From Jamaica to Judaism

From Jamaica to Judaism

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves’s Personal Journey Towards Faith

Chairman John H Eaves
Chairman John H Eaves

John Eaves, seven year chairman of the Fulton Country Board of Commission, says that his story starts long before his work here in Fulton.

A hundred years ago, in 1913, Cecil Reginald Eaves, Chairman Eaves’ grandfather, immigrated to New York City from Maypen, Jamaica. His journey to America was inspired by his interest in pursuing the study of medicine.

He lived in New York for a while, in a very characteristically Jewish environment. Maypen was a place where the religions blended together, many with Jewish roots, so the culture wasn’t unfamiliar. As Cecil continued to work and live in the area, he began to align himself with Jewish values more and more.

Moving to Florida a little while later didn’t change that identity. There he met his wife Gladys, and although never making it to the medical field, he found his home in the railroad industry, which was very open and insured much less racial discrimination.

And even though he was no longer in the very Jewish area of New York, Judaism somehow managed to find him. He befriended Marcus Garvey, an activist figure who fought against racism and very strongly believed that the African American identity was closely linked to Judaism. Garvey influenced Cecil and his beliefs very much and Cecil eventually converted to Judaism himself.

Cecil, who lived to be 99-years-old, and Gladys, who lived to be 95, raised 10 (out of 13) children to adulthood, all with strong values. All their children were college educated, and many found their own place in African American Judaism.

John Henry Eaves Jr., one of Cecil’s children and Chairman John Eaves’ father, went on to get a PhD from Morehouse College in education. He raised his family with the same passion for education and family history as his father had.

“Growing up I always had a duel identity – as an African American in the South, experiencing the civil rights movement, and as someone connected to Judaism,” said Chairman Eaves. He had grown up knowing, as his grandfather pointed out often, that there were “two strikes against him,” being dark-skinned and Jewish. But that only served to heightened his respect for others.

A history of persecution does that to a person. Eaves supports the black-Jewish relationship in any way he can. Growing up he never quite belonged, he said, with lighter skin, reddish hair and freckles. But looks can be deceiving.

The Eaves’ family story is very reminiscent of the Jewish pattern of going to a new place to find oneself or one’s Judaism. Our Bible is filled with stories; from Abraham’s initial “lekh lekha” journey to Israel, to Jacob’s journey away from home in this week’s parsha to recreate himself.

Cecil came to a new land, a personal journey to find education, and from there began his Jewish journey. But the journey didn’t end; as his family grew, so did their Jewish roots. Their Judaism gave them an appreciation of other people, and it was something they passed along dor l’dor, generation to generation, just as our Biblical ancestors did.

Chairman Eaves never formally belonged to a synagogue, but has attended services at the Temple and learned with Rabbi Peter Breg. He views Judaism as a personal journey, one that affirms his background very vividly. A diverse background, he says, helps his job, by helping him to bond people together and really embrace their diversity.

An appreciation of our history is a very important Jewish value. We can all learn a great deal from the Eaves’ story, a tale of moving to a new land full of opportunity, finding Judaism and holding onto it dearly.

If Isaac our forefather had not held unto his parents’ Jewish connection, we wouldn’t be here today. It’s not just something we do, it’s something we live. We say thank you to Chairman John Eaves for sharing his story with us.

read more: