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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shuls for people of color?

Came across this website yesterday, which lists shuls (of all denominations) that are known to be friendly to people of colour. (they only include U.S. synagogues at the moment)

Shouldn't we just list the ones that aren't friendly?!? I mean, they are all supposed to be welcoming, in theory, right?
Now, a website for shuls and businesses that were nasty to Jews of different racial backgrounds would be very cool.

Like the black woman I saw working in a local shop. She was wrapping up some stuff and told the customer, a lady visiting from New York, that she had redone a twist tie so it could be opened on Shabbos. The woman commented to another customer, "isn't that incredible, she knows all about Shabbos!" To which the employee said, "Of course; I was raised in a frum home." Yes!!!

Or like when we were first becoming frum and we'd go to restaurants all the time with a friend, who happened to be Korean. He could not get up and walk anywhere - bathroom, buffet, cash register - without people handing him his plate. Asian = waiter, right? Um, not always! In this case, he wasn't Jewish, but still. He could just as easily have been (like my Chinese cousin, who is 100% Jewish on her mother's side).

I'd love to set up a website for Jews with non-traditional last names. My two marriages have been to men with names that stand out in the Jewish community, and now I'm raising four kids who will see eyebrows raised their whole lives (except the girls, if they change their names when they get married). Believe me, if your name isn't something easy like Schwartzenbaumenfeldersteinenbergenschmidt, you're not going to have a comfortable time of it in this Jewish community.

Even growing up, my last name was a weird one. We got it legitimately, from my grandfather, whose last name growing up was Lapa. We still have relatives around the world with the last name Lappa and Lappe (in Yiddish). My grandmother told me it meant "a hand of an animal" (ie a paw) in Polish. In Canada, it got changed to Lapell, which is what my sibs and I grew up with. It's not a hard name, but let me tell you, it's not an easy name to live with if you're Jewish. Even my mother's parents never quite learned how to spell it properly.

No personal experience of being different, but I feel like our shul welcomes people of varied backgrounds - Jewish or otherwise. That's one of the things I really love about it. It's not tremendously multi-racial, probably not as much as some, but nobody's background shocks anybody else, and nobody ever seems surprised to see a different-looking face.

Naomi Rivka went through a phase, a few weeks ago, of asking constantly why so-and-so had a different colour of skin.
The answer I came up with seems fine in every way: Hashem likes every colour, so he just went and made them all.
How boring would it be if we were all only one colour?
How dull would our shuls be if Askhenazi faces were the only ones you could see?

I hope that website has to go out of business soon... once every shul is on the list, the site will be irrelevant. And anyone, regardless of background, regardless of last name, can walk into any shul, anywhere, and get nothing more than a smile in return.

2 comments:

decemberbaby said...

Ah yes, but compared to Schwartzenbaumenfeldersteinenbergenschmidt, "MacLeod" is a walk in the park to spell. Seriously, I feel bad for Chavie Schwartzenbaumenfeldersteinenbergenschmidt when she hits kindergarten!

Jay3fer said...

Well, *somebody* sure knows how to hit Ctrl-V! :-)

We started making up this name because I could never remember Elisheva's Grade Seven history teacher's name.

I still don't know what her name was, but it *does* contain several of these syllables...