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'When I was 7, I knew I had to be Jewish. Period'

Rapper and entrepreneur Y-Love launches news site for Jews of Color

Founder Yitz Jordan is proud, gay, and deeply Jewish. The Tribe Herald, a centralized voice for minority Jews, is already popular with Jews of all stripes after its June 19 launch

Yitz Jordan has co-launched a news site for Jews of Color. (Courtesy)
Yitz Jordan has co-launched a news site for Jews of Color. (Courtesy)

TheJ.ca — If necessity is the mother of invention, Yitz Jordan is the father of self-actualization. The 42-year-old Brooklyn activist, web developer and entrepreneur has been realizing his dreams his entire life — most recently as the chief product officer at Tribe Herald, a news site for Jews of Color that he founded with Rabbi Shais Rishon, aka MaNishtana.

Launched on June 19, chosen to coincide with Juneteenth, a day marking slaves’ emancipation in the US, Tribe Herald was born out of a need for a localized address for Jews of Color to share experiences, learn about events and find support as many find themselves caught between divided loyalties.

“Around the time we were discussing the necessity of one central place for Jews of Color, the anti-Semitic attacks in Monsey [New York] and Jersey City took place,” said Jordan, who also goes by Y-Love, a nod to his rapper sideline.

“Too many people committing those acts were People of Color. And who gets caught in the middle when Jews and People of Color are in a conflict? Jews of Color. We heard stories of Jews of Color having to take sides, and people from biracial families getting into conflicts,” he said. “We decided we needed somewhere where people can come together and talk about this, and get support. All of these needs started to come up for our community.”

And the community — not just Jews of Color, but the global Jewish community — loves Tribe Herald. The site garnered 5,000 unique visitors two weeks into its launch, and its Facebook page already has over 3,300 followers.

Y-Love, aka Yitz Jordan. (photo credit: CC BY-SA Schneur Menaker, Wikimedia Commons)
Y-Love, aka Yitz Jordan. (photo credit: CC BY-SA Schneur Menaker, Wikimedia Commons)

“We’ve gotten such a diverse response,” said Jordan. “We’re as popular in Toronto as we are in New York, if not more. We have continuous web traffic from Toronto and Montreal, and are getting hits from Vancouver and Halifax.”

Long before he co-founded Tribe Herald, a very young Jordan, who grew up in Maryland, began with a wish.

“When I was 7 years old, I knew there was a group of people called Jews, and I had to be one of them, period,” said Jordan. “My parents accepted it the way any parent would take their [child] being into anything — you know, go along with it and hope it’s a phase. My mom used it to her advantage. She’d say, ‘Jewish boys clean their rooms and eat their vegetables.’ She would try to encourage what she could when I was little. She would bring home copies of the Baltimore Jewish Times or challah as a treat.”

A seder invite from his mom’s colleague led to Jordan’s acquisition of his first kippa, “an electric-blue, 1950s keepsake from ‘Ira so and so’s’ bar mitzvah.”

It was Jordan’s late grandmother, Clara Lopez, who was his biggest supporter. “She wanted to be Jewish her whole life,” he said. “She acted as my translator for the rest of the family. She was like, ‘He’s wearing a yarmulke, I’m telling you he’s not going to want to do this, or eat this. He’s going to be busy that day.”

Yitz Jordan spent years integrating into the Hasidic community, but faced alienation after coming out as gay. (Courtesy)

When he decided at 9 that he was “done with Christmas,” it was Lopez who bought him his first menorah.

At age 20, Jordan not only converted to Judaism; some might say he went full throttle. He became a Bostoner Hasid, studied at yeshiva Ohr Someach in Jerusalem and Monsey, New York, and began a rabbinic ordination program. He eventually decided to stop his rabbinic study, instead pursuing teaching and music. He became successful as Y-Love the Hasidic rapper, performing regularly and appearing in international media.

Upon coming out as gay in 2012, his Hasidic community no longer welcomed him with open arms. Their painful rejection is something he often laments.

“My whole background has been in the Orthodox world. Even though I’m not observant now, or living geographically in the community, in my heart of hearts, I’m still Orthodox in my belief system,” Jordan said.

Also ingrained in Jordan’s belief system is the idea that advocacy and action effect change. It is this philosophy that inspired him to launch Tribe Herald.

“Now that we are having this conversation and people are realizing that Jews of Color aren’t being represented, and aren’t being celebrated, and are being marginalized, now that we’re having that awakening, that collective awareness is only a good thing,” he said.

Always one to dream big, Jordan is already looking forward to Tribe Media’s fall launches of an apparel line, a Tribe Herald app, and two new outlets: TribeQ, serving LGBTQ Jews, and Sapphire, catering to Jewish women.

This article originally appeared in TheJ.ca, which covers Jewish news in Canada.

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