Where Black and Jewish Identity Merge

Authors Emily Raboteau and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts Seek Utopia

Plane to Zion: Emily Raboteau, author of “Searching For Zion,” traveled the world on a quest to understand the yearning for the promised land.
courtesy emily raboteau
Plane to Zion: Emily Raboteau, author of “Searching For Zion,” traveled the world on a quest to understand the yearning for the promised land.

By Adam Langer

Published January 27, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 5)

A.L.: When someone asks you those sorts of questions — who are you or where are you from — what’s your response?

E.R.: The answer depends on who’s asking and why. I think often for me, it’s a racial question. People are insecure or unsure of what my racial background is, and so often, I think what they really want to know is the answer that satisfies that question, which is that my father is black and my mother is white and that’s why I look the way I do. What about for you? Particularly as someone who wrote about Harlem but isn’t from there technically.

S.R.P.: It’s not a place I really claim to be from. Even after a decade of living in New York, I never say I’m from New York. A friend of mine from Houston, which is where I grew up, always calls me out on this. I never say I’m from Houston; I say I’m from Texas, which he points out rightly is my own mythmaking.

E.R.: Part of my journey for this book really began in my 20s, and it had to do with an unease I felt about that question: “Who are you?” “Where are you from?” I didn’t feel it was an easy answer for me, or that it was an answer that often satisfied, so at the age of 23 I went to Israel. It was during a time when I had a sense of disillusionment with America because it was right after the Bush regime had stolen the election.

I wanted to get out and see the world. I felt like, “Screw this place.” When I visited Israel, I was surprised to feel as jealous as I was of my best friend from my childhood, who had made aliyah and moved to Israel — her ability to claim a new place, a new homeland, which at that time I would have liked to have done. Of course Israel was a mess, too; it was at the time of the second intifada. I discovered black people there and was sort of shocked and amazed, because in my mind, these two identities were very compartmentalized — Jews and blacks.

And I thought, what are these people doing here? How did they get here, and why? And I thought, all right, I want to keep finding black people who left America out of a sense of disillusionment or disenchantment or hope to find the Zion on earth somewhere else and see if they discovered it, in part because I wondered, even for myself, is there someplace else I’d like to live?

A.L.: Can we talk about the historically troubled relationship between blacks and Jews and how your conception of it may have changed while writing your books?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.