US Jews of Color reveal experiences, struggles in new study

A new report titled Beyond the Count, conducted by the Jews of Color Initiative, revealed some of the struggles that Jews of Color experience in the US, with a large number of respondents indicating that they had experienced discrimination and scrutinization based on race as well as difficulty expressing their dual identities.

The data was gathered at Stanford University by a multi-racial team of researchers, with over 1,118 respondents participating in the study released on Thursday. 

Some 80% of respondents said that they had “experienced discrimination” within Jewish settings, including synagogues, congregations, and Jewish spiritual communities, according to a press release issued by the Jews of Color Initiative.

Additionally, respondents indicated that they had previously experienced an increased sense of awareness regarding how others perceive them because of either their race or their Jewishness.

Some participants admitted they found it “more difficult for their identities to co-exist in predominantly white Jewish spaces than in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) spaces” and said they felt more comfortable with Jewish family members than with non-Jewish family members.

Furthermore, 44% said they had changed how they dress or speak in white Jewish spaces, and 66% reported feeling “disconnected from their Jewish identities at times.”

Many participants indicated their expressions of Jewish identity are often related to a “sense of justice and connection with the past and the future,” the press release noted.

In addition, most did not have an issue with the lack of diversity in their Jewish communities, with 51% of respondents saying they had “felt a sense of belonging among white Jews” and 41% saying they had been able to “express all sides of themselves in white Jewish environments.”

Many indicated that gatherings with other Jews of Color are positive and provide a space for healing.

One of the researchers, Dr. Dalya Perez, said: “Jews of Color are anything but monolithic, but there are common, prevalent trends about the places and moments when they are not fully embraced by the community or made to only bring a part of themselves to a program or congregation. The community has an opportunity to amplify the positive sentiments Jews of Color express about belonging while pushing to the side, once and for all, the old paradigms and structures that marginalize Jews of Color.”

Some quotes from Beyond the Count further illustrate the experiences of the participants on an individual level. 

A Chinese and white Ashkenazi woman in her 20s said, “When I go to a new place, that’s always something I am navigating: am I going to feel super Asian here or am I going to feel super Jewish? Obviously, I can’t really hide that I’m Asian, but I can choose to not disclose if I’m Jewish. So it’s kind of a life hack which I wish I didn’t have to use. I wish I could just proudly be my whole self all the time, but it’s a safety thing.”

Likewise, a Black man in his 30s said, “I am often treated like a person just learning about Judaism instead of a Jew who is active in many communities. I went to Shabbat services recently, and a woman came up to me and said without introducing herself, ‘Shabbat Shalom. So are you here for a religion class? Did you convert?’”

The full report is available on the Jews of Color Initiative’s website.

This article was originally published on the Jerusalem Post

Date Posted

November 11, 2021


Jerusalem Post Staff