Nissim Black on Jewish Pride
The Black Jewish rapper on the importance of forging a strong Jewish identity.
I am tired of the viral anti-Semitic tweets. I am angry for the college kids who tell me that they are bullied when they stand up for Israel and our people. I am sorry for our young generation who do not feel connected to their Judaism or even worse, afraid to identify as Jews.
It’s time for Jewish pride.
Last week, I gathered an incredible group of teens, college kids and their families on a Hineni Zoom-gotjewishpride worldwide event. Our purpose is to join together and grow an online community of proud young Jews who are empowered to go out into the world and be ambassadors for our nation.
Our first conversation was with Nissim Black, the black Hasidic rapper who has millions of followers all over the world.
As a child Nissim grew up with violence and guns. He struggled mightily to discover faith, overcame dysfunction and converted to Judaism. Nissim has already lived more than most people do. His message touched the listening audience and ignited hearts.
Nissim told us about growing up with spiritual ups and downs. He was Christian, he was Muslim, and he had many questions. Seeking answers, he delved through numerous texts searching for something that would satisfy his soul until he discovered the beauty and truth of Judaism.
Throughout our talk, Nissim shared not only his challenges but the wisdom that helped anchor him to become the person that he is today.
Here are two life lessons I gained through our talk. There was of course so much more.
God loves us even if we mess up
Nissim saw that God loved the Jewish people no matter what. Even when there was rebuke, there was restoration. Nissim wanted to have this connection, too.
“The biggest thing for me was that I saw how everyone kept messing up throughout the prophets and texts. The Jewish people messed up so many times. And God still loved them. I said this is my story. God, I’m also a mess! Will you take me also?”
Elul is an acronym for the words “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” Despite our mistakes and transgressions, God loves us. Sometimes we doubt our connection or think that we’ve traveled too far. We’ve messed up, made bad choices, or acted in ways that have brought us shame. Just as every parent waits for that call from the child who has somehow lost contact, so too, God waits for us. This is the time for us to reconnect. There is no person who has reached the point of no return.
Be like Abraham. Have confidence in your identity.
I asked Nissim, “What would you say to kids today growing up in a world where you go off to a college campus and you’re dealing with racism, anti-Semitism and Israel bashing? You’ve gone through so much. What would you say to keep us strong when you go into territory that is frightening? How do you keep that pride going?”
Nissim first advised us to have friends for support. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel alone. Have someone you’re connected to. Be part of a community.
But then I questioned him about his own journey. “You must have felt alone at so many points in your life.” Nissim left behind all that he knew and started from scratch. He dealt with numerous struggles and yet stood strong. I wanted to learn from his journey.
Nissim explained that Judaism teaches there are times that you must be alone and times that you must be part of a community. We must draw upon the strength of our father, Abraham.
“Abraham was the ‘Ivri’, the one who stood one side while the entire world stood on the other. We need have confidence in our convictions, in our relationship with God, so that nothing fazes us. We need to have the clarity so that we can stand on one side while the rest of the world is on the other side.”
Nissim shared on a personal level. “For me, I got it worse than everybody. Everywhere I go I get a thousand questions. People want to know how Black I am; they want to know how Jewish I am, why I dress this way. I spend time reinforcing my faith. Not just faith that I believe in God. I’m talking about faith in myself. Confidence in yourself and your Judaism and the ability to go to places and be very proud of your Judaism, no matter what.
“For me that means spending quality time in personal prayer and self-introspection, building up myself. It’s like working out. When a person decides to go to a gym and work out, the muscles that you build will help you in other situations outside the gym. You’re going to have strength to hold things, to help another person…so the same thing is in your faith. The more you strengthen yourself and your connection with your Creator, the more you’ll have the confidence and strength of faith when you come out to face things that are trying to separate you or take you out.”
Stand strong. Be proud.