Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tribute to the Others

So, normally I don't celebrate holidays all that much, especially random ones like: Menopause Awareness Month (September), Toilet Day (January 27th), or Nude Recreation Week (July 7th-14th). However, after random conversations with my girlfriend, I've decided that maybe I should be more proactive in healing the racial divide during this February.

Thus, in honor of Black History Month, I have compiled a list that represents my own, unique contribution to race-relations in America, and around the world.

I give you!

Black Jews.

Famous Black Jews.

Why? Because I think of all the peoples in the world, only two have had the kind of extensive, pathetic, depressing, ironic, hilarious and horrible history of oppression, bigotry, prejudice, and outright hatred that deserve recognition in all their complexities, in all their stubborn survival, and even impossible flourishing. I am talking, of course, about Blacks and Jews.

But when you combine that, the possibilities for discrimination boggle my liberal-educated mind! Black Jews must face a unique situation, that neither side could possibly understand, because either/or is missing one critical component of half their identity.

This is my way of showing appreciation for fellow Jews, who are also goyim, but not really. This is for dual-identity and double-consciousness. This is for the smallest of the small, the most minor of the minorities. This is for...

1. Lisa Bonet

Black father, Allen bonet is an opera singer, and her Jewish mother, Arlene Litman is a teacher. Bonet is mostly known for her role on The Cosby Show and, my personal favorite, as the fictional singer-songwriter Marie De Salle from High Fidelity.

2. Sammy Davis Jr.

Probably the most famous Black Jew on this list, star of stage, screen, and television, as well as the only colored member of the "Rat Pack". SDJ is actually a convert to Judaism. While in the hospital after a car accident cost him his left eye, Sammy's friend Eddie Cantor came to visit him, and happened to mention the similarities between Jewish and Black cultures. (This is ironic to me, because in Judaism, a "cantor" is the religious-singer in the Synagogue, traditionally assisting as a kind of pseudo-Rabbi. Eddie Cantor was probably aware of this, so of course he'd be the one to convert someone!) After researching more about Judaism, Davis converted a few years later.

3. Ben Harper

His father, Leonard Harper is Black with some Indian (feather, not dot) and his mother, Ellen Chase-Verdries is Jewish. Harper's main claim to fame is as a musician, particularly with his band the Innocent Criminals. Harper is also a very accomplished guitarist, playing with the likes of Taj Mahal, and also semi-discovered Jack Johnson.

4. Jamaica Kincaid

Convert to Judaism. Claim to fame: amazing writer.

5. Lenny Kravitz

Kravitz's father is Jewish, and his mother is Bahamian. (Or, as I like to say it, "Bahamanian.") Probably the second-most famous Black Jew on this list. Kravtitz is known internationally as a nigh-reincarnation of Jimmy Hendrix. My favorite is his version of "American Woman" that was popularized in the Austin Powers movie. Also, Kravitz recently made his acting debut in the film Precious, playing the nurse John McFadden.

6. Sophie Okonedo

Her mother is Joan Allman, a pilates teacher and Ashkenazi Jew from the East End with Yiddish-speaking parents that immigrated from Poland/Russia. Her father is Henry Okonedo, who worked for the government. Apparently he left them when Sophie was five, and so she was brought up by her mom in almost-poverty. Claim to fame: played the wife of Don Cheadle's character in Hotel Rwanda.

7. Rashida Jones

Daughter of Quincy Jones, and his then-wife Peggy Lipton. Her mother is full-on Jew, descended from Irish and Russian immigrants. (How about that? Jews in Ireland!) Main claim to fame: that girl from the office. However, she also did a smashing performance being the straight-man... err, woman, for Paul Rudd in I Love You Man. She's also currently in the series Parks & Recreation.

8. Craig David

A Grenadian father, and a Jewish mother. Claim to fame as a popular R&B singer-songwriter.

9. Drake

The son of Dennis Graham, a drummer, and a Jewish Canadian mother. (I couldn't find her name.) Drake's claim to fame is his portrayal of Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi, and performs as a rapper under his mononym moniker.

10. Aaron Freeman

Converted to Judaism from Roman Catholicism. Mainly known for his stand-up comedy, journalism, and cartooning. Very active in the Jewish entertainment community.

11. Zab Judah

His father is an avowed Black Hebrew Israelite, and his family has declared themselves Jewish. Judah is known primarily for his boxing skills. One of my favorite southpaw fighters, with lightening hand-speed. Currently ranked #8 in the welterweight division by Ring magazine.

12. Boris Kodjoe

Born to Eric Kodjoe, a Ghanaian physician, and Ursula, a German psychologist. He's Jewish through his mother, and maternal grandmother, making him about as legally Jewish as they come, even though he's nonpracticing. Claim to fame: roles in myriad films and television series, most notably the drama Soul Food. My personal favorites are his roles in Brown Sugar, Starship Troopers 3, and Surrogates.

13. Walter Mosley

Jewish mother, Black father. Mosley is known for his hard-boiled detective novels set in the Watts area of Los Angeles, and starring the character Easy Rawlins. Wrote the book, Devil in a Blue Dress, which was adapted into a movie of the same name.

14. Sean Paul

His grandfather was Sephardi, immigrating to Jamaica from Portugal. Paul's main claim to fame is as a dancehall musician. Kind of like a poor man's version of Shaggy.

15.Rain Pryor

Daughter of Richard Pryor, and a go-go dancer named Shelley R Bonus. Rain was largely brought up by her Jewish grandparents, and exposed heavily to Jewish culture. She's known for her role on Head of the Class, and her comedy shows exploring biracial-Jewish identity.

16. Joshua Redman

Son of saxophonist Dewey Redman, and Renee Shedroff. Joshua Redman is one of the youngest, and most talented saxophonists currently playing. I saw him perform at the Catalina Bar & Grill in L.A. once upon a time. I especially enjoy his work with Yoko Kanno for the anime series Cowboy Bebop.

17. Tracee Ellis Ross

The daughter of Diana Ross and a music business manager Robert Ellis Silberstein. Ross' main claim to fame: lead role on the series Girlfriends.

18. Rowetta

Jewish mother, and a Nigerian father. Rowetta is an accomplished singer, known for her on the series X Factor. She's also the "secret voice" behind the Black Eyed Peas song, Boom Boom Pow.

19. Khleo Thomas

Born to Raquel and Leon Thomas. Khleo's mother is a Moroccan Jew, and his father is an army officer. Main claim to fame: playing the character Zero in the Disney film Holes.

20. Andre Tippett

Converted to Judaism. Tippett is famous as a former linebacker for the New England Patriots, and is also an accomplished martial artist, mostly Karate.

21. Rebecca Walker

The daughter of Alice Walker and Mel Leventhal, a Jewish lawyer. Her main claim to fame is as a writer, and was named as one of Time's 50 future leaders of America.

22. Jackie Wilson

Known as "Mr. Excitement", Wilson is a famous singer and performer, as well as convert to Judaism. Wilson is probably one of the most under-appreciated singers of the Motown/Doo-Wop era, and also the most tragic. He suffered a serious heart-attack that left him in a coma till dying of pneumonia in 1984.

Anyhoo! This was a looooong list to write/compile, but I hope ya'll enjoyed it! Most of the information was gathered via Wikipedia, and the images through Google.

All of the people here are inspirations in and of themselves, but together represent a comingling that is both strange and beautiful.

Happy Black History Month? Something like that.


4 footnotes:

Jasmin said...

Those Black/Jewish combos sure turned out some accomplished (and good-looking!) people. I'm just sayin'... ;-)

Gwen said...

is it bad that im black but i LOL'd hard at that walgreens picture?

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: haha, i know! i think it's in the best interests of humanity to breed more black jews ;)

@gwen: iunno... but if you laughed then at least i don't have to feel guilty that i did, haha.

Jasmin said...


...or keep trying until they get it right? Ok, I'm done (for now). :-P