My fiancée and I attended a lovely Friday night Kabalat Shabbat service two weeks from this past Friday. We are part of the Jewish Renewal Movement based out of Northern New Jersey. What drew us to the congregation was the spiritual ease and loving affection given to us by the Rabbi and the congregants. Their ways of devotion are beautifully connected to a more humanist message, but full of deep Jewish spiritual wisdom and meditation. Interestingly enough Saskia (my Jewish-wife-to-be) and I are the youngest congregants so we’re extra caring and observant of the elder community, as well as the elderly in general. We learn so much from our elders, yet this generation has discarded them at such speed that it’s sad to see the disconnect. Now they can bestow upon us with great wisdom due to their many experiences, love found, love lost, as well as tragedies that pulled them away from Judaism.
The Parsha for that week was the first from the second book of the Torah, Shemot or Exodus. The Rabbi decided to ask us to share our thoughts on the concept of assimilation in the United States, and asked if we ever compromised, or played down our Judaism, in this white Christian nation. Many of the congregants, being middle-aged ranging from their 50’s to their 60’s in age, had stories of being emotionally, physically, or even psychologically abused by certain classmates in their school days. Some spoke of seeing the drawn swastikas, some spoke of teachers being extra abusive due to their lack of Christian or Waspish etiquette, while others spoke of being picked on by disgruntled individuals. Then came the moment that threw me off completely shoving me into a Woody Allen scene straight out of his masterpiece film Love and Death. A congregant spoke of an incident in St. Petersburg, Florida. Apparently she was asked by a certain individual if she was Jewish, and she replied in the affirmative. As a follow-up question the person asked her, “where are your horns?”
The moment she said that I flashed back to that particular scene in Woody Allen’s film. The scene is hilarious because it exploits this stupid idea that came from a misinterpretation of the Torah, big surprise. When I came back to reality I couldn’t even fathom to think that an American Yukal would think such a primitive thought. But what annoyed me more, as well as made me immensely proud, was the fact that I NEVER compromised my Jewishness. Nor did I ever compromise my Zionism and love for Israel. This post is not a dirge into the history of Jews and horns. No, it’s much closer to your humble narrator’s love of Jews and Rap music.
In its entire history Rap music has been about an unadulterated form of expression. This form could take on many shapes from political lyrics, to braggadocio, to the more nonsensical raps coming from the far out likes of Kool Keith, Ghostface Killah, and MF Doom to name a few. But what they all have in common is the freedom to express what ever they want on record. Now we should differentiate between the corporate crap that is fed to most American teens and the many diverse underground, indie, and local rap scenes across the globe. On a whole greater scale music is that platform which allows us to shed our inhibitions and repressed feelings. Hip-Hop is the mother of all these forms as we’re striding through the beginning of the 21st Century. That is why I, and many other Jews, am so drawn to the power of rap music, and how I identify as part of the Hip-Hop Generation more than most American Jews I’ve met in my lifetime.
I was made aware of the fact that from the moment I moved to the United States, at the age of twelve, I was very different from my co-religionists. American Jews are a different breed than me and my brothers, but there are many like me out there. Some where in the far reaches of the world you’ll find half-breeds like myself who spent times in both the US and Israel. I attended an all black Middle school in New Haven, CT and then moved to the uber-suburbs of Guilford in the same blue-law state. But what struck me, from my early years all the way to today, is how others identified me as an “other.” I always got the saying that “you’re not like them” or “you’re not Jewish, you’re Israeli,” which was my acceptance card to most inner cliques and circles. It’s quite an experience, but it’s made me even more resolved to be nothing more or less than an unapologetic Jew!
Peace and watch out for the snow…daze