It is his identity as a black Jew that MaNishtana (a pen name) finds that some in the Jewish community and beyond have trouble grappling with. He was once walking down the street wearing his tzitzit, a traditional fringed garment worn by religious Jews, when someone stopped to ask why he was wearing them.
“The question he was really asking me was ’why are you black and wearing tzitzit?” he told HuffPost.
He was instilled with a sense of pride for both his blackness and his Jewishness from an early age. Both of his parents are Jewish, and his siblings spent Shabbat sharing torah portions and Sundays watching civil rights programming on PBS. Today, his writing navigates racism, anti-Semitism and the intersection of both.
MaNishtana says that broadly, Judaism claims to not concern itself with race. He adds that Jewishness is often associated with more whiteness, Woody Allen and bagels than seen as something that anyone, who looks anyway, can be.
He added that the need for Jews and Judaism to more actively engage with issues of race becomes abundantly clear when he walks into a room of other Jewish people. “They’re like, ‘how are you Jewish?’ Because I don’t look white,” he said.
He now uses his voice, his work and his very existence in part to destroy these stereotypes. But he still deals with stares, confusion and microaggressions from people who don’t understand. To which he speaks seriously ― and sarcastically.
When someone asks ”‘how are you Jewish?’” He’ll respond, “Fine, thanks. How are you, Jewish?” When someone says “You don’t look Jewish.” He’ll respond, “well you don’t look like a jackass. I guess we were both wrong.”
When asked what he thinks it will take to achieve full inclusivity in Judaism, he points to a quote once made by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who once famously said there would be enough women on the Supreme Court “when there are nine.”
“My short answer is that inclusivity will finally be achieved when this is no longer a question,” he said.
Watch his interview above and head to his website to see more of his work.