}

Bethany Serota – Welcome Home!

On my recent flight to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh, I briefly met Bethany Batya Serota. A recent Law School graduate, Batya made aliyah with the assistance of NBN from her former home in Cambridge, Mass. I caught up with her today while she was hanging out at the beach in Tel Aviv.

Batya comes from a mixed race household. Her Mom is Jewish and biracial and her Dad is half Ashkenazic, half Sephardic. Given the fractious nature of race and identity in the US, it comes as no surprise that her identity was often an issue. Batya never spoke of racism in our talks but she did describe her heritage as an “issue.” She described her local community as being wonderful but lacking a certain measure of diversity. In college her Jewish identity took a back seat to her African American heritage. She immersed herself into that milieu and didn’t tell anyone she was Jewish unless they asked.

Then another mixed race friend told her about Taglit Birthright Israel. “For two years I kind of half assedly applied to go, but didn’t pursue it as strongly as I should have. Finally, I got an email out of the blue telling me that Oranim had a place available for me and I sort of decided to go. I didn’t pack until the day I was scheduled to leave. I guess you can say I was ambivalent about the whole thing at best.”

What followed was what she described as a “…life altering experience – it changed my world. I extended my trip by a month and I fell in love with the country. In Israel I finally felt completely comfortable with my own identity – as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I love that everything is Jewish, the land is beautiful, the desert, the ocean – it really is the land of milk and honey, the energy really rubs off on you and I am willing to sacrifice the material comfort of the US in exchange for the peace of mind I get here, I don’t care. I really feel unburdened, more creative and clear minded here.”

Like her namesake Batya, the daughter of a Pharaoh of Egypt who was Moses’s adoptive mother and gave up her life of privilege to follow Moses into the dessert, our newest olah gave up her summer associate position in order to begin her life in Israel as soon as possible. Her immediate plans are to learn Hebrew and to acclimate herself to her new home – and she plans to settle in Tel Aviv where she hopes to pursue a legal career.

Back in the US Batya was involved in a number of Jewish activities. She led two Birthright trips for Oranim (whom she considers her family in Israel!) and was active in her local chapter of the Jewish Law Students Association. She also attended a number of her Federation’s Young professional Events. Mindful of the support she has received from the State, Batya is planning on being involved further volunteer work in whatever capacity she can in order to help become a net asset to Israel. In that respect Batya quoted Oranim Head Momo Lifshitz who told her Birthright group “We don’t want your money. We want your heart.”

Batya Serota – welcome home!

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ck

Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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39 Comments

  1. fafaasf

    8/28/2008 at 12:54 pm

    Welcome Home. Hope to see more olim like her as well as a wider variety of religious and political views (and this comes from a nbn oleh)

  2. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 12:59 pm

    Yeah, it must have been tough for Batya to follow Moses into the dessert, ck. Giving up a life of privilege for a slice of pie or a bowl of pudding seems like a bad trade.

    I’m curious about this Batya, though. You say her mother is biracial, that is, one of her parents is black. So is Batya’s mother Jewish? If not, did Batya convert? Or does Birthright consider people with Jewish fathers to be Jewish?

    Just curious.

  3. ck

    8/28/2008 at 1:37 pm

    Batya’s father was raised Orthodox and is traditional and Batya is observant – Shabbat, Kashrut etc. I know that. If anyone converted it’s not really polite to ask right? I see why Batya made Aliyah… Birthright considers anyone “Jewish” who is considered as such by any major denomination of Judaism. The State of Israel’s standards are a lot stricter. I feel icky answering this question bc while I am certain your curiosity may very well be well intentioned, it wouldn’t have been an issue if Batya was white. And we keep harping about how Judaism isn’t a race. Oy.

  4. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 1:50 pm

    If her father is Orthodox/Traditional, then I assume her mother is Jewish.

    You seem to assume that I am asking so I can find a way to exclude people like Batya, and that she made aliyah to escape this kind of pestering. You are completely wrong.

    You say yourself that “She described her local community as being wonderful but lacking a certain measure of diversity. In college her Jewish identity took a back seat to her African American heritage. She immersed herself into that milieu and didn’t tell anyone she was Jewish unless they asked.”

    So: the Jewish community she grew up in was nice but it was too, you know, whitebread (I assume that means “typical Ashkenazi”, you know, gefilte fish and kugel and all that tastelss junk). She herself clearly didn’t embrace her Jewish identity, and was so ashamed of it, or ambivalent about it, that she wouldn’t let on unless asked. So, clealry, she was trying, in her way, to “pass”. There is nothing in your post to suggest that she was rejected by the Jewish community because she wasn’t “really Jewish”. It sounds to me, rather, that the community didn’t have enough “flava” for her, but that Israel is cool because there are more people who look like her. That is cool too.

    I’m just curious about these things, given my own background and my family situation. It sounds like a fascinating story.

  5. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 1:58 pm

    How do you know it wouldn’t have been an issue for me if Batya was white? You said her mother was biracial (so what), but did not indicate if her mother was actually Jewish. You mentioned, however, that her father was Jewish. To me, that reads, Jewish father, non-Jewish mother, ergo, not a Jew.

    My youngest son was trying to go on Birthright this summer (signed up too late), and so part of the reason for asking was to try to find out a bit more about what sort of an organization it was.

    Anyway, you should know that my kids get questions all the time. Being curious about something that is out of the ordinary isn’t necessarily evidence of racism, ck. You need to lighten up and stop jumping to conclusions.

  6. Joel Katz

    8/28/2008 at 2:02 pm

    “Who is a Jew?”

    Welcome home Batya!

    As an attorney from the States who also made aliyah, I am thrilled that Batya has joined us here in Israel.

    I have no intention to ask Batya about her Jewishness. That’s her business and not mine.

    However, I hope she understands how things work here in Israel.

    Yes, she was welcomed on Birthright like family.

    Yes, she was also welcomed by the State of Israel (via the Interior Ministry and the Law of Return) on her aliyah.

    But, the Rabbinate may have a different welcome for her (that is – if she is not a Jew according to Halacha or converted abroad by a recognized Jewish community).

    May we see the day that Batya is welcomed by all in Israel.

    Joel Katz
    religionandsta...

  7. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 2:11 pm

    Well, that’s really my question, Joel. I was just curious about her halachic status. Her skin color has absolutely nothing to do with it, as ck seems to think. If ck had said “her mother is from a mixed Irish-Swedish background” I would have had absolutely the same question.

    It would be an umitigated disaster for all concerned if it turns out that when the time comes she cannot make the shidduch she wants to make.

    I hope, for her sake especially, that such a day never comes to pass.

  8. Ben-David

    8/28/2008 at 2:14 pm

    CK – do you really think Ashkenazi and Sephardi are racial terms – or is that just how the sentence came out?

    Anyway, something like 40 percent of marriages in Israel are Ashkenazi-Sephardi “intermarriages” so it’s less and less relevant here.

  9. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 2:24 pm

    That’s “intra-marriages, Ben-David.

    Get your terminology right.

  10. Esther Kustanowitz

    8/28/2008 at 6:02 pm

    CK stole my olah. Really uncool.

  11. ck

    8/28/2008 at 7:02 pm

    Ephraim: You’re totally right of course. You of all people should not be subject to scolding on this issue and for that I apologize. I was just tired and cranky. And sooooo self righteous.

  12. ck

    8/28/2008 at 7:04 pm

    Oh no! Esther! I asked NBN if she had been assigned to anyone (stephen didn’t remember). Even checked your blog and asked Bethany!! I had no idea and was gonna call but it was late and I had a beer fest to go to. Please she is still your Olah… I’ll even delete this post if you like.

  13. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 7:08 pm

    Well, all righty then.

    I realy hope it works out for her.

    I really miss my youthful idealism.

  14. ck

    8/28/2008 at 9:05 pm

    Hey just to be clear, Batya’s Mom and Grandmother and Great Grandmother etc. are all Jewish. There is no issue of conversion or whatever here. I changed the post to reflect that. Just had a chat with her and wanted to clarify myself.

  15. Ephraim

    8/28/2008 at 9:14 pm

    That’s what I figured it must have been.

    But it totally wasn’t clear from the original post, dude.

  16. ck

    8/29/2008 at 2:15 am

    I know. My bad.

  17. Batya

    8/29/2008 at 9:50 am

    Ephriam,

    Thank you for taking such a great interest in my story and “status.” Just for your own information, I have never been ashamed of my Jewish identity, nor have I ever attempted to “just pass”. Furthermore, pun or no pun intended, the Jewish community has ALWAYS had enough “flava” for me. I have always understood what it meant to be a Jewish American Princess, however, during the years before college, understanding what it meant to be of African/African-American descent “took a backseat” to my Jewish identity. Accordingly, once I became an adult and essentially free to choose what I wanted to learn about, I focused on understanding this part of my identity. More importantly, during this time of self exploration I kept my “Jewish Status” private and among true friends and family because of the uncomfortable scrutiny I recieved from people as curious as your self. At such an impressionable age, still adjusting to adulthood, my stregnth and willingness to expend the energy to explain my story to people was not as unwavering as it is today. Presently, I couldn’t be more proud of who I am and the diverse and dynamic make-up of my family. I embrace and represent it all.

  18. Ruth

    8/29/2008 at 10:49 am

    I apologize in advance for the dumb question but I am curious to know why/how Batya considers herself AfricanAmerican. Is her maternal grandfather black then ? It is not just about skin colour in the States, it is also about the experience of life lived as an African American. Remember how Obama was not considered black enough at first by the African/American traditional leadership?

  19. Ephraim

    8/29/2008 at 12:51 pm

    Batya:

    Since ck’s original post didn’t make it clear that you actually were Jewish, I was sort of worried about you, actually. The way he wrote it, not specifying that your mother was Jewish but being very clear that your father was, made me wonder. I guess I was reading too much into the post. I hope you didn’t take offense.

    My wife is a Japanese giyoret, and so my children over the years have gotten more than their share of quizzical stares and arched eyebrows. Orthodox people in particular need to know that the gerut was kosher and that everything is on the up and up. Once they know, everything is copacetic. But until they know that, they are concerned, as is only to be expected. And nothing is more terrible for a person than to grow up thinking they’re Jewish only to find out later that well, no, they’re not. Most “cultural” Jews I know still don’t really get the idea of a “Jewpanese”, but that’s their problem, not mine.

    Anyway, best of luck to you in your new life. I hope you find what you are looking for. It sounds like the beginning of a great adventure.

  20. Batya

    8/30/2008 at 11:49 am

    Ruth,

    Yes, that was sort of a silly question, and yes my maternal grandfather is African American. I have always been considered African American generally, and whether or not I am “black enough for the African American community” is not a matter of my concern, in fact it’s irrelevant. I have faced many of the same challenges and experiences that go along with “living as an African American” in America, and arguably more because I am also Jewish.

  21. Batya

    8/30/2008 at 12:13 pm

    Ephraim,

    I understand how you could be confused. Nevertheless, your worrying should rest at ease because I am not looking for acceptance from anyone or group. I know who I am and I accept myself above all. But also of importance is that I made Aliyah, and only Jews have that right – case closed, for me.

    The makeup of your family sounds amazing and beautiful. I actually went to a Reform Synagogue for 2nd Seder this year and it was amazing to see all of the mixes among the children. Inter-racial Jews are becoming more common, and I find less and less that it is an issue. In fact, many people I know think it’s super-cool to be a mixed Jew. It’s like you get the best of everything! I think it’s possible your children may have interesting/challenging experiences because of being “Jewpanese” during their younger years, but it will play out to be one of the greatest gifts to be born into. Very special.

    All the best to you and your family. And yes, the adventure has just begun!!

  22. Marni

    8/30/2008 at 11:00 pm

    To Joel and Batya,

    As a recent law school graduate myself, 1) how the heck are you guys paying off your loans (if you have any) in Israel and 2) how to do plan on using/use your legal education that you obtained in the US in Israel? I want to make aliyah, but at this point I don’t quite see how it is financially feasible. Thanks!!

  23. Ephraim

    8/30/2008 at 11:05 pm

    Batya:

    You seem to be under a misapprehension.

    My “confusion” had nothing whatsoever to do with your skin color as you seem to think. The only reason I was confused is because it wasn’t clear from ck’s original post (which he later edited) that your mother was actually Jewish. Somehow, the way he wrote it made me wonder, especially since most of the post dealt with what appeared to be certain issues you had over your mixed identity and how being in Israel had solved them.

    If he had made it clear that your mother was bi-racial and Jewish, I wouldn’t have bothered to say anything. I know a Jewish woman who is half Korean and half black, so the fact that you are racially mixed is not particularly out of the ordinary, at least for me.

    Anyway, there is no case to open or close, so I think you can relax.

  24. Batya

    8/31/2008 at 5:03 am

    Thanks Ephrahim. I understood that your confusion was about the original post.

  25. Batya

    8/31/2008 at 5:14 am

    Marni,

    Paying off your loans from Israel is possible, just not on the ten year plan! I plan to extend the term in exchange for a lower monthly payment. Clearly doing so means paying more in the end, but it is worth the sacrifice. There are many legal jobs for American trained attorneys, particularly in the areas of patent and transactional law. Additionally, as you may know, there are all sorts of jobs where a law degree and English mother-tounge are relevant (i.e., business, international human rights, non-profit orgs, NGO’s, etc.) it’s just about being diligent in networking and pursuing such opportunities. Aliyah! Do it!

  26. ck

    8/31/2008 at 7:52 am

    Batya said: “Thanks Ephrahim. I understood that your confusion was about the original post.”

    Yeah. Blame it on me. I didn’t originally mention anything about Batya’s Mom being Jewish because, well, frankly Batya seemed pretty Jewish to me. And she was on a NBN flight and an olah. I just assumed… I mentioned her Dad’s status because his last name was the same as a guy I went to high school with and I got all excited by the Sephardic connection. I understand this may have caused some confusion but I wasn’t purposely trying to be vague or editorializing. Sorry!

  27. Batya

    8/31/2008 at 11:05 am

    Joel Katz and Fassaf, thank you for the warm welcome! I am very excited to be home!

    I wish you the best in all of the endeavors you pursue here.

  28. Batya

    8/31/2008 at 11:15 am

    ck. Thanks for the work you’ve done. Again and again, you are very much appreciated.

  29. ro

    9/1/2008 at 9:42 pm

    mazel tov, batya!

    out of curiosity, do you know what kind of careers are valued in israel, particularly from someone who speaks english/russian? i’m off to college in a year and the only thing i know is that i want to work in international affairs. i’ve been planning on making aliyah since i was 14, and that hasn’t changed. so if you can tell me anything that would be wonderful!

    thank you, sorry to bother you!

  30. Batya from Shiloh

    9/1/2008 at 10:54 pm

    Here in Shiloh, we have a complete variety of “looks.”

    From what my cousins in the states tell me, the results of mixed marriages have made “guessing religion” totally impossible there.

    Well, young Batya, welcome to Israel. If you want to check out Shiloh, please let me know.

  31. Batya

    9/2/2008 at 11:39 am

    Ro,

    Thank you, and you are of no bother whatsoever! From my understanding, “lucrative” careers, particularly for foreigners, are generally in the areas of science and technology, as well as sales and marketing. If you are interested in International Affairs, I recommend studying here for a semester, and really mastering the language while in college to make your chances of success when you make Aliyah greater. Whether for credit hours, or for your own experience and marketability, I’m sure obtaining an internship with the Ministry of the Interior/Foreign Affairs/Absorption or a UN agency might provide good insight as well as beneficial networking opportunities. There are also many human rights orgs and NGO’s that you could get involved with. Also, when you make Aliyah, you have the opportunity to obtain a Master’s degree for free (in Hebrew generally), and there are some really good programs that focus on International Affairs, Conflict Resolution, etc. My favorite quote: “Aliyah! Do it!!” Everything is possible…Just prepare and never be discouraged!! You are on the right track! All the best and feel free to reach out anytime!!

  32. Batya

    9/2/2008 at 11:42 am

    Hey “Batya in Shiloh,”

    Thanks!
    Are you referring to Shiloh, IL? It sounds like my kind of place, of course outside of my favorite place – Israel!!!!

  33. ck

    9/2/2008 at 11:57 am

    Oh Batya. You so funny. Shiloh, IL is named after the biblical Shiloh located uh… right in your favorite country!

  34. Batya

    9/2/2008 at 1:24 pm

    oh. haha. my bad. lol!

    I’m checking it out now:)

  35. Batya from Shiloh

    9/2/2008 at 3:07 pm

    I’m not for the fake, so I’m in the original Shiloh, just north of Jerusalem.

  36. Pingback: Bethany Serota - Welcome Home! : Shalom Oranim

  37. Noreen

    10/7/2009 at 11:39 am

    it’s great that Batya has been made feel welcome in Israel and made Aliyah. I think there needs to be more representation of non Ashkenazi Jewry. However im a little confused, im African American, and about the same skin tone as Batya, how is it that her mother is biracial and dad is ashkenazi/sephardic and she looks, dare i say this like the “typical african american”. There is nothing there that says biracial to me. I know that sounds awful the way i put it but im just curious.

  38. Batya

    8/9/2010 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Noreen!

    I just noticed your post! I’m glad to clear up your confusion! My mom is bi-racial and has the appearance of a light-toned African-American. You thought you sounded awful, but this may sound worse: my biological genetic source was, as my mother describes “the darkest man she’s ever seen.” The whole story is that my mother had been dating who I have always known to be my “Father,” since prior to my conception. Days before I was conceived, it was around Hanukkah, and my father was not permitted to bring my half-black mother home for the holiday. This prompted her resolve to date “black.” However, upon my forceful conception, after this “date”, my mother returned to “my father” (of Ashkenazim/Sephardi heritage – not my genetic source – to be clear) who would then renounce his family to ensure that “she [myself] would not be without a father.” My father was a very noble man, may his soul be at peace. The families were later brought together two years later at the Bris of my brother – their first biological child together. I am the most Brown member of my family. My Brothers and sister clearly reflect the mix of my mother and father! However, I am their true love’s essence, and their first Jewish American Princess…

  39. Robin

    2/23/2012 at 10:20 pm

    Hello,

    I came across this site by chance and was pleasantly surprised when I saw the photo because I instantly recognized that smile. I was good friends with Bethany (Batya) as a child and never knew all about her background. Although this original post was years ago, I figured I’d give it a chance and reach out to say hello. Inspiring and truly an amazing story for me to stumble upon.

    Robin S.

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