African American Trifecta Shabbat

As my nom de plume indicates, I am deeply intrigued by both my own Jewish tradition as well as the rich culture and heritage of African-Americans. Looking at the African-American world, this year, three important events occur in a one-week period:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – January 19, 2009
  • Inauguration of President Barack H. Obama – January 20, 2009
  • Opening of the movie Notorious, Friday, January 16, 2009

There is a clear Jewish connection to the Martin Luther King observance: Jews were prominent in the civil rights movement that Reverend Dr. King led. Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. King in Selma.(;

And Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz, who had fled the Nazi oppression, spoke before King at the historical 1963 March on Washington (; two Jewish civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwarner, and a black civil rights worker, James Earl Chaney, were murdered as they participated in civil rights activities in Mississippi in 1964 (,%20Goodman%20&%20Schwerner.htm).

There is also a Jewish connection to the victory of Barack Obama. The Jewish community overwhelmingly rejected absurd attempts (some by our coreligionists) to paint Obama as a secret Muslim and an opponent of a secure Israel. Instead, many members of the Jewish community mobilized to support him, including a Rabbis for Obama group (full disclosure: I was a member) and the grassroots and wonderfully attitude-powered Great Schlep ( which quite possibly helped to deliver Florida and Ohio through its Jewish voting blocs. And of course there’s the matter of Obama’s choice for Chief of Staff – Rahm Emanuel, son of an Israeli-born Irgun fighter, and himself named after a fallen Stern Gang fighter.

It is admittedly a bit harder to find a Jewish connection to the third event listed. Other than the usual stuff about Jews controlling Hollywood. Or that Notorious’ “Life After Death” album calls to mind Jewish eschatology. Or that I borrowed some of his stage name.

The confluence of these events on or around the Shabbat of January 16 – 17, 2009 lends itself to some kind of observance. Here’s something else: It will be Shabbat Shemot, on which we read the Torah’s story of the Hebrews’ descent into Egyptian slavery and the beginning of the story of Moses’ birth and climb to leadership that eventually leads to the liberation of the people from slavery. This story becomes the prototype of many other liberation movements, including the African-American experience (think “Go Down, Moses…Let My People Go”).

So, here’s my proposal, admittedly powered somewhat by my own attitude, and love for both Jewish and Black cultures:

African-American Trifecta Shabbat

D’var Torah Topics: Relating the Jewish historical experience to those of oppressed peoples; the Tikkun Olam – World Repair agenda of Judaism; obvious tie-in to the Torah portion of Shemot.

Male Synagogue Attire -Elegant. For me: Black pinstripe suit, black shirt, black or white tie, brightly colored “Godfather” hat, tzitzit and/or tallit. Aim for overstated elegance, remember, this too, is actually part of the Jewish experience as well as the African-American experience( If in doubt about appropriate dress, see my photo on this blog.

I know, I didn’t include Female Synagogue Attire. Sorry. I’m hoping that one of this blog’s readers will add a comment/suggestion about female synagogue attire. Maybe we could start with hat styles. Like my wife’s hats. Just saying.

Music: Preferences to those who’ve brought the two worlds together. Sammy Davis, Jr. and Y-Love, depending on what generation you hail from. Matisyahu, too, if that floats your boat.

Kiddush: I’m still working on this one. Jamaican rum and Manischewitz extra sweet? [For a Sammy Davis – Manischewitz connection, see].

Here’s the thing: Tongue-in-cheek and attitude notwithstanding, there is important history in the making in the next few weeks. If you’re a rabbi, educator or parent, you owe it to those that you lead or parent to point out to your congregants, students and children just how special the times we live in are, and how interrelated our past, present and future really are. If you’re a young person, you owe it to yourself to learn the past, celebrate the uniqueness of the present and be informed by both as you build the future.

So, raise your glasses and join in a toast for African American Trifecta Shabbat. And I’ll see you at Notorious. Not on Friday, the opening night. I’ll be making Shabbat. But after havdalah. As Jay-Z rapped, “At a theatre near you.”

4 responses

  1. I’ll add my two cents regarding Female Synagogue Attire for the AATS: A conservatively elegant suit or dress accented with a brightly patterned scarf. For women who wear tallit, it can be used in lieu of a scarf. And, of course, a beautiful hat or, for those like myself, a beautiful kipah. And I fancy myself some Matisyahu music. I’ll make a copy of his new EP for you, Arnie. It’s 4 tracks from his upcoming album. His music goes in a different direction with this album. Stronger lyrics and messages, and one of the tracks (2 Child 1 Drop) is quite the political statement. I think you’ll enjoy it, or at the very least have an appreciation for it.


  2. Cheers! Wonderfully interesting post. Thanks for sharing.


  3. So of course I love this post, but I want to know if we can organize on MLK day a study session about MLK/Heschel, etc. Otherwise it is a wasted day and we don’t get to learn about how other Jews besides you were/are influenced by the beauty of African American culture. You organize it, I’ll show up! 🙂


  4. By the way, for any readers who are Facebook people, you can RSVP your participation and support at


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