A Very Incomplete List of Notable Black Jews
In honor of Black History Month, JWFNY wants to highlight a few of the many prominent Black Jews. Jews of color, and Black Jews in particular, are historically overlooked in the Jewish community. We want to celebrate their contributions to the worlds of culture, sports, entertainment, and Judaism. This is a very partial list. For a longer, though still incomplete list, click here.
Rabbi Alysa Stanton is the first African American women rabbi. She was ordained in 2009, after studying at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a Reform Jewish seminary. Rabbi Stanton converted to Judaism at age 24, stating she was “born Jewish—just not to a Jewish womb.”
Aubrey Drake Graham, more famously known as Drake, is a Canadian rapper and actor. Born to an Ashkenazi Jewish mother, he attended a Jewish day school as a student. Before beginning his chart-topping rap career, Drake performed on the Canadian teen soap, Degrassi: The Next Generation. He told music magazine Rolling Stone that he is proud to be Jewish.
Lewis Gordon is an influential philosopher, who has written on Africana philosophy, race and racism, and Black existentialism. He founded the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies at Temple University, the only center for researching Blackness and Judaism. Gordon once stated, “In actuality, there is no such thing as pure Jewish blood. Jews are a creolized [mixed-race] people.”
Maya Rudolph, actress and comedian, was born to an Ashkenazi Jewish father and a Black mother. Her great-grandfather was a founding member of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh. Rudolph spent 2000-2007 as a regular cast member of Saturday Night Live, before moving on to appear in dozens of films and TV shows including Bridesmaids and Booksmart. If you watched the 2020 Academy Awards last night, you may have seen her presenting an award with fellow SNL alum Kristen Wiig!
Rebecca Walker is a prominent writer and widely considered to be one of the foremost voices of Third Wave Feminism. Her parents are civil rights attorney Mel Leventhal and Alice Walker, the author of several influential works including The Color Purple. Walker grew up in Riverdale in the Bronx and published a memoir entitled Black, White, and Jewish in 2001. Though she now practices Buddhism, Walker still considers herself culturally Jewish.
Lani Guinier, civil rights theorist and activist, was the first woman of color to receive tenure at Harvard Law School. Guinier grew up in New York City, the daughter of a Jewish civil rights activist and a Black Afro-American studies scholar. She has published numerous works on higher education, race, and democracy.
Jordan Dangerfield is an NFL player, a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played college football at Hofstra University before transferring to Towson University, but put his university career on hold to join the NFL. Six years after leaving Towson, Dangerfield returned to complete his bachelor’s degree. He’s a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Lenny Kravitz (who identifies as Jewish and Christian) is an award-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer. Like his former wife, actress Lisa Bonet, Kravitz is half Black and half Russian Jewish. Their daughter, actress Zoë Kravitz, also identifies as a secular Jew.
Pictured above: Rabbi Alysa Stanton