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Meet Jewish Gateways Participant Avi Brooks

Avi Brooks, who lives with Jocelyn and their daughter Amieh in Oakland, will celebrate his bar mitzvah in June at age 53, along with the other members of Jewish Gateways' adult bar and bat mitzvah class.

Doing a bar mitzvah as an adult, I appreciate so much more the group study experience, the support I have received and insight into Torah and prayer. The morning service is like a form of living poetry that connects past, present, and future together. Now I am looking to Judaism as a source for my own creative writing in science fiction and futures forecasting.

Avi is an Associate Professor in Strategic Communication at California State University, East Bay. He teaches and researches futures forecasting and Afrofuturism, a field that has become highly visible with the success of the Afrofuturist film "Black Panther." Avi loves to explore connections between his professional interests and Judaism.

How might Jewish life look on Mars, or an interstellar starship? How do Jews of color create our own version of Wakanda, the fictional nation in "Black Panther," within the larger Jewish community? My latest passion is seeing how science fiction and history resonate with the sense of prophetic justice in the Torah. 



Avi, Amieh, and Jocelyn

Avi's full name is Lonny J. Avi Brooks, but he uses Avi in the Jewish community. The name means “my father” in Hebrew and represents the Jewish father he wants to be for his daughter. The root of Amieh’s name, Ami, means “my people” in Hebrew.

Avi takes pride in his ancestry. His maternal grandparents escaped Russia for a new life in America. Within two generations this side of his family had transformed from living a poor and oppressed "Fiddler on the Roof"-style shtetl existence to being fully integrated into the U.S. as community leaders. Avi’s father, a proud and gifted writer, was Black and Latino. Avi grew up going to the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. He remembers Shabbat there reflecting the convergence of popular culture with Jewish traditions. Each Friday they created Shabbat and Jewish holiday skits performed to the music of the Beatles.

The day that I was able to remember the Shabbat prayers was a moment of realizing that I was Jewish and ... directly and deeply a part of the Jewish people too ... I could embrace being both Black and Jewish and see the commonalities of both peoples as a continual struggle against oppression. 

When Avi's daughter was a toddler he wanted her to have the Jewish experience he had growing up. He remembers taking her to a Jewish Gateways Rosh Hashanah celebration led by Rabbi Bridget and feeling at home. He appreciates how Jewish Gateways recognizes and honors progressive diversity within the Jewish community.

I am looking forward to my daughter and her mother seeing my bar mitzvah, especially in anticipation of my daughter's upcoming bat mitzvah in 2019. I thank Jewish Gateways for providing a portal into reclaiming, renewing, and rediscovering my Jewish heritage and wrestling with what it is to be Jewish, especially Jewish and Black. 

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