On November 23, 2008, we held the first International Conference of Black Jews. We invited Jews of Nigerian, North American, Congolese and Israeli origin to compare our different ways of living our Judaism.

With this event, we wanted to illustrate the diversity present in Judaism, and to show that biological criteria are never involved in defining the Jewish people. Our people are mixed; its members’ features show a variety of origins, and all are equally Jewish.

During the conference, I explained that France is behind on the issue of Jewish diversity, and that we must assume, and indeed encourage, such diversity. I argued that we needed one place as an expression of the diversity of prayer, and to study Jewish traditions.

The various speakers aligned themselves with this principle: each issue was examined in depth, based on personal experiences and specific research. The voices of philosophers, clergy, sociologists and psychoanalysts were brought together as they had been during an evening event we held on May 12, 2008.

Living together implies accepting the whole of Jewish identity.

The Fraternité Judéo-Noire pursues this objective holistically by its activities within the French Jewish Community, and by assuming an approach that takes into account related issues experienced by similar communities throughout the world.

Victor Alhadeff, a member of the Jewish community of Temple Samu-El Or Olom in Miami, FL of the United States, also spoke at the conference. Victor continued his Hebrew education, including studying the Hebrew language, Torah, and halachic law under the personal guidance of Rabbi David Schonblum. He pointed out the significance of being a minority, and an invisible Jew, as at the time of Maimonides.

During Maurice Dorès presentation, Maurice traced ancient Jewish history in Africa, discussed present day Jewish communities and Judaizing groups, and the specificities of Black Jewish identity. Traces in Africa are both numerous and ancient as illustrated by several historians. In the first century, the Jewish historian, Philo of Alexandria wrote that at his time, his coreligionists lived as far south as the borders of Ethiopia.

Moïse Rahmani told us of his fascinating community in the Congo, that began in the 20th century, and declined as the century came to a close. Congolese Jews, like their brothers in the rest of the Diaspora, were dispersed over several continents, from Belgium to South Africa and from the United States to Australia. Against their will, they were forced to leave the Congo, sometimes to save their lives, sometimes to ensure a less threatened existence for their families, sometimes simply to live.

You can read more about the conference in an earlier JVoices interview here.