By Kevin Deutsch
When Aliza Hausman told her mother she wanted to be Jewish, the Dominican-born Catholic reared her arm back into a pitcher’s wind-up, slugged her daughter hard as she could, and, for a time, destroyed any hopes a 13-year-old Aliza had of changing religions.
“It didn’t go over very well,” said Ms. Hausman, now a 29-year-old Orthodox Jew living in Riverdale. “Obviously, that didn’t stop me.”
First seriously drawn to Judaism following her encounter with a holocaust survivor in junior high school, Ms. Hausman finally converted in 2006, immersing herself in the ritual-heavy lifestyle of Orthodox Judaism. And rather than relegate her Dominican heritage to her past, she fused it with her developing Jewish identity, shattering stereotypes along the way.
She describes herself as an “emissary between the land of rice and beans and the land of cholent and kugel.” And whether she’s serving maduros (sautéed sweet plantains) at her Sabbath table, sharing personal tales of anti-Semitism and child abuse, or speaking bluntly about prejudice in both of her communities, Ms. Hausman’s stories are unique and riveting. They’re also online for all to see.
Memoirs of a Jewminicana, Ms. Hausman’s blog, offers an outlet for the writer and speaker to chronicle her multicultural lifestyle and share thoughts on Judaism, race, culture and anything else that sparks her interest.
On any given day, she might riff on criteria for conversion in Israel, her quest for tasty kosher Latin food, black Jews, intermarriage, child abuse, or what it means to “look” Jewish or Dominican.
Her funny, insightful, often moving writing has attracted a loyal flock of international readers far beyond Riverdale. Online in one form or another since 2005, the blog began as a way for Ms. Hausman to chronicle her conversion process. As she delved deeper into New York City’s Orthodox community, her subject matter grew more expansive. She wrote about naiveté among Dominicans and Jews, chronicled her struggle to juggle cultures, and offered her take on current events.
“Dominicans say what they mean, and that usually gets me in a lot of trouble,” said Ms. Hausman, who, along with her rabbinical-student husband, attends services at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
Her path from Catholicism in the mostly Dominican section of Washington Heights to Judaism in the tree-lined streets of Riverdale has offered inspiration to a number of readers. Just 17 when she ran away from her mother, who she said was abusive and suffered from untreated mental illness, Ms. Hausman returned home at age 21 and helped her two younger sisters run away, too. She fought her mother in a custody battle for her youngest sister, and eventually won.
“I was always the mother figure. I was always worrying about money and how we were going to get fed,” said Ms. Hausman. “It was completely and utterly terrifying.”
Later, following her conversion, friends began to chastise her for not hanging out with them on Fridays and Saturdays. Co-workers created a “pork eaters only” table at her job. A boss gave her a hard time about taking time off for a Jewish holiday.
“I found out which of my friends were really anti-Semitic at that point,” she said. “It was mostly other people who made me realize how much I was changing.”
Some have accused Ms. Hausman of airing her communities’ “dirty laundry” in her blog. For others, the site is a must-read — a way to learn about a slice of the Jewish community they know little about.
“Some have no idea Jews like me even exist, but there are lots of us,” she said.
Ms. Hausman still strives to understand her identity, to analyze the various feelings, thoughts, tastes and experiences that make her a Jewminicana. She still struggles to make others understand what it means to be “more than one thing, to have different parts.
“My favorite question is, if Israel, the Dominican Republic, and the US went to war, which side would you choose? I answer that you can’t saw off a part of your body and say it doesn’t belong to you, that this part doesn’t mean as much to me as that one. You just can’t. Every finger and every toe is essential.”