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Colorism/Racism in the Jewish community. I need support.

Alright, guys, I’m foolishly posting something that is overly-personal in the vain hope of finding some support, mostly because I’m too upset to not vent, and also because I have no one to talk to about this, and I might get lucky meeting someone on here who can at least sympathise. Sorry in advance for the TMI and for the long post.

You see my flair? תימנית? That’s right, that’s what I am, but it’s complicated.

I’m ba’alat tshuvah. My biological family are either secular, or converted out to other religions, and we buried our Judaism completely. My immediate family are also abusive as hell, (they should be in prison and I should not be alive) to the point that I can never speak to them again, and I have severe trauma associations with anything to do with their ‘culture’ (what is left of it).

As a part of healing, when I escaped the abuse (and it was an actual escape), I decided that I wanted to reconnect with my Jewishness and so I did. It was like a completely fresh start. I gained a spirituality, and the ability to shape my identity in the way that felt safe and right for me. But I had no customs. I certainly didn’t want to adopt the customs that reminded me so much of home and trauma. I asked my rabbi for advice.

During my process of becoming ba’alat tshuvah, I had grown close to a family in my synagogue. I learned everything from them. They unofficially ‘adopted’ me as one of their own, gave me their Hebrew names, and even though we don’t have ‘god parents’, that’s what they call themselves for me.

They’re from Yemen. Well, the wife is. Her husband is Ashkenazi but due to his own reasons took on the majority of her customs. This was my first Jewish education. My first Pesah I was sitting on the floor around a low table, eating soft massah. I have learned the te’amim in Yemenite nusah, I can cook our food. I learned (well, still learning!) Yemenite Jewish Arabic. I got a fresh start in a culture that held no horrific traumatic associations. Rabbi’s advice? ‘Cosy_Owl, take on their minhagim, you’re now adopted Temani.’All good and well. I am happy with this. This feels like me. I feel free and full of hope. Though I have moved far away from this community for professional opportunities, I am still connected to this family.

Now comes the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, I love my job, I love my community, which is very diverse, with new people coming in regularly. Our community is always evolving. But I have encountered SO MUCH…I don’t even know what to call it. Colorism? Invasive questions? Outright racism? Certainly invalidation and isolation. Here’s a sample:

  • ‘You’re Yemenite? Really?’ (This is the mildest response)
  • ‘But you’re white! Why are you Yemenite?’
  • ‘You’re culturally appropriating, you’re like the new ‘Rachel Dolezal’
  • ‘Oh, so you’re one of those Orientalists who like Yemenites because you think they’re ‘exotic”
  • ‘I want to know how you’re Yemenite? Yes, I want your life story, it’s Shabbos, we have time’ (Yes, I have been pressured like this)

And then this last Shabbat, the straw that broke it all: ‘Oh, your biological parents are Ashkenazi? So you’re a fake Yemenite! What a poser.’ I was a guest at this person’s house – he is Persian. When he handed me a bentscher for birkath ha-mazon, he said, ‘There might be some Sephardi things in here you’re not familiar with. Oh, wait, you’re a fake ‘Temani’, never mind!”

I am forced to tell my life story (though I try to leave out the trauma because that’s just too much, but it’s triggering and upsetting anyway). I am forced to justify myself all the time. I am forced to prove that I’m ‘mizrahi enough’. I am assumed to not be ‘really Yemenite’ and so people will try to explain my own customs to me as if I don’t know them. Or demand I cook them some malawah but then invalidate me when I express myself (rude!!)

As a result, I’ve toned things down. I’ve hidden my pronunciation, for example. I’ve learned to explain that not all Yemenites look alike. I’ve tried the ‘it’s complicated’ answer, which never works. Make a bracha in public? I learned a Modern Hebrew Sephardi pronunciation and only read in my own nusah silently to myself. I pretend to be something I’m not, which is triggering and reminds me of my abusive family I’ve fought to get away from. I’ve started only practicing my customs in private. For example, I used to follow the Sephardi custom of covering my hair during tefillah. I stopped in public, because I was told ‘you look Muslim’, ‘are you married?’ ‘Oh you’re one of those weird Sephardis’.

I’m exhausted. I’m isolated and alone. I’m triggered and feel like I don’t belong. After this last Shabbat, I walked home from my host’s house in tears, and am still not well. When I see Iraqis or Moroccans in my community fearlessly acting out their customs I’m jealous, because they ‘look’ the part, so no one harasses them.

No one understands what it is like to constantly be given the message that you don’t really fit into the family that has Jewishly adopted you and given you a new start and hope in life. That you’re a fake. That you’re ‘not one of us nor one of them’ because you don’t look the part.

And there’s not a fucking person around I can talk to about it. I’ve tried. I’ve gotten all the excuses. ‘People mean well.’ ‘People are just curious’. ‘People think you’re cool’. NO. People are fucking racist, and since I don’t fit their stereotype, I get it thrown at me.

I’m not saying that I have it as hard as someone who is genetically POC – my situation is more akin to being in a mixed-race family and not fitting the part. I can ‘pass’ as Ashkenazi and therefore the brunt of the racism doesn’t come my way.

But damn it, this is killing my well-being. ‘

I also don’t know any other Yemenites, as I’m the only one in my community.

And yes, I AM one. Bite me, I dare you.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I would appreciate any support.

TLDR: I’m Yemenite, it’s complicated. I don’t look Yemenite, though, and so I get endless, often racist questions, comments, accusations, and as a result have been forced to hide my identity in order to survive in my community. This is killing my well-being.

submitted by /u/Cosy_Owl
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Source: Reditt

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