They Didn't Teach Us That In History Class: Hanukkah In Harlem


Black Jewish Community

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Throughout the 20th century, Harlem was known for a variety of things ranging from the influx of arts and poetry to the influence of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. However, one part of its history is often overlooked. During the first World War, the predominantly Black neighborhood was home to the third-largest Jewish community in the world, trailing only Warsaw and the Lower East Side. According to Dr. Jeffrey S. Gurock, "there were 175,000 Jews in Harlem—some rich and some poor—living in tenements on blocks that had more than 1,000 people per acre." Historians at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture found that a portion of this community was comprised of West Indians, East Africans, and South Americans. By 1919, Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew founded the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. Centered in Harlem, it stands as one of the oldest and largest communities of Black Hebrews nearly a century later.

The number of Black Jews in Harlem in Harlem has diminished greatly over the years for a variety of reasons. Most notably, the overall population of Black residents in Harlem has decreased over the years due to gentrification. Also, other religions like Christianity and Islam remain immensely popular within Black communities around the world. Still, New York Magazine reports that there are as many as 150,000 Black Jews in America today. Not to mention, there are large Black Jewish communities across the continent of Africa. While it may be overlooked, Black Jewish communities have always been a part of the diaspora.

“There is nothing in the Torah that says you can’t be black and Jewish at the same time,” family court advocate Akeda Fulcher told the New York Times. “I think it gives my Judaism flavor. I think that my foods, my music, my dance, my struggles — everything that makes me a black woman also make me a beautiful black Jewish woman. There is no difference between the two for me. I am what God made me, and everything about me is beautiful because of that.”

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