An unconventional figure paved Marques Hollie’s path towards Judaism: Madonna.
Hollie, a Jewish activist for racial justice, opera singer and Nebraska native, first heard about Judaism in his late teens when the pop icon’s interest in Kabbalah caught the media’s attention.
“From a young age, I have been drawn to all things spiritual,” said Hollie, a Jew by choice who is set to complete his conversion this year. Still, raised in a Pentecostal church that encouraged “ecstatic” worship left him feeling out of place.
“I remember having an epiphany moment at a church youth service,” he said. “We were singing and dancing and praising Jesus and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t believe any of this.’”
Binge reading “Judaism for Dummies” followed the Kabbalah spark, and Hollie has spent the last decade creating a Judaism that is deeply his own. A proud Queer Jew and Jew of Color, he found a home in the Reform movement, where he is now addressing issues of racial justice and advocating for a more inclusive Judaism.
“From a young age, I have been drawn to all things spiritual.”
“Approach people as people, not as archetypes,” said Hollie, who was selected as one of the 2017 inaugural fellows for the Union for Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation Fellowship, a leadership development program for visionary Reform Jewish leaders across North America. “The key to outreach: you have to go into the work with a relationship in mind first.”
At a rally organized by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice shortly after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., Hollie remembered a moment when all of his identities stood side-by-side.
“We stood in front of the police precinct in Washington Square Park and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for victims of police brutality. So many intersections of myself came alive in that moment.”
Through his work as a URJ Fellow, he began developing the one-man musical “Go Down, Moshe,” an exploration of the shared black-Jewish narrative of slavery and redemption through the Passover liturgy.
And, when he lends his powerful tenor voice to leading synagogue services, his fellow congregants aren’t complaining.
“When I sing, the opera just comes out. I know I stand out, and I’m embracing it.”
New York Fashion Week: His “coolest” singing gig to date: serenading models as they walked down the runway in a Pyer Moss fashion show. It was the “first fashion week show” that featured an all person-of-color modeling cast.