Interview with Nduwa Guershon on Black Jewish Life in France
The following is an interview with Nduwa Guershon, an organizer of the conference “A Black Synagogue in Paris: What about Black Jews in the U.S., Israel and England?” which will be held on November 23, 2008 in Paris, France.
CK: Tell us a bit about yourself:
NG: I am a social worker working today for the french humanitarian organization Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors without Borders). Born in Congo, I was a civil servant in the Ministry for Social Affairs in Kinshasa. In 1988, I went to Israel to study Hebraic civilization. There, I discovered friendship among Israelis, and undertook a long spiritual path through Judaism. Jew and Black, today I aim to develop, in the French Republic, the values carried by humanism, the spirit of tolerance and peace.
CK: What is your Jewish communal life like in France?
NG: Fortifying ties between Black and White Jews in France and in Israel, I work with The Fraternity Judaeo Crotchet, which is rooted in the noble values of the Jewish tradition of an open community, lend to confront differences, misconceptions, and fears of our differences. Our fraternity is based on personal dialogue of all kinds, and of all ideologies, with a shared cause to end all racism, discrimination and anti-semitism. The Fraternity is not an abstract reference – we live a daily fight against racial discrimination and anti-semitism, with particular focus on the experience of Black Jews. The Fraternity focuses on the human comprehension of the “other,” in order to understand how fears and psychological anguishes are historic, and continue to influence us today. We discuss how fears and anguishes continue to effect Jews, where even in spite of integration in some regions, the aftermath of anti-semitism, particularly in France, has had a devastating effect. The Fraternity Judaeo Crotchet above everything is else is turned to the future, advocating for the social, cultural and historic equality for all those who live in France. In order to do this, we engage in a concrete dialogue on the ground in townships and schools, and address how to uproot racism.
CK: How and where did the fraternity begin?
NG: The fraternity started in 2007 in France when some Black Jews came to me to tell me how they were having problems getting into synagogues. I did verification myself and concluded that there is a Black Jewish question in France. I wanted to find out more about this, so sent letters to the all of the Jewish institutions in France and I didn?t get a good answer from them.
That’s why we made “mahloquet” (Talmudic discussion) when we held the first conference on July 6, 2007, where we discussed whether Black Jews should open our own synagogue. Three hundred people came to discuss with us this very issue ? mainly people from all the Jewish institutions.
CK: How large is your community?
NG: In France, we don’t know exactly the number of Black Jews, but in Paris, one journalist (Olivia Cattan) investigated and found around 250 Black Jews. There are a hundred of us, Black and White, in our organization, as many Black Jews are coming now to be known.
CK: You’re organizing a conference this November for Black Jews living in France. Tell us how the conference came to be put together.
NG: Several Black Jews in Paris, London and Israel have had difficult experiences, not being made welcome in some synagogues, and facing discrimination within Jewish communities, as well as larger society. There is a feeling that, perhaps, it might be preferable to open a special synagogue for Black Jews here like there are in the USA. To discuss this more in depth, we are organising a Conference in Paris on November 23 and would very much like to invite you to speak to us on that occasion.
The conference “A Black Synagogue in Paris: What about Black Jews in the U.S., Israel and England?” will be held on November 23, 2008 at 14h00 to 18h00 in Paris, France.
Speakers that have been invited include:
Laurence Thomas (U.S.) : Are we Black first and Jewish after or Jewish first and Black After?
Hai Ben Daniel (Israel) : Black Jews in Israel
Ras David (U.S.): Sepharadi and Ashkenazi
Rahmani Moise (Belgique): The Jews of Congo
Sev Brohiri and Patrick Cohen (England): Black Jews in London
Victor Alhadeff (Miami, U.S.)
Maurice Dor?s: Blacks Jews in Afrika
Rabbi Capers Funnye(Chicago, U.S.)