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Who we are ?

Our association, FJN, is very proud to be part of the work representing and promoting African Jewish culture. We represent a network of African Jewish communities accross the world, and we are focusing on integrating an inter-faith and multi-cultural conversation on the level of all African countries (You can read about it on the FJN website under « the 10 commandments of Eldership, by Pr Ephraim Isaac). Our wish is that a community could see their cultural and religious rights respected, and could be part of the success of their own country at all levels. The same is true from our point of view, for all African Jewish communities, each one within their contexts.We would be happy to start a relationship of friendship with you and all , and see together how we can help and encourage each other.If you want , we could speak about publishing extracts of your very informative study on our community on our website.

Chairman: Gershon Nduwa

Secretary : Laurence Mordekhai Thomas

Treasurer : Christine Yaltonsky

Informations :
- The Invisibility of Black Jews of Africa

Should there not come a time when we, Jewish people, should go beyond our own community cleavages and unite more closely?

For the Organization of Black Jews, that moment has come. In the jewish Community, the issue of the Black Jewish minority is a reality that can no longer be shoved aside. The debate concerning the “invisibility” of Black Jews lies at the heart of our organization. The expression “Invisible Jewish minority” permits us to confront these words, but also to comprehend the holistic community dimension. Nonetheless, a dual conceptual clarification is necessary for the notions of “Black Jewish minority” and “invisibility”; although they are commonly used, their significance is not automatic.

By “Black Jewish minority”, we mean all those Jews of a similar skin color, generally counted as less than 5% of the Jews

This population nonetheless comprises a virtual group, without as yet any symbolic structure that would make it

recognizable, by stable signs that might identify the contents of a common ethos imposed on each.

The posited “invisibility” of this Black Jewish population can be linked to a double phenomenon: on the one hand,

its lack of symbolic recognition by the Jewish community as a whole; on the other hand, the vulnerability of its members towards a process of assigned undervalued roles, made possible by mechanisms of relegation and/or of social exclusion.

In the first instance, this population is primarily perceived as a foreign body in the Jewish community, still largely

seen under the minimizing prism of the digestive tube, despite the very long-lasting presence of most of its members. The tyranny of the phenotype takes precedence over the community: the skin color of a Jew often makes him a stranger. The status does not prevent color prejudices that seem to spare no aspect of social life. In the second instance, it is evidenced by the striking absence of Black Jews among the leaders of the community, as well as by their concentration in the least valued sectors of activity. Recycling in the present those socia

l standards and representations inherited from the Republican model, has here, as its corollary, a tendency to the

“monopolization” of social relationships.

How to identify this postulated “invisibility”? Among other dimensions, and as an indication, we propose to look successively at various aspects of this very selective visibility of the Black Jewish population in France. For many of these, the avenues evoked below have not yet been studied systematically, with the renewed resources of commonly used protocols.

This lack is not accidental: it is indeed part of the invisibility of the population concerned. In this framework,

we propose to examine some forms of invisibility that mutually strengthen each other.

“Historic” invisibility. In our present, we find the persistence of a discriminatory imagination, all the more traumatic in

that it is suppressed; it targets Black Jews in particular. And this present is not without relationship to our difficulty

in confronting a common past, e.g., Sephardim and Ashkenazim where, while spreading the message of the Torah, this message is betrayed, by exclusion. By historic invisibility, we mean therefore that long indifference combined with an ignorance that diverted the attention of community leaders, at times with the passive complicity of those who sought to definitively eliminate the identity of a part of the Jewish people.

“Scientific” invisibility. This is partly subject to the traditional standards of community scientific research.

Like other population types, the Black Jewish population was not the object of in depth studies, able to define its

demographic outlines, its socio-professional composition, its spatial distribution, et al. There is no specific scientific

handling of that segment of the minority Jewish population. We note, however, some statistical, sociological studies;

they do not give a clear idea of the reality. This has its consequences, not only for that population’s knowledge of itself,

but also for a better evaluation of its global situation by the community.

“Economic” invisibility: specializing and profiling. We should here suggest several avenues of research as yet

unavailable.

First, this undoubtedly offers an enlightening area for analysis. Second, it certainly constitutes a particularly useful

field for elucidating better knowledge that, to this day, has been the object of no academic research.

This triple ascertainment points out the marginal place of the Black Jewish population. It is also the result of the indiffer

ence of the French Jewish community.

Understand and explain…before acting to denounce.

To understand is not to justify but rather to no longer simplify a never univocal set of causes, in the name of a final

moral rejection. Seen thus, the action of our organization cannot escape the requirements of a Torah ethic for understanding that goes beyond any mechanical application of epistemological rules. Without sliding into fatalism, commitment to collective action will always benefit by being based on as rigorous a diagnosis as possible. Discriminatory attitudes, i.e., predispositions – literally prejudices or judgments not founded on experience – that govern anti-Semitic and discriminatory behavior do not affect Black Jews alone. It is all the more important then for those who are victims not to let themselves, in turn, be shut in.

Explanatory hypotheses. Insofar as one can interpret the permanence of exclusion mechanisms, despite the limited number of available studies, it is important to be able to distinguish between those mechanisms of social selection that are independent of the phenotype variable from mechanisms-for-shunting-aside that are directly linked to it; the latter are seen by their flagrant contradiction with the ethical ideals claimed by the Jewish community.

In this perspective and while awaiting their further study, several hypotheses can be usefully linked. First, community

leaders are placed in a difficult situation by an unprecedented “community split” which they attempt to remedy by

taking refuge in an incantatory universalistic and egalitarian rhetoric. Officially, color is invisible. Only colorless Jews are legitimate. This utopia seems illusory to those Jews of color who are obliged to reassert their community belonging daily, because they do not share the same phenotype as their compatriots of European origin. Rarely mentioned, this situation is in flagrant contradiction with the ideals of the Torah. The Talmud says, “Do not teach what they have taught you, but learn what you are”. We are Jewish; this is our life and nothing else, a life at times lived with difficulty. We are

attached to Israel because this land is ours, and we know that to defend it is a high-priority stake.

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