Hip hop artist Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan is more committed than ever to his Judaism. “Just because I came out doesn’t mean that I’ll start eating bread on Pesach or won’t observe the holidays,” Jordan explained passionately. “What does one have to do with the other?”
We were speaking over the phone a few days after he came out publicly in an interview with OUT Magazine that set off a wave of press coverage, dwarfing even the news that Britney Spears would be the new judge on X-Factor.
Jordan, whose music fuses Biblical text with hip-hop beats, had been on my radar since I first began to explore Judaism three years ago. I was intrigued by him—he was a black man, he was an Orthodox Hasid, and he was a convert to Judaism. I wasn’t really interested in his swagger and I didn’t care that he was a rapper. He was a black Orthodox Jew.
And then last week, Jordan revealed that he, like me, was black, gay, and Jewish.
I nervously paced around my apartment before our phone interview, my mind full of questions I wanted to ask him. When I heard his voice, deep with a distinct Baltimore accent, and we started talking, he stopped being Y-Love and was simply Yitz.
I asked him what the first few days out of the closet had been like. “It’s been mind-blowing, insane, absolutely crazy,” he told me. “While they were doing the interview I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack, and when the interview was over I felt a huge sigh of relief. It didn’t dawn on me that the interview was just the beginning; it was when it went live that things really started to happen.”
Coming out “pissed a lot of people off,” he said. “But my supporters squashed any nonsense that showed up on my Facebook page.” While the response from the hip-hop community has been universally positive, Jordan has received criticism for coming out so publicly. “It’s been pretty divided,” he explained. “A lot of people in the Orthodox community have come out of the woodwork in support of me, and just as many have come out against me. I watched my Facebook friends plummet. It was like watching the ticker at NASDAQ. I tweeted it and in an instant the friend requests I got doubled the number of friends I lost.”
As big of an announcement as this may have seemed to some, it was old news to his friends and family. “In my personal circle I’ve been out since about 2009,” he explained. “If you know me as Yitz then I was out to you, if you knew me as Y-Love I wasn’t out.” He had already dealt with much of the personal fallout, particularly within the Orthodox world, starting in 2005. “I lost all of the friends that I was going to lose around that time,” he told me.
Jordan embraced Judaism around the same time that he went into the closet. He felt compelled to obscure that part of his identity in order to fully commit to Jewish observance. With that repression came long bouts of depression and severe anxiety—despite even the most progressively-oriented movements’ views on the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews, Jordan emphasizes that we still have a long way to go. “Even the most liberal Jews are twenty years behind when it comes to gay and lesbian Jews”
“To be a Jew of Color is, in itself, a huge thing,” Jordan said. ”A large majority of people are completely ignorant and equate Jewishness with whiteness in ways that you would never see outside of the Jewish world. That mentality, he explained, does a huge disservice to all Jews who are not white, especially since people can be shockingly ignorant of anything other than what they’ve experienced.
Jordan recalled being a part of The Jewish Channel’s “Jews of Color” roundtable program. The program director wondered aloud if there should be an LGBTQ Jew present, then quickly added that it would be impossible to find a Jew who was that minoritied.
“When he said that, I froze,” Jordan said. “I was on the panel, and I am a Jew of Color who is gay. Your average person thinks that we’re a treasure on some sort of social-anthropological scavenger hunt. Like we’re an oddity. Not only do we exist, but also there are a lot of other Jews of Color who are gay. Since the dawn of humanity there have been gay people and there have always been Jews of Color, so we’ve been in existence forever.”
In Jordan’s ideal Jewish community, “Everyone would respect each other’s traditions, beliefs, and orientations. Only when we recognize that people deserve to exist on their own terms will we get there.” At his core, Jordan is a proud Jewish man who wants to have a traditional Jewish home and family. “Like Modern Family,” he said half joking, “but Jewish.”
For now, however, he is enjoying being able to show his true self to the world.
“Now is the first time that I’m accepting myself with all of my imperfections. I learned a long time ago that you can’t dress the part to make other people happy. This is not an image, this is the real me. It’s not about my facade. It is about me working toward my Yiddishkeit. I’ve walked the walk for many years. Now, I’m glad to be able to talk the talk.”
(photo credit: Facebook)