Thoughtful, cool, almost cerebral, Yosef Abrahamson is not your average Crown Heights Brooklyn Lubavitcher Chasidic Orthodox Jewish black teen Republican from Omaha, Nebraska. Then again, the 17-year-old two-time winner of the NYPD’s “Commissioner for a Day” essay contest is not exactly average anything, either.
Born in Omaha into an unbroken matrilineal line descended from German Jewish immigrants and raised by his devoted mom, long-time Nebraska GOP activist and national delegate Dinah Abrahamson, along with older sister Sarah, Yosef grew up in the Cornhusker State’s Republican Party. In the state’s GOP, Yosef joined his mother in hobnobbing with such heavyweights as Hal Daub, Mike Johanns, Lee Terry and later, George W. Bush, over a lifetime of political activism.
Who is Yosef Abrahamson? What drives him?
Well, in what aspect of life do you mean? Of course, here [in yeshivah high school in Crown Heights] what drives me is wanting to grow more in learning and Torah, and in the political sense, just wanting to see what’s going on and having a part in the direction the world is taking.
What are the unique challenges of being a black Orthodox Jewish Republican teenager?
People ask questions, and I guess some people don’t think that if you’re dark-skinned now in this era that you should support someone that’s not black, let’s say, as in President Obama as president: we were strongly for McCain. So I guess that sorta had people kinda strung the wrong way but really, you have to look at the issues and what each candidate stands for, and that’s the most important thing. Skin color shouldn’t have anything to do with that. And as for [being] Jewish, of course you have to look at our heritage as Jews and the message that we stand for as Chasids [sic] and have to incorporate that into who should lead the country and so on and so forth.
What would be the biggest stereotype you’ve helped shatter, then?
Hmmm…. I’m guessing that “someone dark-skinned can’t be Jewish.” I was born Jewish, my mother’s line straight directly through, and complexion shouldn’t have anything to do with that …. That’s probably the biggest stereotype that I’m hoping has been shattered and continues to be shattered.
So where are you getting it worse from? From Jewish people who never saw a black Jew, or blacks who never saw a black Jew?
It’s really been not so in your face as people would have you think. People do occasionally come and ask questions, “How can you be Jewish and dark-skinned?”
Is that black or Jewish?
More black people, ’cause they see me with my [traditional Chasidic] black hat and jacket, but I just explain to them the background and more or less, they get it.