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Sun, 02.14.1982

Shais Rishon, Rabbi and Activist born.

Shais Rishon

*Shais Rishon was born on this date in 1982. He is a Black Orthodox rabbi, activist, and writer.

Shais Rishon, known by the pen name MaNishtana, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an Ashkenazi Jewish family linked with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He says his mother's ancestors have practiced Judaism since the 1780s. His father, Asher Rishon, converted to Judaism after meeting Shais' mother. Growing up, Shais received bigoted treatment from other Jews. He attended James Madison High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English.

Rishon began blogging about his black and Jewish identities as MaNishtana in 2009. His writing focuses on racism within the Jewish community, and he has worked as a content manager for Bend The Arc, a progressive Jewish organization focused on social justice. He served as rabbi for Kehilat Ir Chadash, an Orthodox New City, New York congregation. Rishon was married to Guliene Rollins-Rishon, a Black Jew and a descendant of Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller; the couple have a daughter.

He has written for several journals and a semi-autobiographical novel under his pen name. In 2013, Rishon wrote an open letter criticizing New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind for wearing blackface at a Purim celebration. In 2014, he was included in The Jewish Week's "36 Under 36", an annual list of influential Jews under age 36. Rishon's debut novel, Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi, was a finalist for the 2018 National Jewish Book Award's Goldberg Award for Debut Fiction.

He hoped the semi-autobiographical novel would challenge stereotypes about nonwhite Jews and make a place for them in the larger Jewish community. He has also contributed to the Kveller Haggadah.  Rishon has also experimented with playwrighting, contributing in 2017 to The Jewish Plays Project.

In 2020, Rishon and rapper Yitz Jordan (Y-Love) announced plans to create a Jewish Community Center for nonwhite Jews. The community center would be open to all Jews but focused on Jews of color and would build bridges within the Jewish community and between Jews of color and other minorities. In June 2021, Rishon revealed via Twitter that he was autistic and polyamorous.

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