Chris Harrison, 29
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36 Under 36 2019

Chris Harrison, 29

Audaciously Hospitable

As a kid in a Protestant family in an Ohio town with a small Jewish community, Chris Harrison had little opportunity to meet Jews or learn about Judaism. He remembers watching Rugrats cartoons about Passover and Chanukah. “Something about it sparked an interest in me”, he said.

Harrison began studying Jewish beliefs intensively. At the age of 11, Harrison, who has one black parent and one white, learned he has “Jewish heritage” on his mother’s side. At Miami University in Ohio, he went to a friend’s family’s Shabbat dinner and “felt very at home.” After college he became a Jew-by-choice.

Now he lives in Astoria, Queens, and, for the last year, has been working as a writer/editor at the Union for Reform Judaism’s department of Audacious Hospitality. There he serves as a voice for the organization’s outreach to people on the margins of the Jewish community, including Jews of color.

At URJ, where he has participated in the “Wholly Jewish” podcast, he concentrates on issues of “diversity, inclusion and equality”.

Whenever in a Jewish environment, he makes “a conscious effort” to show up with his kipa, Shema bracelet or Magen David necklace, he wrote recently. “As a black person entering majority white Jewish spaces, I feel like I have to.” He cited “all the times I’ve been given strange stares as soon as I’ve walked in.” He gets asked, “What brings you here?” — which is sometimes a nicer way of saying, “What are you doing here?” “Congregants — and even clergy — assumed I lack basic Jewish knowledge”.

“If I don’t literally wear my Judaism on my sleeve (and my head and neck),” Harrison wrote, “I may not be accepted.”

Last year he hosted a Chanukah party in his apartment. A typical affair. Some latkes, some dreidel-spinning. “And, we watched Rugrats.”

Advocate: In addition to helping the Jewish community become more welcoming to Jews on the margins, Harrison is an activist, focusing on sexual harassment (he was sexually harassed in high school) and gun violence, which he called “a disease” that can strike anyone.

As a kid in a Protestant family in an Ohio town with a small Jewish community, Chris Harrison had little opportunity to meet Jews or learn about Judaism. He remembers watching Rugrats cartoons about Passover and Chanukah. “Something about it sparked an interest in me, he said.

Harrison began studying Jewish beliefs intensively. At the age of 11, Harrison, who has one black parent and one white, learned he has “Jewish heritage” on his mother’s side. At Miami University in Ohio, He went to a friend’s  family’s Shabbat dinner and “felt very at home.” After college he became a Jew-by-choice.

Now he lives in Astoria, Queens, and, for the last year, has been working as a writer/editor at the Union for Reform Judaism’s department of Audacious Hospitality. There he serves as a voice for the organization’s outreach to people on the margins of the Jewish community, including Jews of color.

At URJ, where he has participated in the “Wholly Jewish” podcast, he concentrates on issues of “diversity, inclusion and equality.

Whenever in a Jewish environment, he makes “a conscious effort” to show up with his kipa, Shema bracelet or Magen David necklace, he wrote recently. “As a black person entering majority white Jewish spaces, I feel like I have to.” He cited “all the times I’ve been given strange stares as soon as I’ve walked in.” He gets asked, “‘What brings you here?” — which is sometimes a nicer way of saying, ‘What are you doing here?’ Congregants — and even clergy — assumed I lack basic Jewish knowledge.

“If I don’t literally wear my Judaism on my sleeve (and my head and neck),” Harrison wrote, “I may not be accepted.”

Last year he hosted a Chanukah party in his apartment. A typical affair. Some latkes, Some dreidel-spinning. “And, we watched Rugrats.”

Advocate: In addition to helping the Jewish community become more welcoming to Jews on the margins, Harrison is an activist, focusing on sexual harassment (he was sexually harassed in high school) and gun violence, which he called “a disease” that can strike anyone.

@chaim_ezra

Meet the rest of this year’s 36 Under 36 here.

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