Debate Magazine

The Black Bus Driver With the Yarmulke

Posted on the 20 February 2012 by Starofdavida
The Black Bus Driver With the YarmulkeA while ago, my mom and I gotonto a bus, not giving the African-American driver a second look as we climbedup the steps and paid our fare. On the way out, the driver had to let someonein a wheelchair onto the bus and told me to exit via the back door. When Ilooked at him as he spoke to me, I noticed that above his cornrows, he waswearing a blue velvet yarmulke with silver Jewish stars around the edge.
I stood there staring at theyarmulke. He can’t be Jewish. He’s black. He probably saw the yarmulke at aflea market or something and bought it because he thought it looked cool. Yeah,like that older woman I saw a while ago wearing a yarmulke on the street. No,he can’t be Jewish. He’s a bus driver. And he’s black. But I guess there areJewish black people out there, like that family in my elementary school,Ethiopian Jews and converts and people like that. But he’s a bus driver. Hecan’t be Jewish…can he?
When I got off the bus, I askedmy mom if she noticed. “Of course,” she said. “I think it’s so nice that hewears a yarmulke to work.”
“At first I doubted that he waseven Jewish,” I said, hoping that my mom would make me feel less stupid andracist by agreeing.
“Why wouldn’t he be Jewish? Hewas wearing a yarmulke,” my mom said, accomplishing the opposite of what I hadhoped.
Honestly, I was kind ofembarrassed at myself that I had immediately dismissed the idea of a blackperson being Jewish. There are a lot of Jews of color out there, in both thesecular world (Lisa Bonet, Rashida Jones, Rebecca Walker, and more) and thereligious world (Ahuvah Gray, Aliza Hausman, etc.). Why shouldn’t a black busdriver be Jewish?
I do think that it’s absolutelybeautiful that this bus driver wears a yarmulke while working, though. It is anaccepted practice, even among very religious people, not to wear a yarmulke towork, which makes it even nicer that this bus driver does. I always think it’ssuch a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) when I do seeprofessionals with yarmulke. This bus driver, who no doubt sees thousands ofpeople a day, shows everyone who comes onto his bus who he is: I am a Jew. Iam an African-American. I can be both at the same time. And that’s prettycool.
(I know I’m probably reading intothis way more than it deserves, and this bus driver probably just wears ayarmulke for the sake of keeping his religion rather than for politicalreasons, but still.)
In April 2011, I heard YavilahMcCoy, creator of Ayecha, speak at the Women’s Liberation and Jewish IdentityConference. I think her words are an excellent way to end off: “If Judaism is a religion ofjustice and not just the shtetl, we have to make room for diversity. This is amultiracial community and we have to give voice to that.”

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