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February 02, 2012 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-02-02

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Karen Knox and granddaughters

Empress Knox and Duchess Kalena

Knox at her converson celebration

One City, Many Voices: Stories of Jews Living in Detroit.

Jews Of
Different Hues

eople have forgotten that
there was a lot of mixing of
blood in our American history.
I can't explain how my great-
grandparents first met in 1908, but my
great-grandmother, Rossi Diamond, the
first child from her Russian Jewish family
born in the United States, married my
great-grandfather Bennie Pullen, of African
descent. The children from that union were
both mulatto and of dark complexion, and
during the time of their marriage my great-
grandmother may have said she was a
person of color to avoid problems.
My mother, the granddaughter of Rossi
Diamond, was raised as a Catholic. Yet
it was her mother who first informed
me of my Jewish roots. Every year, she
would send me a birthday card with the
word "Shalom" written inside. It took
me until I was an adult to grasp what my
grandmother had been suggesting to me
throughout my childhood.
Being a Jew of color, it is often difficult
for people to understand my identity.


Most people these days think of Jews as
something was. I couldn't understand why
lighter-skinned. They forget that Jews have
I didn't fit into my environment.
mixed with other cultures and races, and
Eventually, I moved to California where
they forget that not all Jews are of Eastern
my son, Michael, and I began to read the
European descent.
Old Testament. It was reading the Old
When a light-skinned person
Testament that opened my eyes.
identifies as a Jew, they are
Michael and I began to pray to
assumed to belong, while
the God of Abraham, Isaac and
my skin color becomes the
point of focus when I enter
In 2009, my son, my
a synagogue or other Jewish
grandchildren and I returned
space. Congregants often stand
to Detroit for the summer. I
back and avoid approaching me,
searched high and low for
mostly because of their fear of
a place to worship and was
not knowing how to ask all the
ultimately connected to Adat
questions running through their
Synagogue in Farmington
minds. History, however, gently
Hills through a rabbi I'd met on
reminds us that Jews come in
the West Coast. One Saturday
many different shades.
morning, my grandchildren and
My desire to connect to my
I caught two buses and walked
Jewish heritage began when I
one mile to attend Adat Shalom's
was in my early 20s. I had long
Shabbat service, only to get there
felt uncomfortable in church settings and
as the service was ending.
had searched many religions looking for
I was soon approached by Jerry Cook, who
something without knowing what that
welcomed me to Adat Shalom and asked

where I was coming from. I told him about
our morning journey, and he was moved
by our determination to get to services. He
offered us a ride back to Detroit and included
a tour of the city's old synagogues. He also
informed me that there was a synagogue
Downtown, much closer to my home, but
reminded me that I was also more than
welcome at Adat Shalom.
As luck would have it, though I still felt
pulled back to Adat Shalom, my family
overslept the next Saturday and we
decided to attend services at the Isaac
Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS).
There were only a few people there, not
even enough to make a minyan. As I was
leaving the synagogue, I informed the vice-
president, DaVid Powell, that we would be
going back to Adat Shalom. His reply, with
a knowing smile, was, "Sure, but here we
have the best Kiddush lunch."
Needless to say, in spite of my efforts,
the Downtown Synagogue won my heart
and the hearts of my children in the end.
Though I still wanted to attend Adat
Shalom for my children to learn Hebrew,
they whined about wanting to return
to IADS. They loved the warmth of the
community and the delicious Kiddush.
I ultimately met Rabbi Dorit Edut, who
was offering Jewish classes out of the
synagogue, and she eagerly agreed to
instruct my children in Hebrew and help
me finish my conversion.
Never before had I felt grounded in a
communal identity. Coming to Judaism,
I have felt like I am finally home; I have
a sense of who I am and of my ability to
help other people, a strength I did not have
before. I look at my neighborhood and want
to help move it toward my vision of tikkun
olam (repair the world). I want to bring the
Jewish and African American communities
together, and I want to share my experience
of finding my Jewish self with others.
Most of all, I want people to know, feel
and believe that it is OK to be different
— that marching to the beat of your own
drum is a very beautiful thing. ❑

Karen Knox was raised in Detroit but spent

a great deal of time in Royal Oak. She has a

bachelor's degree in performing arts from

Marygrove College and lived in L.A. in pursuit

of her acting career for 12 years until illness

brought her back to Detroit. She started

a neighborhood block club in 2009 and is

deeply committed to tikkun olam.





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February 2 • 2012


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