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Humans of Hillel

 

Grappling With the Complexities of Black, Queer and Jewish

Waltham, Massachusetts | 2021

As told to Maddie Solomon, writer in the Hillel International Writers Program.

Aviva Davis“My first Hillel dinner at school was when I was a prospective student. My host’s name was Dana, and she, along with the people I met that weekend, are the reason I’m here. From the moment I stepped into the admissions building to check-in, I felt welcomed and loved, and it continued throughout the rest of my stay. We went to services together, we ate together, and she woke up early to go to Saturday morning services with me. At the end of every interaction I had with a student, they would wave goodbye and say ‘Come to Brandeis!’ So I did.

Since coming to Brandeis, I have also been impressed by the depth of political conversations we are having on campus. Jewish spaces can be complicated, however, and the debate as to how to protect our synagogues is a difficult one for me. Many white and white-passing Jews call for armed security and cops outside of their synagogues without thinking about the ways hired, armed guards will compromise the safety of Jews of color. This is not to say we should not protect our synagogues. However, the fact that there are so many people who think police presence is beneficial and that the consequences are nonexistent frightens me.

I think this debate is also emblematic of how the Jewish community continues to grapple with a multitude of identities within our community. As a Black, Queer Jew, I have faced the most conflict and push-back from people who do not respect the intersectionality of my Blackness and my Judaism. From people saying that Black Jews don’t exist to others claiming that I am not ethnically Jewish because my mom is a convert.

Despite these challenges, I still feel at home at Hillel events at Brandeis and have mentors I value. It was actually our current Hillel Springboard fellow, Remy, who encouraged me to apply for the fellowship myself. The current assistant Hillel director here at Brandeis, Rabbi Stephanie Sanger-Miller, was the main reason I was able to bring the leader of the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, to campus a couple of years ago.

Thus, I am grappling with the complexities of these identities and what they entail for both my fulfillment and safety. It is not my job to teach others, to be outraged for others in the face of persistent racism and antisemitism. Yet, I look forward to continuing to promote these essential conversations on campus as a leader, so that all of us can grow.” —  Aviva Davis, Brandeis University