As a black Orthodox Jew, Chava Shervington is constantly being noticed. And she finds it exhausting.
There was the time at a Reform synagogue when two women stared at her for the entire service. The time someone at a grocery store explained what gefilte fish was. The offers to help her read the prayer book and the stares from kids at kosher restaurants.
But most exhausting of all is when people ask about her “path to Judaism.”
“People are curious, I get it,” she said, but “Jews of color opt out of the Jewish community at far greater rates … and part of that is because their identities and their authenticity as Jews are always being questioned.”
As president of the Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN) Shervington is working to change that.
“A big part of the work we’re doing is to educate people to the fact that Jews of color exist … that there are a bunch of ways that people who are African American like me end up being Jewish and that’s valid, and it’s normal,” she said.
The Baton Rouge, La., native and former corporate lawyer now lives in Crown Heights with her husband and 1-year-old daughter and works in the nonprofit world.
Formerly Reform, Shervington became observant in law school, where she discovered JMN. She joined its board in 2011 and became its president a year later.
Under Shervington, JMN revamped its national conference, hired its first staff member, created a handbook on welcoming Jews of color, cultivated a network of bloggers for its overhauled website and recruited more JMN members to leadership roles.
“Chava has that quality that makes you want to work harder,” said Deborah Vishnevsky, a public health graduate student and longtime JMN volunteer. “She is compelling. … The work is really personal for her.”
The work is personal, but she’s happy to discuss it, along with the highs and lows of life as a black Orthodox Jew. But please, don’t ask her how she became one.
“People say that by telling my narrative I’m letting people know that I exist,” she said. “I agree … but I shouldn’t have to put myself on display in order to make people understand that the Jewish community is diverse.”
Stealth tourist: While honeymooning in China, Shervington and her husband snuck into two ancient mosques: the 10th-century Niuijie Mosque in Beijing and the eighth-century Great Mosque of Xian.