When asked what drew her to Judaism, Tikvah Womack ruminates.
Was it when she attended synagogue with a friend when she was 6 years old? Or her Jewish neighbor when she was 4? Or was it when she and her husband had a discussion about religion? Or all of these things together?
Womack, 35, didn’t grow up Jewish. Now, she is raising a Jewish family, belongs to Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Synagogue and works as a mental health therapist at Jewish Community Services. She is also involved in different Jews of color projects, such as CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc.’s Creating a Diverse Mosaic community conversations, which brings women of color and Orthodox women together for conversations. She also has done diversity events through her synagogue and helped start the Park Heights Women’s Solidarity Movement.
Why did you decide to become Orthodox?
It was a decision that my husband and I came at together based on our view of how we thought that Judaism should be represented in our lives and what grounded us and our idea of Judaism and ritual and community and belonging and family. … I don’t want to speak for my husband, but there was a huge part, at least for me, [that was] acknowledging and being very transparent that we are Jews of color, we’re Black Jews, and knowing that we would have children, we wanted our children to be accepted as Jewish anywhere and everywhere.
What is the value of the kinds of conversations the CHAI Mosaic group has?
The value of those conversations is being in relationship with your neighbors. Having young children, I understand, there’s an African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Though the Jewish community is very much a part of my village in raising my children, especially in forming and shaping their values and ideals and their culture, so are my neighbors — which, I love my neighbors.
How did the Park Heights Solidarity group come about?
The Park Heights Solidarity Group came about after we had come together and formed our Mosaic group of women and George Floyd occurred. When George Floyd’s life was taken, a woman, a white, Jewish woman, stepped up and said, “We have this group of Orthodox Jewish women that was pretty diverse actually, and this group of Black women, and I feel like we have a platform to be able to do something locally in our community.” She expressed this sense of helplessness, of not being able to do anything during this time and realized she had this chevra, so to speak, being able to leverage and make a statement for the larger community, to learn from.
We got together and talked about what that would look like, what we needed to do to come together as a group and make this stance that all life is important, and in this moment, Black lives are at risk and that we as women tend to be the backbone and foundation of our community, and if we stand together, we can unify community and protect those lives that are at risk.
What does your Jewish identity mean to you?
My Jewish identity is a part of me, just as much as all of my identities are. It’s something that is ever evolving and yet constant at the same time. … So much of it is about the doing but also about the being because of the lifestyle in which I live and my family lives. It impacts my everyday choices, and so there’s sometimes more engagement in that part of my identity, at least when I’m paying attention to it and present to it. … It means that I have a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in how I show up in the world.
What does your Black identity mean to you, and does it intersect with your Jewish identity?
My Black identity has pretty deep roots with my family. It’s more about my family’s traditions and my family’s beliefs and rituals and how that connects to an entire people. … My Black identity and my Jewish identity inform each other actually. There’s constant intersection. Ironically enough, this is one of the things that I used to say, and I still do, when people ask me about my Jewish identity in relationship to my Black identity.