Archive for August, 2010

Why I Will Never Say ‘Funny, you don’t look Jewish” Again

August 28, 2010
During the month of Elul one is supposed to study and think about a variety of issues in preparation for the High Holy Days.  My friend Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin posted the following on this blog.  Something to think about?
Rabbi Orkand
The Elul clock is ticking, propelling us ever more faithfully towards the Days of Awe. In the midst of these days, a death appeared in the news. Death is almost always inevitably sad, but this one goes beyond that. It goes straight into poignant.
It is the story of the death of Yoseph Robinson, shot during a holdup in the Brooklyn liquor store in which he worked, shot while trying to protect his girlfriend.

Sad enough.

But Yoseph Robinson had an interesting biography. He was a former petty criminal, turned singer and producer of violent gangsta rap music, who then converted to Orthodox Judaism. He had started using verses from the Torah for rap songs, and was in the process of writing his autobiography when he was killed. His funeral service will take place in an Orthodox funeral chapel in Brooklyn.
“Most of us Jews in Brooklyn are not that interesting,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be named. “Yoseph was the most interesting and charismatic person.”
What do I find important about the life of Yoseph Robinson? It’s not only that Judaism and membership in the Jewish people is open to people of all races; we have known that since biblical times. We know that well as a Jewish community. There are African-American rabbis; one of them happens to be Michelle Obama’s cousin. One of American Jewry’s most articulate voices is Julius Lester, a former black radical who converted to Judaism and who has taught at U Mass Amherst and has served as a lay cantor.
The most important thing about the life of Yoseph Robinson is that it is a testimony to the power of change and growth. To put it simply: Yoseph was searching for a way out of the morass of a life of drugs, crime and violence. He found that pathway to a new life by entering the world of Jewish study and Jewish engagement. In a world in which traditional Jews are often branded as being insular and even xenophobic, we can be proud of the fact that the Orthodox community in Brooklyn reached out to him, even as he reached back.
God’s Name, in Hebrew, is yud hey vav hey. Some grammarians believe that the Name of God is actually not a name at all, but a verb — a verb that is conjugated in the future tense.
The life of Yoseph Robinson reminds us that we not only live in the present, but with the infinite possibility of transformation.
May his memory be a blessing.
To read more about Yoseph Robinson: