I’m a Trinidadian Jew of Color. Hillel has helped shape my identity.
“Being a Jew of Color always puts me in an interesting place. In my experience, when people think about Jews, they think about white Europeans, but there are a bunch of Ashkenazi Jews like me who aren’t always counted or represented. There may not be many of me in the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t exist. Making that clear is always important.
“I was born in Trinidad and Tobago; I was one when I came to Brooklyn with my mother and older brother. At the time we were Hindu. In America, my mother met my stepdad, an Ashkenazi Jew. As things got more serious, my mom learned more about Judaism and really fell in love with it, and so we went through the process of conversion. Most converts choose to be Jewish; not that I wouldn’t want to be Jewish, but I didn’t get the choice. It’s different when you’re the child of someone who’s also converting because, in many ways, you don’t think of yourself as a convert. You think of yourself as any other Jew. Growing up, the only thing I wanted to do was blend in. Now I understand how it’s okay not to blend in and how to actually embrace not blending in.
“At school, I would say, ‘I’m Jewish,’ and people would say, ‘I don’t believe you.’ I would take the day off for Simchat Torah or something and teachers would say, ‘You’re Jewish?’ or say a snide comment. I’ve heard the joke ‘You’d probably be the last to burn in the gas chamber.’ I get a lot of antisemitism but not as much as I’ve gotten older because I’m wiser. Hillel is a supplemental service to your Jewish education no matter what you major in. I studied history, and my focus was Jewish history. Now I’m better able to articulate what defines a Jew. I’m blessed to have been part of a Hillel that is so vibrant.
“My Springboard Fellow, Isaac Kurtz, put me on the track to where I’m at now, which is why I love Hillel: the opportunities it gives. On the Hillel International Student Cabinet, I was able to do whatever I was interested in. As a Jew of Color, I love sharing that Jews are more than just a monolith, and one way to do that is putting on events, especially ones that students might not always be accustomed to. I’m going to keep doing this work as a Springboard Fellow for Baruch Hillel. I want to bring all the lessons I’ve learned as a student at Hillel and as someone who’s seen the different aspects of what makes Hillel a living movement.” — Rhodondo “Rj” Jeraman, Hunter College
As told to Rudy Malcom, writer in the Hillel International Writers Program.