Meet the Black Frum Jews
“Twenty years ago, the hotbed of Brooklyn racism was Crown Heights,” Nechemyah Davis is quoted as saying in a spread in the New York Magazine titled “The Black Orthodox” about African-American frum Jews.
“I tell my friends to try to educate their children so they know G-d created all kinds of people,” Davis says. “We’ll never stop being black. It’s who we are. It can get tiring, but being black and Jewish for us is the ultimate test of how to be righteous.”
Estimates for the number of black Jews in the U.S. vary wildly, from 20,000 to more than 150,000, with some experts saying the population is too small to accurately measure, Molly Langmuir reports in the article.
The article is based on photographer Wayne Lawrence’s fascination with black Jews after moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The men and women he photographed included converts and some born into the faith, some of them Lubavitchers, some who call themselves chassidic, and others who simply say Orthodox or “observant.”
Joseph David Savoy, for example, comes from a dysfunctional family.
“People feel it’s extreme to be Hasidic, but I just think, Are you kidding me? Considering what I was born into, it’s pretty normal. It gives me structure and focus and order. I feel at peace finally after all these years.”
He says that while the reaction from the Jewish community has been wonderful, he gets looks and stares from African-Americans.
A chassidic couple that has been profiled in the article is Baruch Arky and Zehava Bracha Arky.
“I don’t think that people relate to us as an interracial couple. We’re both Jewish, and that seems to speak louder than color,” he noted.
Born to a Muslim and Christian background, Zehava says a friend suggested she go to Chabad, and has attended a Shabbos dinner and went to shul.
“I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it was so interesting and deep. I realized that all the spiritual ideas I already had, which I had thought were just my own, were also a part of Judaism.”