Black Jewish Memoirs

By Dorot Jewish Division Staff
February 11, 2022

Celebrate Black History Month with life stories by African American Jewish authors. Explore these inspiring reads—by famous entertainers, a food writer, an activist, and more—held in the Library’s circulating and research collections. 

Ace of Spades: A Memoirby David Matthews

In a memoir of identity and ethnicity, the author describes growing up with his Black activist father and his own white skin, the abandonment of his mother, and his life spent caught between two worlds.

Black & Bulletproof: An African American Warrior in the Israeli Army by Marcus Hardie 

In Black and Bulletproof, Marcus Hardie tells his journey from his dangerous childhood in the outskirts of Los Angeles to war-torn Israel. He explains the importance of faith in his life and how it led him to enlist in Israel's elite anti-terrorism unit the Sayeret Golani. 

Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self by Rebecca Walker

Describes the personal journey of a woman born to a Black mother and Jewish father, including her struggle with drugs and complicated friendships, and culminating in her endeavor to find her own identity.

Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Sex, Race, and Hair by Lisa Jones 

This provocative collection of essays and observations on race, sex, identity, and the politics of style speaks to a young generation of Blacks who were raised in an integrated society and are now waiting for America to deliver on its promises of equality.

Chai-Me: My Exploration of Race, Religion, and Spirituality in America by Tamar Manasseh

The writer speaks of the challenges that women meet when attempting to pursue goals once thought to be suitable only for males. She gives us a fresh perspective into the world of not just Black Jews but all Jews and the role religion plays in the politics of our community and our world. She also shares with us the struggle of African Americans to be seen as individuals within a larger group or within multiple groups and not just those dictated by race.

The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl by Marra B. Gad

The debut memoir by Marra B. Gad, a mixed-race Jewish woman who chooses to help her racist, abusive, estranged Great-Aunt Nette after she develops Alzheimer’s, a disease that slowly erases Nette’s prejudices, allowing Marra to develop at last a relationship with the woman who shunned her in youth.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

A young African American man describes growing up in an all-Black Brooklyn housing project, one of twelve children of a white mother and Black father, and discusses his mother's contributions to his life and coming to terms with his confusion over his own identity.

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

A culinary historian uses the story of his own ancestors, both Black and white, to trace the origin of barbecue, soul food, and Southern cuisine, revealing the power of food to bring people together.

Gifts of a Stranger: A Convert's Round-The-World Travels and Spiritual Journeys by Ahuva Gray

Ten years ago Ahuva Gray entered her community in Bayit Vegan—and the Jewish people—as a stranger. Today this African American convert to Judaism is a beloved speaker, respected and admired in Jewish communities throughout the globe, traveling worldwide to inspire her fellow Jews to appreciate their heritage and to tap into the power and meaning of Jewish prayer.

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor by Rain Pryor, written with Cathy Crimmins

The loving yet brutally honest memoir of the daughter of comedy legend Richard Pryor. Rain Pryor was born in the idealistic, free-love 1960s. Her mother was a Jewish go-go dancer who wanted a tribe of rainbow children, and her father was perhaps the most compelling and brilliant comedian of his era.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The comedian and actress presents autobiographical essays that reflect on her disadvantaged youth as a foster child in South Central Los Angeles; her discovery of her talent for comedy; and her struggles with gender, race, and class boundaries in the entertainment industry.

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz

The popular rock musician reflects on his life, from his struggles at school and tensions at home to his three-decade career as a songwriter, producer, and performer.

Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback Into a New Vision of Social Justice by Lani Guinier

The former nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights discusses, for the first time, how President Clinton abandoned his ambitious civil rights agenda when the political right attacked her nomination, and how the civil rights movement has subsequently suffered.

Little White Lie by Lacey Schwartz (DVD)

Tells the story of filmmaker Lacey Schwartz who grew up in a middle-class Jewish family, but at eighteen discovers she is the product of an affair her mother had with an African American man.

Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance by William S. Cohen with Janet Langhart Cohen 

In a world where it was commonplace to see signs that read "whites only" or "Jews not allowed," William Cohen was born in Bangor, Maine, the eldest son of a Jewish father and a Protestant Irish mother. Janet Langhart, an African American, was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana by her single-parent mother, a Southern Baptist. These two people, from different regions, races, and religions, are both witnesses to and targets of the social tensions of the day. Opposites in so many ways—in color, faith, and culture—seemingly a bundle of contradictions, they meet in 1974, become friends, and eventually marry in 1996, in the U.S. Capitol

Lovesong: Becoming a Jew by Julius Lester

The author chronicles his earliest encounters with faith in the figure of his father, a Black Methodist minister, his earliest recollections of the lure of Judaism, the South before the Civil Rights movement, and his conversion to Judaism

My Long Journey Homeby Lily Golden 

The daughter of Oliver Golden, an African American expatriate and agrarian activist of the early 1900's, and Bertha Bialek, youngest daughter of Polish American emigres of Jewish descent, Lily Golden has a special place in history. In this account of her experience, Golden provides a connection between the contemporary and historical relationships of America to Russia. Golden offers a distinctly different and refreshing point of view of the lives and experiences of Russia in her often alluring and romantic, sometimes bitterly painful, yet always vivid and intimate details of her life as a dark-skinned Russian surviving in and struggling against turbulent changes. 

Sammy: An Autobiography by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jane and Burt Boyar

Describes his career, affairs, his marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, his conversion to Judaism, his relationships with the Kennedys and Richard Nixon, and his drug and alcohol problems.

Soul to Soul: A Black Russian Jewish Woman's Search for Her Roots by Yelena Khanga, written with Susan Jacoby

Yelena Khanga tells the compelling story of growing up Black in Russia and journeying through cultures to learn about her forebears and meet relatives she had never known. 

Thoughts From a Unicorn: 100% Black, 100% Jewish, 0% safe: A Not-Autobiography by MaNishtana; foreword by Saul Sudin

African American and Orthodox Jewish blogger MaNishtana’s "not-autobiography” Thoughts from a Unicorn is a witty, straight-talking collection of memoirs, essays, and a few haikus that will take you on a journey of laughs, tears, self-reflection, learning, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

Triple Exposure: Black, Jewish and Red in the 1950s by Dexter Jeffries

The author, the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father, recounts his experiences with racism, leftist parents, a name change, military service, and a career as a professor of American literature.

Uncommon Rhythm: A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee's Journey to Leadership by Aaron P. Dworkin 

Uncommon Rhythm is a harrowing yet moving account of Aaron's personal journey through social isolation and discrimination to found one of the nation's cultural jewels, the Sphinx Organization.

 

 

"Journey to the Promised Land: How I Became an African-American Jew Rather Than A Jewish African American" by Carol Conaway (Nashim, no. 8, Fall 5765/2004) Access with your NYPL library card.

Not in the Library's collections but worth seeking out:

Black Boychik: The Hilarious True Story of a Fat, Mixed-Race Jew Crack Addict Who Somehow Becomes a Comedian. Go Figure by Gary Marshall Sarge

Born Black and Jewish and immediately adopted, Steven Charles Pickman is a high-energy comedian,  a piano virtuoso since the age of 5, and an excellent singer. Despite all of these advantages, he eventually became homeless and addicted. Now clean and sober, he has dedicated his life to helping others suffering from the same.

From Ghetto to Ghetto: An African American Journey to Judaism by Ernest H. Adams

Adams retells his story of growing up in Harlem and being exposed to the Black Power movement during his time as a student at New York University before being invited to attend a classmate's synagogue leading to his eventual conversion to Judaism.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.