Proud to be Jewish and Black: MaNishtana

‘MaNishtana?” What is the difference? For one Brooklyn Jewish man, this is the question he’s been facing his whole life.

MaNishtana (a pseudonym) is from an African-American Brooklyn family that traces its Jewish heritage back eight generations. In 2009, MaNishtana began blogging about his experiences as a Jew of color; that work ultimately led him on a journey of accidental activism and advocacy for Members of the Tribe who feel marginalized for being minorities.

MaNishtana’s work explores the fact that Jews of color are often subject to skepticism about their legitimacy as Jews, and sometimes experience racism even within their own Jewish communities (think Assemblyman Dov Hikind in blackface last Purim).

MaNishtana summarizes his work in shorthand fashion: “This way is wrong, and this is how things should be.”

MaNishtana’s many projects have ranged from founding JOCFlock, a dating site for Jews of color, to creating the Shivtei Jeshurun Society, which advocates for Jews of color.

“I don’t want the next generation to grow up with the exact same problems,” he says.

A year and a half ago, MaNishtana also published a book, “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe,” recounting his personal experiences. Meanwhile, he’s working on two new books, as well as a musical film, which he says will be “to ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ what ‘The Wiz’ was to ‘The Wizard of Oz.’” He is also first experiencing fatherhood: his daughter was born late 2013.

No matter what MaNishtana is up against, he’s confident in his dual identity. “When has being black ever been about being easy?” he asks. “You might as well be all of you.”

Renaissance man: MaNishtana’s passions and projects also include video games and film; he’s appeared in a music video with black-Jewish hip-hop artist (and former 36 under 36er) Y-Love.



Ira (Yitz) Jablonsky, 34 - To Serve and Protect
Jeff Kiderman, 29 - Lowering Day School Tuition Costs
Zohar Atkins, 28 - Innovating New Spiritual Paths
Murray Mizrachi, 28 - A Sephardic Voice
Matt Ronen, 34 - Service to the People
Masha Pearl, 31 - The Professional is Personal


I LOVED this article Please send me Email updates
MaNishtana does great work. His blog was hilarious, his dating site a breath of fresh air after a few really irritating experiences on jdate, and I found Thoughts From a Unicorn to be funny every time I read it, if a little bit overly sarcastic the fourth time around. (What? What else should I read over Shabbat?) But the comment box was made for trolls, so I've gotta address this: the Hikind comment is, as you mentioned, a parenthesized fragment, not even kind of the main point of this profile. Y highlight it? also, how is it an unbecoming cheap shot? What he did, representing himself as a "basketball player" (because of course there's no such thing as a White basketball player, nor a Jewish one, even though it was invented as a Jewish-American sport) with blackface and a ridiculous afro wig, was a cheap shot towards his constituents and Jews of color. Even if we were to give him his everlasting privilege and say he had a lack of historical knowledge, that still doesn't mean that it's not exactly the reason MaNishtana's work is so important. It's not always about the intentional, overt racist moments, it's often the overly curious, invasively friendly person thinking that just because I walked into shul looking different doesn't mean I don't have the same familial Holocaust stories (my uncle's picture is in the DC Museum, for goodness sakes) and that they have the right to question my authenticity, and in the end personhood, to satisfy their curiosity. People who live in Orthodox enclaves often don't act as though they are culturally diverse and exposed to/interact with the other cultures in a way that doesn't fully otherize and dehumanize "other" cultures, and that's a problem.
Don't know why you call me a troll, since I read this in print and thought this did a disservice to his profile. Specifically if this is the racism he is fighting - an innocent mistake- then he doesn't serve a pressing need. We recently had a Jew-of-color launch accusations of racism because his music was criticized as unbecoming to traditional Jewish values (Ylove). I enjoyed his music, but don't think one needs to be a racist to think that Rap music (with its often violent and sexually objectifying lyrics) is counter-educational. I agree that sensitivity training would be a great idea to compliment the already chesed (kindness) espousing curriculum in our schools.For no one should be made to feel "other". Regarding his costume, the seventies effect would not have been as humorously pronounced in sideburns as in Afro, which gives the immediate feel of "throwback" , while booted sideburns have come back twice since the 70s. So blaming his choice of Black ball player still seems ubersensitive, and not in touch with the reality and sensitivities of minorities off-campus. Jews-of-color are already very common in our communities. If they were to join a Reform/Conservative congregation, they would be walking into an environment in which religion was replaced by social-action, and many of the members have not been asked to accept a conversion involving Mitzva observance. The congregation is not engaged in Jewish history and aestheticism. The bar is very low- and thus welcoming. To join a Torah intense community and expect never to raise the question of "why" or "how" is to not appreciate what you've walked in to. I wish you the best and left my email open to further respectful conversation.
If it was such an innocent mistake, then why'd it take so long for Dov Hikind's TWO non-apologies?
The pharentesied referring to Dov Hikind as exhibiting racism, is an unbecoming "cheap-shot". Hikind, as many Orthodox, grew up in NYC where most Orthodox enclaves are truly culturally diverse. He knows the norms of mutual respect and judging a man by his actions as the Rev. King dreamt. Not the lesser-known blackface taboo touted by bespecticaled elitist suburban academic secular Jews, who have never interacted with people-of-color off of campus. Mark his mistake up to a lack of historical knowledge, or in my opinion - ignorance of the mores of the elitist (out-of-touch with the African-American community) separatists.
...what the hell are you even TALKING about?

Comment Guidelines

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.