(JTA) — Conservative-Masorti Judaism strives to accommodate the rich diversity of the Jewish world. A crucial part of this mission is ensuring that Jews of color feel welcome in our communities and heeding the call for racial justice. The voices of Jews of color must be heard in our movement.
In that spirit, we — representatives of the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — register our profound disquiet about the conflation of Jews of color and those who identify as Hebrew Israelites, Israelites, or another derivative of the religion.
The recent hiring of both an associate rabbi and a rabbinical intern at a Conservative movement-affiliated synagogue in Newark, New Jersey, raise serious concerns about the intersection between mainstream Judaism and Hebrew Israelites. Both men trained at the Israelite Rabbinical Academy in Queens, New York.
While we have great respect for other faith traditions, Hebrew Israelites and Jews are not members of the same religion. The Hebrew Israelite faith emerged in the 19th century from some in the African Diaspora, who, asserting historic ties to Abrahamic ancestry, appropriated aspects of Judaism into a novel faith. Hebrew Israelite factions run the gamut from those whose militant messianism includes overt disdain for Jews to those who have adopted practices that closely resemble those of mainstream Jewish denominations. The International Israelite Board of Rabbis seeks to distinguish their segments of the faith from practitioners who openly espouse antisemitic rhetoric, and we acknowledge that those under the purview of the board include some who have undergone conversion to mainstream Jewish denominations while still keeping — and occasionally deepening — their ties with their Israelite communities.
Nevertheless, Hebrew Israelites, even those whose rituals mirror normative Jewish ones, are not Jews according to halacha, Jewish law as understood and followed by the Conservative movement and indeed most Jewish denominations.
By the same token, Israelite clergy — who are called rabbis according to the seminaries that ordain them — are not appropriate to lead a Jewish congregation. And the Israelite Board of Rabbis’ rejection of factions that preach disdain for Jews does not make it a recognized movement of worldwide mainstream Jewry, nor does it affect the halachic status of its members or the congregants under their guidance.
Some Hebrew Israelites have attributed their exclusion from normative Jewish spaces to racism. This undercuts the legitimate concerns and needs of Jews of color — authentic members of our people.
Jewish institutions have a duty to be inclusive, especially vis-a-vis those who have historically been marginalized inside our institutions. In formulating a response to the inclusion of Israelites as clergy in one of our movement’s congregations in Newark, we have listened with care to the Jews of color in our fold. Jewish denominations have their own age-old criteria for membership in the Jewish people: The Conservative movement demands either continuous matrilineal descent — that is, that one’s mother is a Jew according to halacha — or a valid conversion. There are many Black Jews who fit this criteria and are respected members of our community and covenant. Being non-white — or presenting as non-white — does not supersede these standards for Jewishness, any more than it should create further barriers.
Of course, Hebrew Israelites who can trace Jewish matrilineal ancestry or undergo a halachic Jewish conversion are counted within the Conservative movement as Jews.
When Hebrew Israelites and their supporters cite racism as the essential cause of their rejection from mainstream Jewish institutions, they usurp intracommunal grievances of Jews of color and seek to dispossess Jews of color from our community’s genuinely shared heritage and identity. They also harm the cause of racial justice and inclusion in our movement. Jews of color must not be conflated with Hebrew Israelites on account of race — this detracts from their halachic status as Jews in good standing and falsely defines religious ties in terms of race.
Black Jews may share racial ancestry with practitioners of the Israelite faith, but they do not share a common religious nor community identity. This misunderstanding can cause real harm, such as the alienation that occurs when fellow Jews of colors are told that they would better “fit in” with Israelite communities — insinuating that Black Jews aren’t truly Jewish.
The labor of racial justice is hard and ongoing — demanding nuance and compassion from each of us. Jews of color hold space for Hebrew Israelites who wish to fully pursue membership within normative Judaism. No racial barriers should block such individuals from joining the Jewish community and covenant. Further resources will be forthcoming through USCJ channels to foster respectful discourse as we embark on this conversation on the intersections of Black and Jewish identities, and the discussion can begin with a broad overview from USCJ’s Racial Justice & Inclusion page.
Institutional Jewish life, particularly in North America, is tinged with racism, and that does affect Jews of color. The RA and the USCJ are proud to be working together to address Jews of color inclusion in Conservative Jewish spaces and inter-communal racial justice initiatives as a part of Conservative Jewish practice. In order to do so with integrity, it is imperative that we lay down this marker: Black and African-American Jews assert that Jewish racial justice and inclusion efforts are counterproductive when they include or misrepresent Hebrew Israelites as Jews of color.
They are simply not the same.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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