This article was originally published by My Jewish Learning: Jewish& on February 10, 2019.
Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
Ahead of my first trip to Israel, I was nervous. Partly because I don’t like to fly and partly because “flying while Black” means that the airport can be an uncomfortable space for someone who is perceived as a potential threat. I was also nervous to go through customs in Israel because I thought and had been told that not having a ‘typically’ Jewish surname could warrant extra questioning.
In the end, I discovered that I over-worried about arriving in Tel Aviv. Getting through customs in Israel was a breeze. I gave the officer my passport, he looked at me, printed my visa and waved me through without more than a dismissive grunt. I thought I was in the clear until my Black Jewish identity became a focus for others throughout my Birthright experience.
The first Israeli that I met was Elchi, our tour guide. Save for Elchi and two other male participants of color, I was the only Jewish woman of color and the only Black person on my bus. There were a lot of queries about my Jewish identity particularly from the East Coast participants who were unaware of non-Ethiopian Black Jews.