Koshersoul- A review and reflection of intersectionality in the Jewish experience
Over the New Years holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of Koshersoul, by Michael Twitty. Because of all of the activity launching Babka’s beta, I haven’t had the opportunity to post this review, but as today is American Thanksgiving, it seemed the right time.
I’d heard Mr. Twitty before, on Jewish podcasts I listen to. Before reading the book, I thought of him as “a food guy”. I have a bunch of books on Jewish cooking, and with my health being a priority in 5783, yet another cookbook wasn’t something I wanted to devote my energy to. Luckily Koshersoul isn’t a cookbook, and I’m glad I read it.
Koshersoul is is a mix of history intertwined with the personal history of the author, and his conversations with other prominent Black Jews. In fact, Koshersoul is so personal that it feels uncomfortable calling the author “Twitty”, or “Mr. Twitty”. It’s too distancing and cold. I’m going to call him Michael; I hope he’s okay with that…
Michael’s experience is very different from my own. Growing up an Ashkenazi Jew in New Jersey, I didn’t really feel a strong need to “find” my Jewish roots. Not only was my family Jewish, but I was born in Europe, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. I never felt the need to “prove” my Jewishness.
Michael talks about his experience as being the polar opposite, of always needing to “prove” that he belongs against the backdrop of racism that’s either overt, or that clouds the perceptions of those around him.
I cringed as I listened to him speak about his experiences in Silver Spring- a town I lived in for six years.
I wondered if I’d seen him on the train or on a bus. As I took mental index of years of Metro trips, the audiobook kept playing, and he kept speaking about his experiences of racism. My stomach turned.
I’d bought the book because I wanted to understand the Black Jewish experience. Secretly I’d hoped the book would be about how we Jews were different, a refuge from the outside world, how we’d embraced him as family.
But of course that isn’t what happened, at least not entirely. I’d heard family members talk about black people in very unfavourable ways. I remember one Passover meal, a distant relative brought his Black wife, who I remember hearing had gone through conversion. Nonetheless, it was made abundantly clear, even to my socially inept eight or ten year old self, that we were family, and she was a guest.
How, if my own lived experience showed so much racism, could I expect anything else?
Michael didn’t just take me to school about racism, he also took me to school about history, about food ways, about Southern American culture, about foods I’d never heard of.
It also gave me ideas around cooking, and food. But I was fat before I read the book, so I can’t blame Michael for that.
Koshersoul isn’t all sad. There’s enormous pride in it, personal pride, regional pride. Michael knows his stuff and speaks with passion. It made me want to understand his journey more. I hope he keeps writing.
Ultimately, this blog is about Babka.. I want Babka to be for Jews of every sort, and Koshersoul helped give me a glimpse into a part of Jewish culture that I didn’t know anything about.
When I decided to launch Babka, the Jewish online service, I knew that one of the most important things I’d need to do is to try my best to be welcoming to all Jews. A part of being welcoming is understanding, and Michael gave me a taste of that. He gave me a part, a slice of his experience being a Jew of Color, a gay man, and a Jewish convert. I’m grateful for this experience, and I think if you read the book, you will be too.
Bookstore.org has the book in hardcover, CD and MP3 CD, and buying from them supports local bookstores
Libro.fm has the book as a DRM-Free Audiobook
Written by Serge
Founder of Babka