Black Jews feel ‘alienated’ by Orthodox whites after anti-Semitic attacks
When Raphael Fulcher heard about the Dec. 28 Hanukkah machete attack, in which five Orthodox Jewish men were allegedly stabbed by a black assailant — at a rabbi’s home just five blocks away from Fulcher’s Monsey home — he was shocked. And, as a black Orthodox Jew, he also braced himself for blowback.
Now, even just walking into his local kosher bagel shop, neighbors with whom Fulcher has so much in common are rattled by his presence.
“My brothers are afraid of me — that shouldn’t be. It’s a fear on a whole other level,” he told The Post. “You see it. You feel the tension.”
Last week at a Walmart, an Orthodox man accidentally bumped into the 32-year-old, whose parents converted to Judaism before he was born. “He had fear in his eyes — he was terrified of what I might do,” said Fulcher, whose winter hat and coat concealed his yarmulke and tzitzit, the knotted fringes worn as a sign of religious observance.
With the recent spike in hate crimes in New York City — anti-Semitic ones were up 60 percent in 2019, according to the NYPD — Jews are on edge. And after a deadly December attack in Jersey City, in which a black couple shot up a kosher market, and several recent local assaults against Hasidic and Orthodox Jews allegedly perpetrated by African Americans, it’s a particularly stressful time for Jews of color navigating dual identities and, some say, experiencing discrimination within their own religious communities.
According to a research paper on population released last year by Stanford professors,“ Jews of color represent at least 12-15 percent of American Jews.”
“Black Jewish friends are sad they can’t mourn with fellow Jews without being [verbally] attacked by [them],” said black rabbi Shais Rishon, 37, who spoke at the Jewish unity rally in the city last weekend. “It’s frustrating when you’re trying to process a trauma in the Jewish community, and you’re being inundated with racial tirades — in some cases, personal.
“I feel like I have to defend both communities,” added Rishon, who is also known as MaNishtana. “Being outwardly Jewish doesn’t make us bulletproof. Some of us can’t even get into a synagogue we haven’t [visited] before.”
His website bio reads: “100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% safe.”
Yitz Jordan is raising money to open a Jewish Community Center for Jews of color in Brooklyn next month. The Bushwick resident, who is 42 and officially converted 20 years ago, said he knows of other black Jews who are considering leaving the community due to feelings of detachment and discrimination.
Now, some religious leaders say, it’s up to the white Jewish community to take a supportive stand.
“Not only should a Jew of color not have to feel defensive, the Jewish community should make them feel proud,” said Levi Welton, who is white and an Orthodox rabbi at the Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers. “Someone who cares about Torah not only should make someone feel accepted, but [know] you are the people, not just part of the people, with everything you bring to the table.”
Tania Lazarre, who is black and in the process of formally converting from being a non-Jew to Judaism, said the suspicion is “frustrating.”
After moving from Paris to the Upper West Side last year, the 24-year-old began visiting an area shul. Last week, the rabbi wanted to talk to her.
“This never happened before,” she told The Post. “He said, ‘I just want to know what your intentions are, what you enjoy about the community.’”
She believes it is related to a heightened sense fear in the community.
“I never had to prove myself before,” said Lazarre of her Jewish faith. “It’s very hard now, when you go to shul [and] fear that people think you don’t have good intentions.”
Still, she said of the rabbi’s cautious curiosity: “I totally understand.”
Lazarre added that, when it comes to hate crimes, she is just as fearful as any other Jewish person.
“I usually do my prayers in public on the subway, but I won’t do it anymore. I’m afraid someone will attack me,” she said. “If it’s a crazy person, they don’t care if you’re black or [white], as long as you’re Jewish.”