Orthodox Jewish Rapper Nissim Black on Experiencing Racism and Turning Struggles Into ‘Greatness’
Rapper Nissim Black spoke about facing discrimination for being a Black Orthodox Jew in a new interview with the Jewish News’ Life Magazine.
A native of Seattle, where his parents were part of the hip-hop scene, Black grew up Muslim and then, after joining a youth group, converted to Christianity. By the age of 19 he was interested in music, but after a friend shot a rival rapper who had disrespected Black, he stepped back to reflect on his life, began praying, and ultimately turned to Judaism.
He and his wife converted in 2012 and made aliyah in 2016. They initially lived in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Mea She’arim, but after some of Black’s six children faced racial prejudice, the family moved to Beit Shemesh.
Asked about the racism he has faced, Black told Life Magazine he had a tough time adjusting to people staring at him. “You know, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing in terms of what they may be thinking, that somebody where I came from decided to become Jewish,” he added.
The musician said he believes there would be more understanding between the Jewish and the African-American communities if they were educated and aware of each other’s struggles. Giving himself as an example, he admitted that he knew nothing about the Holocaust until he was age 20 and starting learning about Judaism. He noted that has also been asked about the African American experience by otherwise educated people.
Black also said he has been approached by people in the Jewish community who voice their concerns to him because they believe he will listen without prejudice. He explained, “They tell me, ‘If we go to a rabbi, they’re going to judge us, but with you I’m comfortable, because I know you’re not going to judge me as you are open about where you came from.’”
Black said he’s taking all his life experiences and making them work in his favor.
“Everything that’s ‘wrong’ for me — I’ve had all these problems, I’m a ger (convert), I come from the worst of the worst, my parents sold drugs — I’m taking them, and I’m going to make them my greatness.”