6 Black Jewish Artists You Need to Know

From animators to musicians, these creatives tell stories of beauty, strength and truth through their work.

The theme for this year’s Black History Month, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is African Americans and the Arts. This theme focuses on all types of elevated expression and the leisure and license to experiment for a people once strictly limited by both law and custom.

Here’s an in-depth look at six amazing Jews of the African diaspora who are telling stories of beauty, strength and truth with their art.

Ezra Edmond

Animation filmmaker Ezra Edmond, 34, joyfully plays on “identity politics” in his work. His highly praised animated short “Blewish” (a mash-up of the words Black and Jewish) won the top awards at the Jewish American Film Festival in 2022.

This California-based artist doesn’t shy away from issues of culture and race and the beauty of being a Black American Jew. With autobiographical notes, “Blewish” touches on childhood understanding of oneself as an individual from within a complex cultural identity.

Edmond grew up celebrating Jewish holidays at home with a multi-ethnic family of Black, Hispanic and British Jews. His childhood Jewish experience included activities with United Synagogue Youth and attending Hebrew school which culminated in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

As an adult, Edmond is not very religious but takes Hebrew culture very seriously. He’s especially connected to the Jewish intellectual tradition. “Questioning and being curious, the Jewish tradition of sharing stories,” he said. “[I love] stories that don’t tell you how to be, that invite you to think.”

Edmond’s latest project is an upcoming children’s book. “My Friend Lavar” is about a kid who imagines going on story book adventures with “Reading Rainbow” host and actor Lavar Burton.

While not publicly available due to festival exclusivity, “Blewish” is available for private screenings and can be booked through the “Blewish” website.

Rena Lindenberg

Up-and-coming Chicago-based digital artist Rena Lindenberg, 19, is pushing the edges of fantasy and reality. Inspired by fantasy novels and anime, her creations are portraits of people inside other worldly settings. With just a tablet loaded with Clip Studio Paint, Lindberg lets her imagination run wild.

Forever a dreamer, Lindenberg won’t let the characters in her images take anything for granted, not even the force of gravity nor solid ground. As a body of work, her images lean on the futuristic without being cold or unfeeling. The perfect balance of expressionism and technically sharp execution is so meaningful to Lindenberg. “It’s like solving a puzzle,” she said.

Jewish community engagement is important to Lindenberg. At an especially memorable Purim, she volunteered to do facepainting for young kids at the celebration. Several of the children were newly-arrived Ethiopian Jewish immigrants and welcoming them through art felt good. “I’m not great at painting, especially on a face,” she said, “but it was so fun!”

Lindenberg’s work has been kept within academia until recently, but she’s setting her sights on getting a book deal for a graphic novel in the future. Fully elaborating on the complex narratives within each of her images is her true dream. “I think of my drawings as characters with a backstory,” she said. “I am making an entire world within each drawing.”

Follow Rena Lindenberg’s art on Instagram @Renasillin.

Jared Jackson

Philadelphia-based musician Jared Jackson, 40, breathes life into his Jewish community with his saxophones and flute. Formally trained at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Jackson studied under many notable teachers including the famous saxophonist George Young from the Saturday Night Live Band.

Music aside, Jackson also has a Masters in Jewish Nonprofit Management at Hebrew Union College. He is the founder and director of Jews in All Hues, a nonprofit organization focused on educating about and advocating for Jews of Color. A Birthright Israel trip, followed by a Jewish leadership program, inspired Jackson to create Jews in All Hues. He now leads educational workshops for Jewish communities who want to better embrace their members of color.

Jackson’s work is so impactful, Ma’ariv magazine named him one of the “Jews That Will Change the World” in 2018.

Jackson isn’t afraid to call out performative inclusion in the self-aggrandizing agendas of non-BIPOC Jewish donors. “Pushing for real change is a hard hill to climb,” he said.

You can find Jackson’s music live at several synagogues and jazz lounges around the Philadelphia area and you can access his inclusivity workshops at www.JewsInAllHues.org.

Jenni Asher

Jenni Asher, 37, is a proud Black American Jew and an accomplished violinist and singer. A cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion California, she is one of a precious few Black cantorial soloists like Jason McKinney and hazzan Sabrina Sojourner. Asher is excited to become an ordained cantor next calendar year and both continue the traditions of Jewish music and contribute new Jewish music to the genre.

Asher composes and produces her own recordings, recording most of the instruments and voices herself. Her third and most recent album, 2021’s “Yaladati,” is primarily an instrumental collection of songs. “Yaladati,” which means “I gave birth,” in Hebrew, was a 4-year project for Asher. “I gave birth [to one child] at the beginning and then again [to another child] at the end,” she said.

“I never force myself into the position to write a new song,” she said. “When I am frustrated or emotional, I use song writing to process my feelings.” Given her emotion-led process, it makes sense that improvisation is her favorite way to compose. “Being present with yourself [through improvisation] means observing your thoughts without judgment in the moment,” she said, “and just making the art.”

Wherever the most common melodies aren’t elevating a section of the liturgy, Asher might bring herself to compose something new. She explained how there are hundreds of old long forgotten sheets of Jewish music that she rediscovered and brought back to life by performing them once again.

Asher’s decision to go to cantorial school initially came from a desire to engage fully with the prayers during the synagogue services. Being a professional musician, her standards were high. “I had so many musical questions that needed answers,” she said. “I wanted to be part of everything going on in the sanctuary and offer my strengths.”

Asher’s album “Yaladati” is available on Bandcamp, Apple Music and Spotify.

D’Mark Jeantine

Born in Queens, NY, D’Mark Jeantine — known by his artist name, Yo Mark Jean — brings his culture, faith and values to his music.

“I’m the first generation [in my family] coming to Judaism,” Jean said. For him, Judaism is an authentic path of spiritual satisfaction.

Jean started making music at age 7 with a regimented schedule of private lessons. “I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to,” he said. “But I’m glad I did it now!” He’s from a family formed by music; his parents met while his father was a guitarist in a musical group back in Haiti. Jean’s father was encouraging and supportive, and soon he learned to read music and understand theory.

As he grew into a professional, Jean found that mixing beats for other artists made way for opportunities and connections. He usually mixes beats for himself, using an electric keyboard to make all of his music.

His newly released track “Golden” is a mellow, ringing tune that hums along with quick beats and a rolling baseline. Jean sings in turn with Jewish African-American singer Oryahh, who co-wrote his part of the song. The collaboration came about after Jean’s hip-hop praise track “Boast” went viral last year and got Oryahh’s attention. “Golden” embodies the spirit of the Jewish value of bitachon (trust). “When I decided to make religious music, it started with setting Psalms to my beats,” Jean said. “I wrote Golden with the mindset of King David.”

You can hear music from Yo Mark Jean on Apple Music, iHeart and Spotify.

Ayeola Omolara Kaplan

Her first name means rainbow in the Nigerian language of Yoruba. It seems fated, then, that Ayeola Omolara Kaplan, 26, came to the world with a love of color. Kaplan’s work reveals the beauty in diverse female forms. “My style came together slowly over time,” she said.

“I admire the art of Emory Douglas,” she said. “He was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther party and did the posters and political messages.”

In line with her populist and feminist views, Kaplan had her pieces re-printed around the city of Atlanta and on the campus of her alma mater. She wants all kinds of people to be able to experience her art.

Kaplan understood the need for more inclusion in society early on in her life. While her mom, sister and grandmother were all Black and Jewish, she would go out into a world that didn’t understand her. At synagogue, people would look and stare without shame. “They think it’s strange that I am there and that I should feel strange being there too,” she said. “But nobody wanted to actually talk to me.”

Her Judaism at home was a source of joy, instilling timeless Jewish values. Her grandmother, who she called “Bubbie,” was more observant; together they said prayers before meals. The family attended a reform synagogue together. Passover was always Kaplan’s favorite Jewish holiday. “We would invite non-Jews to experience the Seder with us, and we also connected to the Black experience of being free from slavery,” she said. Matzo ball soup would take its place next to collard greens on the holiday table.

You can see more art from Ayeola Omolara Kaplan on Instagram @ayeolaomolara and at her website www.ayeola.org.

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