Social Justice

Kehila: A Magazine For Jews Of Color

Talisha Harrison has created an outlet for a minority within a minority. Read More

By / January 14, 2011
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At least once a month on Monday morning, Talisha Harrison (aka Tali Adina) wakes up at 7AM, leaves her house, and heads for her local JCC. “I go inside up the stairs to the chapel, get a prayer book off the shelf and take out my tallit” she explains on her blog, Tali Adina’s Days of Future Past, “I say the blessing and wrap it around me; I’m now ready for the minyan service to begin.”

Tali plays an active role in the Jewish community of her Florida hometown, attending minyan because “Not only do you connect with G-D at minyan, you also connect with others in your congregation and community… it’s essential that you participate. Without your participation, the community wouldn’t be complete.”

Reading these words, it is surprising, startling even, to scroll down just two entries later and find, in big purple lettering, the headline “I am a starving writer who has a social phobia.” In opposition to her eloquent descriptions of minyan and religious community, Tali is blunt about her life as an outsider. “I am the only young Jew of color in my area, as far as I know… I’m a starving writer who’s socially phobic with a mixture of anxiety, a little anti-social and a little depression and Graves Disease-hypothyroidism mixed in.”

Interestingly enough, it was this life as the “other” that afforded Tali the opportunity to build a new, international community in the form of Kehila, an online magazine for Jews of color around the world. Unemployed and also sick, she wondered how to fill the extra time: “I thought- what could I do that would include writing (which I have loved since I was little), and doing something to tell people how I felt, because I do blog, and so I thought… a magazine! There isn’t as far as I know, another magazine for Jews of color. Just to have some sort of community connection, since we’re all in different states, all over the place…”

As it turned out, Tali was not the only one feeling like an outsider in her own community. Just three issues in, she has a small but supportive base of readers who log in to read Kehila from Alaska, Maryland, and even Israel. Miriam, a Jew of color from Tsfat, writes “I like [Kehila] because it’s a magazine about Jews of color and the topic is not about racism only!” It seems like an easy trap to fall in to—but because Tali is a self-described outsider in so many ways, she is actually the perfect person to create a wholly inclusive magazine. Who better than a young, female, Jew of color, suffering from a rare disease, searching for work, interested in food and fashion, battling social anxieties, to produce an online magazine with something for everyone?

“We are a minority within a minority whose community is growing and requires more outlets in the Jewish and non-Jewish world to express, share, educate, discuss, debate, and voice the many opinions, topics, and issues that are important to us. I hope that this magazine will be such an outlet,” writes Adina. Feedback already reflects Tali’s goals: “I like that it blends Jewish women’s issues with practical life issues (like how to buy clothes on a budget!)” writes reader Solange Hansen. “In the future I’d like to see her explore issues of mixed marriages, and maybe feature some congregations (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) that have diverse memberships.  Maybe some traditional recipes from African American homes that have been altered to be Kosher or in-line with other dietary laws would be good too.”

In her last, Hanukkah-themed issue, Tali featured a piece written by Erika Davis, a guest writer who is also an “Ohio transplant, living in NYC… currently in the process of converting to Judaism. Her blog, ‘Black, Gay and Jewish’ charts her progress, insights, thoughts, frustrations, and joy of Jewish learning.” The article was about how, if at all, the couple would be celebrating Christmas that year and forever after. After fighting with her girlfriend over whether presents would be exchanged, Davis finally realizes: “I forgot that what I want and expect and need from my Jewish religion is not what she needs, wants, or expects from her Jewish identity.”

Kehila is a magazine which highlights this idea exactly—we all want, expect, and need something different out of Judaism, yet we are all still Jews. We celebrate the same holidays, we know how to pronounce “yarmulke.” Shais “MaNishtana” Rison, an influential blogger who writes about his experiences as a Jew of color on http://manishatana.net, has already pointed his readers in Kehila’s direction: “I appreciate… the fact that there is a publication out there that–while clear that it is written from the perspective of a Jew of Color– is still mindful of the fact that we are all Jews and can be so without having to be apologetic of our being different ethnically…”

We are all different, but we are all Jewish, and Kehila is about building a community, not just a readership. For her upcoming issue, Tali asked for photo submissions from Hanukkah—one woman submitted pictures from her wedding. She maintains a yartzeit and mishabeirach column, and a community section where wedding and bar mitzvah announcements can be made. There is a lot of space left to fill, and a number of the magazine’s articles are pulled from internet news and information sites, but Tali continues to write, organize, and network every day.

On Kehila’s website, Tali posted a “Hot Topic,” or “Something to Ponder” for her second, Hanukkah-themed issue. “Each of us, according to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, is a living Chanukah candle capable of spreading our own inner light… Like that little jar of oil which burned longer than anyone thought reasonable, we can live more brightly than we often imagine, even under the most difficult of circumstances.” Meant to inspire others, one can’t help but see her repeating this mantra to herself. For a “socially phobic” starving writer, she spends a surprising amount of time keeping other people spiritually full.

For now you can read Kehila online only at http://kehilamagazine.web.officelive.com/default.aspx until it gets off its feet!