It’s disappointing but not surprising that Jews of color often are made to feel like outsiders in our community. That sense of walking a delicate line between acceptance and rejection was a constant theme heard by staff writer Hannah Dreyfus when she conducted interviews with a number of Jews of color for her report, made possible by a grant from The Jewish Week Investigative Journalism Fund. (See here for part one; the second part will be published next week.)
What is surprising is that according to a 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study, 10 percent of American Jews identify as black, Asian, Latino or mixed race. And 12 percent of Jewish households in New York City, Long Island and Westchester are biracial or non-white, according to a UJA-Federation of New York community study in 2011. Those percentages are going up, and the topic is receiving more attention. Perhaps most notably, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Audacious Hospitality department, advocating for diversity inclusion, locally and nationally, is making strides in addressing the realities of modern Jewish life in a positive way. More such efforts are needed to include and reach out to Jews of color, making each of them feel accepted and empowered.
“Being met instantly among Jews with: ‘How are you Jewish?’ is something that needs to change,” Helen Kim, a sociology professor in Walla Walla, Wash., explained. Raised in a secular Korean home, she converted after marrying a “nice Jewish boy from New York.”
“Communal organizations need to recognize that it’s happening, so we can try to make [the discomfort] happen less,” she said.
Black Jews in particular, during these tense times of racial divide, feel squeezed between what Jason Daniel Fair calls his “Afrocentric pride” and his love for Israel. Fortunately for him, he senses a common “pride of self-determination” in both his black and Jewish identities, and enjoys fielding questions about his heritage so he can educate those who ask.
We hope that in presenting these profiles, our readers will better appreciate the unique personal decisions people make in choosing to identify as Jews, part of the tapestry of an ancient people that continues to evolve.