Afrocentricity, Day of Atonement, Disillusionment, Family, Forgiveness, Hatred, Judah ben Israel, Judaism, Love, Maurice Eugene Washington, Self-Discovery, Ten Lost Tribes, Torah, Yom Kippur
“Yom Kippur ’83 opened me up to understanding why I no longer put my trust in Maurice’s God. I spent part of another September fasting and going to temple to atone for my sins. The temple was on Fifth Avenue and Second Street, just down the street from Washington Elementary School. I’d gone to temple maybe a half-dozen times since the spring of ’81, three of those times to have some rabbi with a ragged beard tell me that Yahweh had forgiven me for my wicked ways.
“And it left me thinking, ‘Well, what about Maurice? His sins are many, and we get treated the same? Does he get forgiveness even if the sin is still in progress?’ It didn’t make sense to me that I needed to starve myself for three days and ask for forgiveness in a situation where a fat, greasy SOB for a stepfather could steal from, cheat on, beat up on, and lie to Mom, get forgiveness, and keep on trying to do what he’d done before Yom Kippur. I said to whoever was a higher power, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ I didn’t get an answer, and nothing anyone at temple said gave me any answers either. I felt empty, as if everything I thought being in this faith was about was a farce, a morbid, diabolical joke that was played on me and my family. And Maurice was the devil himself.”
That’s what I wrote in Boy @ The Window about my last Yom Kippur as a Hebrew-Israelite. That Saturday, September 17, ’83, was the last time I went to temple, the last time I looked at any aspect of our bizarre and goofy mix of Judaism and Afrocentricity with a modicum of seriousness. By the time I left, I wasn’t in a forgiving mood at all. I hated my then stepfather Maurice, and hated the people who claimed that people like Maurice were descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Ancient Israelites.
Please understand. When I said, “I hated Maurice,” it wasn’t a euphemism for me in the fall of ’83. If I had access to a gun, I would’ve blown him away and gladly served time in prison for doing so. I had stomach ulcers in the fall of ’83, because I couldn’t stand the smell, sound or sight of the obese asshole. I all but prayed to Yahweh that he get hit by a Mack truck going eighty miles an hour down East Lincoln Avenue. I wanted him dead, and I wanted to piss on his ashes to boot.
Even at thirteen, though, I also understood that this kind of anger and rage wouldn’t help me in the long run between ninth grade and college. Or with sports. Or dating. Or in finding my own path to God or to anything else worth believing. My bitterness and hatred were so deep, about as deep as any love that I’d experienced up to that point in my life. Whether my Mom, my father Jimme, my Uncle Sam or my version of Wendy, all that love was nearly drowned out by my hate for my stepfather.
Even on my irony scale, this hatred broke all records. Especially on a day of atonement, where we all but sacrificed an unblemished lamb at the temple over four hours that Saturday. But I had other reasons to be bitter on this, the holiest of holy days. No bar mitzvah, no celebrations of Hanukkah, no participation in Hebrew-Israelite life for me beyond their 613 rules and regs for nearly two and a half years. I understood and yet didn’t understand this sense of pride and Blackness that came through in a near Asian religion that allowed for reincarnation and an post-Babylonian Israelite diaspora to Sub-Saharan Africa to boot. That confusion didn’t help me deal with a man who wasn’t one, but was a teenage bully who did everything he could to keep me and Mom in submission to him, with Yahweh and Torah as his excuse.
I knew after I left temple that Yom Kipper afternoon that it would be my last. I didn’t know how, but my days of wearing a kufi or yarmulke were on their way to an end. Still, with hatred and confusion in my heart and mind, I was also lost, more lost than the other ten ancient Israelite tribes undoubtedly were in the aftermath of the Babylonian conquest.