Shania Silva has recently adopted Judaism and become a member of SHJ! She has chosen the Hebrew name Shachar which means “dawn” or “sunrise.” We are excited to welcome her into the SHJ family!
About four years ago, my sister began delving into our family history after we all started our genealogy journey through ancestry databases. Upon reading the results, I read what I expected to find being Puerto Rican–Spanish, Sub-Saharan African, and Indigenous American. However, curiosity sparked when part of that South European percentage was a fraction of Ashkenazi and North African/Middle Eastern admixture. While I questioned it, I didn’t follow through with any more information at that point. We lived in the US mainland, while my grandparents were all in the Caribbean. Additionally, I associated Judaism with religion rather than culture at the time, which as an atheist I had trouble accepting.
We grew up very Christian, so trusting any organized religious institution was controversial. It contradicted my leftist views. Once my sister completed her adoption into Judaism about two years ago, we began to spend Jewish holidays together. New foods, new music, and a new philosophy were being introduced to me that felt more welcoming than I could have expected from my former upbringing. Additionally, a new community was beginning to form. One that was far more diverse than I had been wrongfully led to believe by mainstream ideas of Judaism.
Fast-forwarding to now, I have more than ever become more confident in my identity. My daughter is nearly four years old and it has always been important to me to immerse her in our culture. I had originally wanted to redefine my traditions and strengthen my familial connections since we were so estranged. I returned to spending holidays alone once my sister moved away. I sat with these feelings for a while, before I decided to look into some literature.
Of course, I had questions some of which I believed were controversial to ask, and tiptoed around the matter. As much as I wanted to follow through with this process I held myself from moving forward due to some moral dilemmas relating to Zionism and apprehending my Jewish legitimacy. I, with many other Jews of Color, have found ourselves in the same debate. US imperialism has completely changed the ‘Island of Enchantment’ that once belonged to my grandparents. With this historical context in mind, I have learned to be unwavering in my solidarity with liberation and Jewish values of ethics and social justice as it reinforced my beliefs about colonial states. I had tried to ignore this factor when previously writing about “practicing” a different form of Judaism than my sisters or community. I wasn’t practicing anything new, I was upholding the Jewish values I had learned, but I could not openly express opposition to a political ideology that had seemed to define secular Judaism.
As a queer woman of color, standing with my own self-interest in mind despite being amongst others is a shared experienced. Essentially, I had found community, but the threat of being excluded was enough to betray my morality and history. I am happy to have listened to speakers of the Jews of Color Initiative while further developing my thoughts in this essay. While my paternal lineage was rooted in Spanish Jewish Refugees, my maternal heritage lies in the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. There is a duality to my identity that I must uphold, so to conform to popular opinion is the most un-Jewish thing I could do. So I write this today to say I am a Jewish Boricua without compromising my heritage whether controversial or not.