One of the most alarming statistics from Beyond the Count: Perspectives and Lived Experiences of Jews of Color is that 80% of respondents said they had experienced discrimination in a Jewish setting. The scale of this problem shouldn’t be minimized. But it’s also vital to focus on what does work, what does create a sense of belonging and connectedness for Jews of Color in Jewish communities. The data speak loudly and clearly: Jews of Color need access to JoC-only spaces.
From the Beyond the Count survey, 46% of respondents said that talking about the experience of being a JoC with other JoC is very important to them. Yet these meaningful connections often require external organizing to bring individuals together. Many Jews of Color are isolated from one another; 36% of respondents said they have no close friends who are JoC, meaning that the majority of connections among JoC are fostered in communal spaces, not among existing friendship networks.
The data in Beyond the Count illustrate that not only are JoC-only spaces meaningful, but they are essential to fostering and retaining a deep sense of belonging in the Jewish community for Jews of Color. Many Jews of Color do feel a strong tie to the white Jewish community, with 51% of respondents indicating that they have felt a sense of belonging among white Jews. Yet connection with other Jews who have faced similar life experiences provides a depth of connection that is unique for Jews of Color.
Many participants described JoC-only gatherings as “transformative” or “profoundly healing.” Participants expressed that these gatherings are much needed for Jews of Color who have often experienced isolation in Jewish community or uncertainty about their identities in relationship to the larger Jewish community (or the assumptions both in and outside of the Jewish community about who is a Jew).
Seeing one’s identity in relationship to larger communal or societal trends is an eye-opening experience. A biracial woman in her 30s shared, “When I was in a space with Jews of Color I realized so many things that I thought were just me were sociological patterns and trends.”
One participant, an Asian-American woman in her 20s, said that JoC-only spaces “pushed [her] to express and emote and learn more about what [her] backgrounds mean to [her], what feels authentic, and how to bring them together.” Often made to feel that multiple identities must be separated, don’t make sense together, or need to be placed in a hierarchy of importance, having a chance to explore the authenticity and wholeness of one’s intersectional identity is indeed transformational.
Another participant, a woman in her 30s with Latinx and Middle Eastern heritage, said, “Being in JoC community spaces—whether it’s conferences or cohorts—adds value and meaning to being Jewish for me. Going to synagogue fills my need for my Jewish spirituality, and there is another spiritual need that I have: to be in JoC-only spaces.” This participant shows that JoC-only spaces are not intended to be separate from collective Jewish life, but actually enrich it. These spaces are further impactful by offering points of connection where Jews of Color create lasting, deep relationships with peers and mentors.
Connection, belonging, healing—these are essential processes for Jews of Color to build and maintain a relationship to a community that has often imagined away their existence. Not surprisingly, one of the four major recommendations Beyond the Count researchers offered was to “prioritize creating spaces and places for discourse and dialogue with and among JoC.” Predominantly white Jewish institutions can use these robust findings and recommendations to examine how they can support essential modes of connection for Jews of Color in their own communities.