How was this night different? Was I being a bad Jew?
Was I a good Jew all through Catholic schools in Japan, resisting, resisting, resisting, only to undo it now by going to a Christian seder in California?
Passover at The Congregation of Zion led by Pastor Dumisani Washington, an unapologetic Zionist, was my choice this year. I would have two seders, at home with friends and family, and Zion’s.
As a Zionist Mizrahi Jew, I long to be in an environment where the Mizrahi exodus into Israel matters. The church seder opened with a clip from The Mizrahi Project, where Joe, an Iraqi Jew tells his story of surviving the Farhud, Baghdad’s pogrom, and eventual expulsion.
When a pastor goes to such lengths to develop and preserve the trajectory of Jews from Arab lands in the service of understanding Israel as a national liberation movement for all Jews, the personal becomes very political.
If it wasn’t for Dumisani, I doubt I would have found myself at a church celebrating the first night of Pesach. Historically the Last Supper doesn’t hold good memories for me. As a stateless Jew at Stella Maris, Easter was the worst time. We studied the painful pictures of Jesus carrying his cross up Calvary. I became the ugly Jew who convinced the Romans to kill Jesus. And to make matters worse, I was the unremorseful Jew who refused to be baptized out of Judiasm.
I am no longer the murdering Jew in a Catholic missionary school, and no one here is trying to convert me or Israel. I am a Mizrahi activist and I love Pastor Dumisani Washington as should every Zionist Jew. His awareness and activism as a Zionist who understands the importance of teaching the Mizrahi experience needs to spread to the larger Jewish community.
He is doing what I have longed for from my rabbis — to incorporate the modern-day Mizrahi exodus out of Arab lands into the Jewish/Israeli narrative. To correct the destructive anti-Zionist rant that Israel is a European settler enterprise.
It is this very Zionist action that no Ashkenazi rabbi that I know of (outside the Orthodox Jewish community) has been willing to undertake. In my mind, this pastor is “Rabbi” Dumisani Washington.
I haven’t been able to get “my” rabbis to host a workshop on Jews from Arab lands/ Arabic Jews let alone speak it from their pulpits. Islam’s negative treatment of Jews is too hot to touch.
Is it “Islamophobic” to show the degrading history of Jews in Arab lands? Too “one sided” to show how our ancient communities and culture have been effectively destroyed by Islamic hatred?
Truth suffers denial.
All over the Middle East and North Africa our countries are now effectively cleansed of their filthy (yes, infidel filth protected/not protected minority) Jews. Can American Jews imagine being experienced as “filthy”?
Out of the 850,000 traumatized Jews from Arab lands 650,000 became penniless refugees in Israel, making Mizrahim the majority in Israel in the 1950’s.
When we begin to connect the dots we see how the problem of Islamic anti-Semitism goes way deeper than 1967 and the ensuing settlements.
Pastor Dumisani Washington teaches in his church what our rabbis outside the Orthodox tent don’t seem able or willing to offer.
Too often I am experienced as “exotic,” as other, when I share my story in Ashkenazi settings. My personal sense of disruption is minor though, compared to the distress I feel when the story of 850,000 “Forgotten Refugees” is repeatedly ignored by synagogues, Jewish schools, and the community. The leaders at JIMENA continue to knock on their doors.
I once had a professor who, when I tried to explain that Israel was not a White colonial settler state, and how my family along with close to a million other Arabic Jews were kicked out or forced to flee their native lands primarily into Israel, he asked if my Egyptian/Iraqi family “were originally from Russia or Poland?” He was serious.
My father and I often wondered why our story wasn’t told — “Why don’t they (the Jewish communities) use us to dismantle the ‘Zionism is Racism’ rubbish?”
This is what Pastor Dumisani Washington is combating.
One more thing — Pastor Dumisani Washington does what he does because it’s the right thing to do. There is no ulterior conversion agenda here. I know there are fears in the Jewish world when Christians unite to support Israel.
He is a man who is not afraid to be real. He speaks his truth personally and politically as a Black man in America, a Christian who honors Christianity’s Hebrew roots, and an unapologetic Zionist. Dayenu!