Skip To Content
Get Our Newsletter
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

Why Did Josephine Baker Hire a Torah Tutor for a Non-Jewish Orphan?

The January-February 2008 issue of California magazine, U.C. Berkeley’s alumni publication, has a wacky article about famed entertainer Josephine Baker’s attempt to build a village du monde in southwestern France, where the woman who was dubbed the “Black Venus” would be able to prove that people of different races and religions could all get along.

To populate this “world village,” scholar Heather Roberson explains, the expat entertainer in the early 1950s set about gathering orphans of different origins. A Japanese orphanage contributed a Japanese boy and a Korean boy. She found a Finnish boy, and a Muslim boy and a Catholic boy from Algeria. “Eventually,” Roberson writes, “she had 12 children of diverse backgrounds.” She had trouble, however, procuring a Jew for her gorgeous mosaic.

But Baker was nothing if not determined.

Roberson writes:

When necessary, Josephine fudged the facts. Israel refused to hand over a Jewish child for her project, so she adopted a boy from a nearby orphanage and converted him, procuring a tutor of Hebrew and the Torah, and hiring a chef to keep the child kosher.

(Alas, the article is not online.)

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free under an Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Creative Commons license as long as you follow our republishing guidelines, which require that you credit Foward and retain our pixel. See our full guidelines for more information.

To republish, copy the HTML, which includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline, and credit to Foward. Have questions? Please email us at help@forward.com.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.