot”, a fact which got whittled down to a quick mention in the opening paragraphs in a manner not directly connected to her.

Now, all that having been said, I think that the article, while a missed opportunity, was a great one nonetheless. Unless someone can point out that other article which featured Orthodox Black Jews in a mainstream publication. And especially after Oprah’s show on Orthodox Jews, which featured Black Hasidic Jews who presented what many of us felt was a whitewashed version of the experience of being a Black Orthodox Jew, it was good to get a different picture out there, regardless of the fact that, New York Magazine being New York Magazine, they depicted the most salacious excerpts of the interviews they could find.

Despite the very real negatives, there were also some very real positives as expressed in the feedback that I and others involved in the project received from non-Jew, Black Orthodox Jew, Black non-Orthodox Jew, and non-Black Jew alike. To be fair, many also criticized the article of seeming incomplete at best and vapid at worst, but these were not particularly “negative” criticisms, just honest ones.

Ironically enough, the most vitriolic responses and accusations of coonery buffoonery, hypocrisy, opportunism and profit-seeking seemed to come from some fellow Black Orthodox Jews. Regardless the obvious lack of truth behind these charges, I’d merely like to clear the air and explain some of the evolution behind the articles origin.

After Oprah’s disappointing take on Orthodox Black Jews, I tweeted a picture at Oprah of myself and several other Orthodox Black Jews with the caption “THESE are the people you should’ve interviewed.” The tweet was seen by Wayne Lawrence, an in-house photographer at New York Magazine. He approached me with his concept of a photoessay presenting and depicting Black Orthodox Judaism. I signed up and reached out to others to partake in the opportunity as well.As for the rest, I’ll let the man speak for himself:

“Greetings everyone. I’d like to add my two cents without being too long-winded. First off, for anyone to imply that this essay was done with any sort of malicious intent in just plain wrong. I thought of doing this piece last Spring after moving to Crown Heights and started having conversations with a few Jewish men of African ancestry who I met in the community. I approached them as human beings, not because I saw them as any kind of novelty, but simply because I wanted to learn. It wasn’t until I started doing some basic research online that I realized how complex a story this would be and started searching for voices active within the community to help me tell it. I have to admit that I had no idea that African American Orthodox Jewish families spanning multiple generations existed.

I never expected to be able to tell the whole story in a matter of months but was thinking long-term to portray authentic individuals in the hopes that such an engagement would at the very least spark a dialogue. I have a working relationship with New York Magazine and approached them to see if they’d be willing to publish the story and they said yes. The first person that I contacted was MaNishtana because his blog MaNishtana.net was the first real resource that I found online. We met and after I acknowledged his concerns and assured him that I would try my best to make sure that this story would be done right, he agreed to introduce me to other folk…As far as the Oprah interview, I wasn’t even aware that she did a story on “The only Black Orthodox family in Brooklyn” until I started searching online. Seeing snippets of her interview made me even more determined to “get it right”.

Shortly after that I was asked to submit the work that I had already done to the magazine and I discussed with the editors the importance of getting the story right and we agreed that context was everything. I was very clear about my intentions and everyone seemed to be on the same page. They decided to do some additional reporting but felt that I had enough portraits for publication. I understand why many of you would be dissatisfied as the essay could have been much better. Please know that I wanted this to be something that the whole community would be proud.”

So there you have it. Not an AMAZING article, but not the end of the world either, but definitely not the vision that either myself or Wayne had in mind when embarking on this adventure. Hopefully, despite the prickly reception it’s received from some, this will continue to be an ongoing project for Wayne and that it will grow into the majestic vision he sees for it and I share.

I know I’LL keep showing up. 😉

manishtanasignoff

MaNishtana@manishtana.net

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To Whom It May Concern. (Everyone).

Hey guys, I’m MaNishtana.

By now I’m sure everyone has heard not only of the UN’s vote to grant Palestine observer status, but also of the infamous email and subsequent retraction from the B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in support of the move, citing it as a great humanitarian moment.

This past Shabbat I had the [dis]pleasure of happening to be on the Upper West Side in B’nai Jeshurun’s neighborhood attending an Orthodox synagogue (of course) which shall remain nameless.  The topic of the Rabbi’s sermon that week was on the B’nai Jeshurun letter.  The dialogue that followed was reprehensible, couched in the veneer of being respectful and tolerant of differing views, but in actuality turning into a virulent “us vs them” tirade.

As soon as Shabbat was over, I sent the following email to the Rabbi and congregation:

Rabbi [name omitted],

Before I continue, I’d like to clarify two important points:

1-This letter is not, and should not, be taken as a declaration of  my political opinions regarding Israel, the recent UN vote, or a Two-State solution.  My views are irrelevant to the issues I am writing you to address.

2-I am not a convert.  The following words are not the ruminations of someone still wet behind the ears with mikvah water. I grew up Chabad, and my family has been African-American and Jewish since our arrival in this country in the late 1700’s, and as such, we have had a perspective of dueling perceptions of otherness which escapes most Jews. 

My wife and I attended your synagogue as guests of a couple we were visiting for a Shabbaton of sorts celebrating the conclusion of the Meorot Fellowship Program, a program under the auspices of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the focus of which being that of exploring and grappling with the opportunities and challenges of Orthodox identity and Jewish communal leadership.

 I saw no greater need for such a program as I did in your congregation this past Shabbat.

Your drasha topic was criticism of the recent letter from B’nei Jeshurun concerning the recent UN vote to grant Palestine observer status. After your own fiery words, you opened the floor to discussion, encouraging even dissenting views to participate. 

What followed was sadly not as gracious.

What I heard in the responses that day was a congregation self-righteously convinced of its morally superior authority, largely by dint of being Orthodox. A congregation confident of the fact that they were being magnanimous by merely entertaining the concept of dialogue and giving lip-service to the notion of diversity of opinion, despite the lack of respect actually being employed in the discussion.  A congregation upon whom the message of sinat chinam of the week’s parsha of Vayeshev had apparently fallen upon deaf ears, for just as surely as Yosef’s brothers muttered to one another “Behold, here comes the dreamer”, the [name omitted] congregation was ready to consign B’nai Jeshurun to the pit.

Were Yosef’s actions blameless? No.  Yet there was some merit to his words that warranted attention be paid to them. Could B’nai Jeshurun’s letter have been couched differently?  Perhaps.  That does not strip its content of any relevance of meaning.

Furthermore, the comments devolved not just across the liberal Zionist v conservative Zionist axis, but also across the denominational one as well.

“It’s useless to talk to them,” a gentleman behind me scoffed.  “They’ve always chosen the opposite side of the Orthodox.”

And the side of Orthodox Jewry has always been the morally correct one?

I’m sorry to inform you, but I’m ashamed to say that historically our record has been less than pristine. Because as I recall, in response to President Buchanan’s declaration of a day of fasting in the face of the Secession Crisis, Orthodox New York rabbi Morris Raphall gave a rousing speech in support of slavery.  I assume we can all agree American slavery was a deplorable and morally decrepit institution. Yet it took the Reform rabbi David Einhorn to decry Raphall’s sermon.

Orthodox Jewry fared slightly better during the Civil Rights movement, for at least there they were largely absent, as opposed to brazenly standing on the wrong side of history.  The Conservative movement however, was visibly accounted for, as Rabbi Joshua Heschel marched with Dr.Martin Luther King,Jr. in the Selma Civil Rights March.

Given these glaring flaws, the [name omitted] congregation nonetheless sat in judgement against the B’nai Jeshurun congregation and it’s “liberal” views, much as Yosef’s brothers sat deciding what should be done with him, as if there were no redeeming qualities or aspects to be gleaned from either the sentiments of the letter, or of the synagogue itself.

The Midrash brings down that sparks of the Mashiach are scattered across Creation and must be extracted.  One such spark was in Canaan, and it was lodged in Tamar, which is why it was so imperative for her to attach herself to Yehuda’s family.  If such sparks could be drawn out from the pagan Canaan, from the non-Jewish Tamar, somehow there are nosparks to be learned from our fellow Jews, regardless of their level of observance or viewpoints?  Is not sinat chinam the cause of our current exile, as well as the reason for its continued duration? 

And if we are being committed to intellectual integrity, let us not pat ourselves on the back for being such staunch Zionists because that’s what Orthodox Jews–“good” Jews–do.  Let us not forget that Zionism was a purely nationalistic movement with underpinnings that were secular at best, and atheistic at worst.  It wasn’t until Rav Kook in the 1920’s and 30’s that Zionism was attempted to be reconciled with Orthodox Judaism.

Chabad Lubavitch did not begin espousing a tentatively Zionist ideology until the last Rebbe, and Breslov, Brisk, and Satmar (not to be confused with their extremist offshoot, the Neturei Karta) still do not.

Dedication to the State of Israel is not a measure of Jewish religious observance or integrity.

In short, after this past Shabbat’s experience, I shall not be returning to your congregation.

Actually, on second thought let me amend that statement by adding “b’li neder”. 

I am sure–just as there potentially is in any other congregation, any other Jew, any other human–that there is a spark amongst the [name omitted] Synagogue congregation.  I am confident, much like the miracle of the oil of Chanukah, it will be unearthed and found whole, pure, and sealed away against outside contaminants.

Perhaps I will return once that spark has been rediscovered and extracted.

Chag Sameach,

MaNishtana

I’m not particularly looking for or expecting a response.  I am, however, mildly curious as to whether or not the Rabbi would likewise dedicate a Shabbat sermon to discuss my email to his congregation and what, if any, dialogue and or growth would arise from it.

But I guess some things, much like how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, are just not meant to be knmanishtanasignoff

MaNishtana@manishtana.net

twitter.com/MaNishtana

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An Open Letter To Forward.com, Hebrew-Israelites, And Everyone Else In The World

Dear Forward.com, Hebrew-Israelites, and White Jewish Media in general,

I’m MaNishtana, and I’d like to tell you to stop. Just…Stop.

I was greeted this morning with a link in my newsfeed of an article on the Forward.com website with the headline “Black Jews Gain Wider Acceptance” splashed across my screen.

However, the little thumbnail attached to the picture revealed what I could only assume were outtakes from a casting call for an urban remake of “The Ten Commandments”.

Yes, that was a mean thing I said just now.

But I’m tired. And frustrated.  A lot of Black Jews are.  And by “Black Jews”, I mean actual ones, not practitioners of an invented pseudo-Judaism cobbled together by opportunists and sprinkled with a light dusting of the Black Church in different clothing.

A friend’s status on Facebook succinctly sums up the frustration of the [actual] Black Jewish community:

“Wow Forward…Way to step outside of your preconceived notions of what a Jew is…Sigh, Hebrew Israelite does not equal black American Jew. The two things are not synonymous. Acceptance of Israelite communities doesn’t mean anything about the greater acceptance of black Jews in America. In fact it says the opposite–it says in order to meet my diversity agenda I will not address or acknowledge the issues facing black Jews actually in the mainstream community (because I assume they’re not there), but discuss the acceptance of a community far out of the mainstream that just happens to be black. Fact…If they were white, they wouldn’t be entertained. Why do discussions of black Jews actually never talk about black Jews?…ugh”

 So please, for the love of everything good and decent in Moses’ beard, 1-Hebrew-Israelites, STOP saying you’re Jewish (especially when you’re pandering to the White Jewish camera, because you know damn well when you’re standing in front of your congregants at Temple Bnei Bet El Shalom Adath Congregation of Commandment Keeping Abyssinians, you’d rather die then call yourselves Jewish), 2-White Jewish Bleeding Heart Liberal Overcompensatingly Inclusive Media, STOP picking up anything that’s Black and looks slightly maybe Jewish and calling them us.

Because when you tout these Hebrew-Israelite sects as part of the Black Jewish community—with appellations ranging from “Black Jews” to “Black Hebrews” to “Black Israelites” and ideology ranging from moderate to militant to Messianic—the confusion these entities produced is equaled only by the frustration they cause for actual Black Jewry.

This “Kosher-style”, soul food “variant” of pseudo-Judaism is the realm of such institutions as the Israelite Board of Rabbis, whose website (www.blackjews.org) is a constant source of irritation to African-American/Caribbean Jews, as Hebrew-Israelites are considered “Black Jews” by no one but themselves and a handful of misguided and ill-informed journalists.

Regardless of Rabbi Funnye’s quote, Hebrew-Israelites have nothing to do with Judaism. Period.

Because essentially, Hebrew-Israelites are to Judaism what the Nation of Islam and Five Percenters are to Islam.

They are not Jews.  They are not Jewish.  They just appropriate parts of it.

Yet somehow, when it comes to Black Jewry, a conversation can’t be had, an article can’t be written, a group cannot be formed, without Hebrew-Israelites being put under our umbrella. But we are not the same, nor do we have anywhere near the same struggle, mostly because the existence of Hebrew-Israelites makes the struggle for the legitimacy of Black Jewry that much harder in the first place

Rabbi Capers Funnye’s presence only serves to obfuscate the issue, as he underwent a conversion in 1985, yet continues to lead and preach Israelite ideology.  However, despite his celebrity, he is not a spokesperson for the Black Jewish community.  He in fact, does not hold Jewish Rabbinical ordination. His title of “Rabbi” was bestowed upon him by the Israelite Board of Rabbis. Despite, his constant repetition of the idea, “Hebrew Israelite community” and “Black Jewish community” are NOT synonymous.

Of course, with that declaration comes the inevitable question:

“Well isn’t your saying that Hebrew-Israelites aren’t ‘Black Jews’ the equivalent of White Jews asking Jews of Color ‘How are you Jewish’ and denying their authenticity?  Aren’t you being equally as divisive towards Hebrew-Israelites as White Jews are towards you?” 

In a word?  No.

It is no more erroneous or needlessly exclusive to say that Hebrew-Israelites are not Jews any more than it is to say that bats aren’t rodents.

Bats aren’t rodents, by the way, despite what the Joker says about Batman.

Yes, bats share the same Kingdom, Phylum, Class, and Infraclass as mice, rats, and squirrels do (Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, and Eutheria, respectively), but Order Rodentia is classified by having two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing—a crucial something which are absent in bats.  Consequently, bats are grouped under Order Chiroptera (from the Greek cheir meaning “hand” and pteron meaning “wing”) as chiropterans, not rodents.

However, due to external and superficial similarities and a lack of knowledge, bats are endlessly referred to as “flying rodents” or “rats with wings”.

Equating Hebrew-Israelites with Black Jews is no different an exercise in unawareness.

When it comes to Judaism, Hebrew-Israelites are chiropterans. Jews—Black, White, and Other—are rodents.

Wait, no.  No no…That’s…that’s not how that was supposed to come out…

Well at any rate–and I’m gonna hurt some feelings with this one–I get why permissive liberal and secular Jewish organizations love to parade Hebrew-Israelites out.

I do.

Because there’s this fear that if they exclude Hebrew-Israelites as being Jews because of their lack of normative Jewish practices, that this opens the door for more observant denominations to say that they too, in fact, are not Jewish, since they also disregard normative Jewish practices and interpretations of Jewish law.

However, the flaw in that logic is, regardless of how far flung the practices are vis a vis traditional Jewish law, the Reform and Conservative and even Reconstructionist movements were started by actual Jews.  Jews who were Jewish according to any letter of any law.  There will always be some percentage actual Jewish-according-to-Jewish-law Jews in those movements and those movements will always be Jewish.

The various Hebrew-Israelite sects–all of them–WERE STARTED BY NON-JEWS.

Being Jewish and deciding to do less doesn’t make one not Jewish anymore.  Conversely, being not-Jewish and taking on Jewish practices does not make one actually Jewish.

So please, every White Jewish-guilt ridden and or bleeding heart organization/publication/private citizen/activist, just stop.  The Hebrew-Israelite “struggle” isn’t yours anymore than its ours.  You have as much in common with them as we do.  Which is nothing.

So the next time you feel the need to write a piece on the acceptance of Black Jews, do yourself a favor and write the first ever article on Black Jews that actually talks just about…Black Jews.

And as for you Hebrew-Israelite dudes, do us a favor and stop trying to get on our bandwagon.  Because while yes, it’s flattering you want to be us, you caterwauling about not being accepted by mainstream Judaism because you’re Black makes as much since as me complaining that a hospital won’t hire me as a  doctor because I’m Jewish when the fact is I’ve never taken the MCATs.

As you were.

manishtanasignoff

MaNishtana@manishtana.net

twitter.com/MaNishtana

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