Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Post Long Overdue: Yosef Robinson

I'm taking a break from studying to put up this post that I've been meaning to write, but haven't out of procrastination that I should do more informal research pre-blog posting.

I was asked, I don't remember if it was by Email or in the comments, to write about this man. I was actually thinking about doing so. However, I just want to point out that I wonder if I was expected to comment on this convert who died in an untimely manner purely because I'm a convert or because most of the other prominent Jewish bloggers wrote about it (not including the 20-somethings who mostly write about shidduchim, there's so many of those).

Anyhow, so I think most people know that a black male convert around my age was working in a liquor store in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The store got held up and the robber demanded Jewelry from Yosef's girlfriend-almost fiancee who had JUST gotten there. Yosef got in the middle and the robber took it out on him instead, meanwhile the girl was in the store's back room. That is the basic story.

Unfortunately, there was another story from this. That story is the story of many Jews who had to make comments about his conversion and such. After all, a convert was in the spotlight. Lacking the decency and middos to keep their mouth shut, they questioned the yiddishkeit of a corpse. As usual, white Jews were hating a black. They were hating a convert. They were hating a man who possessed both qualities. Most distastefully, Jews, even perhaps other Jews of color, were putting in their two cents. So, am I just another Jew putting in my two cents? Perhaps, I am. I suppose that's what a blog is, no?

I did not know this man, personally, which is why I was hesitant to blog about it. However, that's exactly what I want to talk about. How is it that people who didn't know him or inside information about the levaya could be going around running their mouthes? What am I talking about? Well, for example, a person might have posted levaya information on their Facebook status and another would come in and state that, "no Jew should go to this man's funeral." I saw articles online that mention that he was being buried next to his grandmother in Jamaica. The comments flourished that he was obviously an insincere convert and that he was obviously not being buried Jewish.

As a convert myself, I've felt the hatred towards us and I know how it can get out of hand. My inquisitive and analytical mind was thinking, "considering how they hate us, if he wasn't being buried Jewish, they would have flat out stated that instead of leading people towards that conclusion WITHOUT stating it. If he lost his connection, why was he complaining about a ex-wife raising a daughter not-so-religious? Finally, I can't see Brooklyn Jews giving business to a store that had a defunct Jewish convert working there. The store would have gone under. Therefore, I want to see if these accusations are warranted. They were not.

So, I asked a friend who knew him what the story was. She told me that he was indeed buried next to his non-Jewish grandmother. HOWEVER, she also said that some rabbi from Brooklyn went to Jamaica to bless or pray over or something the plot of land to make it all kosher to bury him there. I have more news for those of you who are still skeptics. Over yontiff, I stayed in Brooklyn and while I was there I was speaking with someone and the conversation actually changed to the Yosef Robinson topic. I didn't have anything to do with that topic change. Unbeknowst to this woman, I was plotting this post. She stated, unprobed, all of that which my other friend had told me. She knows the rabbi who "Jewish-ized" the plot of land, personally. Apparently, Yosef's family said they have no problem with a Jewish burial, but they really wanted him buried next to grandma. The rabbi flew down there and made it happen.

Now, seriously? To the those Jews that did, speaking lashon hara about a dead person? Can you stoop much lower than that? Incidentally, I tried to comment on one of these articles that speaking lashon hara of the dead is outrageous. Somehow, it didn't make it up. The media is out to mold your mind. As usual, the zombies followed.


  1. As usual, I am confused and concerned by your comments on this topic. Of the continued coverage of this topic that I read in various Jewish media sources, I never saw a single negative piece of news. Everyone who commented noted his devotion to Judaism and understood that it was his family, and not himself, that wanted him to be buried in Jamaica. Furthermore, there were calls in Boro Park and Flatbush that led a large group of people to attend the levaya in Brooklyn. I saw no one from my community who was at all opposed to attending the levaya of such a person. In addition, if you look at the pictures of the burial in Jamaica, you will see that the Chasidim (yes, mostly Chasidim, regardless of your boiling hatred for us) and others went to Jamaica, created a separate beis chaim (as small as it might be) next to his grandmother, and buried him there.

    To reference the supposed "usual" hatred of converts, I have never seen it at all. I myself have never been exposed to any negative comments, assumptions, or accusations against those who convert to Judaism. I cannot understand why I have never experienced something that is supposedly so common and overt.

  2. If the media wasnt trying to lead people, why did they state he was buried next to non-Jew without explaining this bais chaim thing?

    I dont know why you don't hear this stuff. If you said a religious friend is dating a convert at a table of chasidim I wonder if you might hear it. why not try it over Shabbos?

  3. As far as the information I read, it was stated that his family wanted him to be buried near his grandmother, but it seemed clear to me that the community would not let it happen in such a simple way. Very soon afterward, the compromise was explained, and everyone knew what was going on. I never got a sense that anyone was being led to believe anything.

    Interesting that you should suggest that I explain to Chasidim that a frum friend is dating a person who converted to Judaism. As it happens, while I might be a very normal, mainstream Chasidish person in Boro Park, I myself grew up non-Jewish until the age of 15. At that point, I myself decided to convert to Judaism. Modern Orthodox, Litvish, and Chasidish rabbonim were all involved in my conversion, and I was taken in by two Chasidish families from Boro Park. These families, both being of the same Chasidus, assisted me in becoming completely acculturated to Boro Park and the Chasidish world. I became very close to countless families, many in this particular Chasidus, and others in the larger Boro Park, Monsey, and Kiryas Yoel communities. When I was 18, the Chasidish families, those that took me into their homes as well as other acquaintances, completely supported me attending college and getting a degree, which I did. After completing this (which they supported me in both monitarily and emotionally), they sent me to Israel to learn in yeshiva for a year. Now, after being back for two years from Israel, I live on my own, but still obviously have great support from my adoptive family, as well as those that I have met over the years. Each day of the week I have a specific family that hosts me for dinner. In addition to this, I have families that do my laundry and send their maid to clean my apartment. During the summer, I go with these families to the country and stay in their bungalows, during the week as well as for Shabbos. Whenever my parents visit, these families always host them in their homes, and make sure to create very nice Shabbos meals for them.

    After coming back from Israel, I began to involve myself in a different Chasidus that I felt worked better for me and emphasized things that I was looking for. I have become very involved in it, and am very close to the rebbe, eating by him almost every Shabbos and for every yuntif. Recently, I became engaged to someone who is, opposite of myself, frum-from-birth, and Chasidish-from-birth. Her family is very involved in a particular Chasidus headed in Israel, and as her family lives in England, they are also very involved there in kashrus. No one at all thinks that the shidduch is strange or bad. My rebbe paid for the tickets for all of my family to go to England for the L'Chaim and Tenoyim, has paid more than $10,000 for the jewelry and other gifts for my kallah and her family, is in the process of paying for my furniture, remodeling my apartment, and is paying the $35,000+ for my chasunah.

    You see, I don't need to mention the scenario you suggested I mention, as I happen to be that very scenario. I have never faced a single negative comment or perception since I began this life almost 10 years ago. I have seen nothing but love, and have received more support than I could ever imagine or expect.

  4. I don't know Bee Zee, somehow all of that, especially together, reeks of bogus. Hey, maybe you should invite me to your wedding... you don't mind if I check the kesuba and your conversion papers that an orthodx beis din converted you at age 15, right? It shouldn't be a problem. At your wedding, I'll be meeting all these fine folks who spent $35k on someone they aren't related to.

  5. Make sure to send me your address and I will gladly send you an invitation. I hope that you are able to attend. I will be glad to show you that the Chasidish community is not at all what you expect, and that issues of conversion and such do not present problems. In fact, I will send you a link to pictures from my L'Chaim and Tenoyim over Facebook.

  6. Ok, until now, I had no idea that you were one of my FB friends (rare few) that I've never met in person. They really dipped you when you were 15 years old?

    Gut Shabbos!

  7. Hey, were you reading my blog when I friended you, or you checked it out after seeing on my page/FB status?

  8. Very interesting..... I really had not heard any disparaging comments about Mr. Robinson (z"l) at all. What I read online about his life stated that he was a truly uncommon person who'd attracted admiration from folks around him.

    >"Well, for example, a person might have posted levaya information on their Facebook status and another would come in and state that, "no Jew should go to this man's funeral.""

    Wow....there's really nothing to say in response to something so despicable -- but I don't give any moral weight to the opinions of ignoramuses or moral and intellectual cretins, irrespective of their uber-dark hat.

    >"I saw articles online that mention that he was being buried next to his grandmother in Jamaica. The comments flourished that he was obviously an insincere convert and that he was obviously not being buried Jewish."

    Ditto from above -- such comments are beneath contempt and IMO only reveal the degraded minds and lowly intellects of their owners.

    >"As usual, white Jews were hating a black. They were hating a convert. They were hating a man who possessed both qualities."

    Well.... xenophobia does remain. But I'd be cautious about assuming that such attitudes reflected the majority of frum Jews who heard of Yosef's murder. The internet has a way of eliciting obnoxious comments from people who are too pathetic to announce them in real life.

    >"I don't know Bee Zee, somehow all of that, especially together, reeks of bogus. Hey, maybe you should invite me to your wedding... "

    I'm not acquainted with BeeZee (I don't think) and so can't vouch for any specifics. But.... I actually wouldn't be so shocked to hear a story like his. There are parts of the chassidish world that excel in chesed and warmth and welcoming people. I think they're a little quieter and more in the background than mainstream frum life even in NYC....but they're there.

    There are other parts of that lifestyle that don't rock my world.... but the chesed element can be very real.

    Anyway, have a very good Shabbos!

  9. No, I started reading your blog after I was friends with you on Facebook, though I guess it happened at about the same time. Though my comments might often suggest otherwise, I really do enjoy reading it. I just find it incredibly angering and frustrating that you have become surrounded by such ignorant, un-Jewish people who cannot do things appropriately. I don't want you to think that this is what the Jewish community is really like, and the only option you have. There are people out there that would love to help you and make sure things turn out right in your life.

  10. Oh, and I should have added that I partially agree with BeeZee....many would love to help you. However, no one has the ability to "make sure things turn out right" least I don't.

    Judaism is not a magic pill, it's a way of life. And life throws curves, sometimes many of them.


  11. see the problem is the people not life. What excuse do you make for people who invite me over and then are nasty to me? After 2 years, I can count on one hand the number of people who've been reasonbly nice to me. The Jewish community has been so horrible and I am surprised that they would spend that kind of money on someone who's not a blood relative.

  12. I am speaking from experience and I suspect that maybe some female converts, especially single and a bit "older" by frum standards have more difficult time fitting in than male counterparts. However, some ffb single women I know, especially those that don't have family nearby, can feel left out in Orthodoxy too. I've heard this not just from older single women, but divorced women and even a widowed rebbetzin--all feel out of place. I think in my case, personality has a lot to do with it. I am very shy person and my shy ffb friends have similar challenges too. I won't proactively ask for meal invites like other people are more comfortable doing. I do count every positive experience as a blessing and try to concentrate on those over the negatives.

    Even years after conversion I feel many perceive me as still new-ish and there's still a lot of suspicion from a few of the long time folks in the area. I'm thinking that for me and my area at least, part of it is that we, as women don't go to minyan daily so people (including the rav, board members and other folks) see us much less. Even shabbat, women's attendance can be varied as well. Of course the catch-22 is that women aren't required to show up, so how are we suppose to get established or known when we are seen so much less often? I do make a point of going to shuirs, special events, etc. even if they aren't my cup of tea so that I do feel and hopefully am perceived as a regular member of the community.

    I have no idea if men form good friendships as a result of seeing each other so often at minyan and shuirium, but definitely they are not strangers after so many repeated contacts. Probably it's way easier for men to get meal invites that way. On a tangent, I've also noticed male conversion candidates often are "processed" much faster maybe because they count for minyan. I try to not to think too much about these issues and focus on positives, but I admit sometimes it is hard.

  13. You may feel too shy to ask for a meal, but I do not have that problem. I don't ask for meals because people are nasty to me if I do. To them, I expect some sort of handout, but if I invite they won't come. I know of female converts who were accepted right away. One girl laughed at me and said she wasn't sincere, but she's having the time of her life converting and here am I, 100% getting crapped on over and over again. I'm tired of the comments of what are people supposed to do? Why is it that they have no problem inviting others and not me? I have no problem making friends outside the Orthodox community, so I don't understand. When I was an Xtian, families had me over for meals all the time. It's supposed to be something that Jews do. It's not, though.