Sunday, June 30, 2002

I have been wrapping Genesis around me, turning over and over "Shabbat"--not the noun, but the verb, for it is not written that God rested on the seventh day (that would be indicated by the verb Lanuach), but rather the word "Shabbat" is used, as a verb. As I grapple with its meaning, I wed myself more and more to this verb. Shall I call it an inaction? an inaction? My involvement in Shabbat deepens and deepens. This Shabbat I negotiated my observance with the plans of my parents, which involved driving to New York and going out to lunch, but when it came to travelling down to the village to see my brother's event and meet up with Jordan and Lucas, I decisively took back reigns of autonomy and chose to walk rather than to buy a subway ride down.
The walk rewarded me. 70 blocks; one hour. And I took my time. I soaked myself in The City, and it seeped through my skin.

Approaching Time Square, I spotted at its center--the sidewalk V, straddled by legs of Broadway and Seventh Ave. --two tall metal poles displaying large metal stars of David. They flanked a small stage and podium, attended by several large dark brown-skinned men, each dressed in robes of flowing silk, emblazoned with Jewish stars, apparently intended to capture a Biblical-period style. These men certainly must have something different to say, I determined, and set out across Seventh. Entering the small crowd that attended the men at the podium, I caught bits and peices of impassioned, booming tones of the men on the podium.
"....and Jesus...Jesus, what color was his skin, as it is written....we, the Hykos, Sheperd Kings...chosen...children of Israel....Christ our savior...."
Unable to get at the heart of what these men were saying, I spotted a table of materials that I trusted would teach me of these men and their message. As I approached, I noted the table's attendant attempting to sell the table's merchandise to dark-skinned pedestrians--photocopied calendars, booklets, CDs, cassettes, videos, books, all at prices that gave me some suspicion as to the motivatinos of these men.
I addressed the man at the table, hoping he would be sympathetic as a self-proclaimed Israelite to my Sabbath observance.
"I am not spending money today as part of my Sabbath observance. Would it be allright if I looked through some of your materials?"
Turning to another man who had just descended from stage, the attendant obtains reluctant permission for me to peruse their pamphlets. Before I could begin to sort out the layer after gooey layer of bold religious claims and revisions of history, I was interrupted by a speaker who had just descended from the podium. He wore a white silk headdress descending past his shoulders, matching a large white robe of similar design, each embroidered many times over with golden Jewish stars, all of which sharply accented the darkness of his faced, which itself was covered in a heavy beard. Through our exchange, his ink-black pupils assaulted me with self-righteous wrath and indignation--his eyes would be appeased only if a column of holy fire were to descend and consume me on the spot.
But at first, his address was contained if confrontational.
"Why does this concern you?"
"I am Jewish, and am interes--"
"YOU are not a Jew."
"JEWISH! "ISH" is just what Americans add to the ends of words to pretend that they have a meaning. Do you know what a Jew is? Do you know where the word "Jew" comes from?"

"It means descended from the tribe of of Judah."

"And what color was the skin fo the children of Judah? Of all children of Israel? Here. Read this. Jeremiah 14.2. Read it. What does it say?"
"Where? Here? ok. And the children of Israel mourned for Jerusalem fallen, and they prostrated themselves and they were black upon the ground."

"See it! What does that mean? What color are the children of Israel? They are black. What? Would you like to see it in the original Hebrew? Let's get the original Hebrew. Hey!" (He turns) "Get me the Hebrew version."
(While several searched for a Hebrew bible, another more elderly speaker approached,
also covered in white robes
a golden lion and jewelled star of David sheilding his chest, bandanna covering his head): "You understand Hebrew?"
"You see, there is no questioning it. It is written 'kee kedar who.' 'Kedar'--'With a KA, a SHWAA, a DA, and a RA.'"
(A Hebrew version now in hand, he flips to bookmarked page and points to words highlighted in red crayon.)
"See? Kedar. Black. Now what does that mean?"
"Well, it could be interpreted--"
"You know exactly what it means. It means that all of you are not the true children of Israel. You and all your kind are impersonators. The oppressed black nations of the world, the Sheperd Kings, or Hyksos, are the true children of Israel!" (At this point there are several enormous black men in robes angrily hovering over and around me.)
"Listen, you are not going to convince me that I am not a Jew, but I would like to learn from you what it means to you to be the children of Israel."(At this point responds the largest and loudest speaker, the one who first addressed me.)
"It means that we, black people, and not you impostors, are the children of Israel. WE are the chosen people" (The elder interrupts): "Have you ever been to Egypt? Go to Egypt, look at the walls inside the pyramids, and you will see the true colors of the children of Israel--they are black! You know it. Look at him! He knows it."
(yet another robed man pushes forward, thrusts a book with heiroglyphs on the cover at my face):
"What is the color of these children of Israel? Look at this picture. What do you see? What color is their skin? Do you not understand the words of Jeremiah?" (the elder breaks in again). "Oh he knows it, he knows it!"
"What does it mean for you to be the chosen people?"
"Who in the hell are you anyway?"
"I don't want to argue over your claims, I just want to learn from what you have to tell me,"
"No. Who the hell are you!


"Shabbat Shalom," (I begin walking away, continuing on my path down Broadway to the village, educated in spite of them) "Go in peace."