Reflecting on Emerging Research as Jews on the Margins
An important and exciting part of the Jews of Color Initiative is our ability to advance research about diverse Jewish communities. We do not only do this by commissioning new studies and releasing their findings; rather, our efforts to advance research include ongoing conversations with other scholars, research institutions, and communal leaders as we all work to better understand the expansive spectrum of Jewish life in the United States. In mid-May, the Pew Research Center released their most recent report on American Jews. As the community explores the data, the Jews of Color Initiative came together in conversation with Pew researchers and leaders of organizations that represent Jews on the margins: 18Doors, formerly known as Interfaith Families, Keshet, an organization serving LGBTQ Jews, and Mishkan Chicago, a self-described “radically inclusive Jewish community.”
The event, hosted by 18Doors, began with a presentation from Pew Researchers Alan Cooperman and Becka A. Alper in which they shared the findings of the recent Pew report. The study surveyed 4,718 participants and found that 8% of their total participants identified as non-white. A larger proportion—15%—of young adults ages 18-29 identified their race as non-white. The report also showed increasing rates of interfaith marriages and that about 25% of Jews under 30 identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, along with many other fascinating pieces of data. The Pew report demonstrates what many Jews and Jewish institutions have been recognizing: American Jews are becoming more and more diverse. For many Jews on the margins, the data from Pew is an affirmation that, as Jodi Bromberg of 18Doors said, “we’re not a drop in the ocean, we are the ocean.”
“This report is good news, and it should be received as good news,” Ilana Kaufman asserted. “We should receive it without judgement and with absolute joy.” Kaufman said that what is so exciting about the data is that it shows how “we are more deeply integrating into the United States as Jews with all of our identities intact.” In other words, having more than one identity is not erasing the Jewish population, but enriching it.
This is affirming for many marginalized communities. Idit Klein, Executive Director of Keshet, said that “just as with race and ethnicity, sexuality trends toward greater diversity as we go younger,” adding that, as with data on Jews of Color, the population is actually more diverse than existing data can reflect since children under 18 are not included. Klein also spoke to the nuances that exist in lived experiences when taking intersectionality into account. “The dynamics are multiple and ever-changing, and we need to address these different elements of identity, be intersectional in our thinking, our analysis, and how we apply those insights to our community.”
Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago added that additional trends among younger Jews need to be considered to best understand contemporary Jewish life. “Places where young adults are showing up are not necessarily given the stamp of kashrut [Kosher, used metaphorically in this context] by the mainstream Jewish community,” she said, estimating that “spaces that right now are considered marginal will someday be mainstream.”
A couple of weeks after the event, Ilana Kaufman reflected on the ongoing scholarly dialogue regarding Jewish diversity. Kaufman said that our community needs to invest in supporting and learning about the identities of young Jews ages 0-18 who aren’t represented in the Pew report or in most research studies, but who represent even greater diversity. Kaufman also believes that the Jewish communal system will have to focus even more on Jews who are ages 18-29. “They are and will be our next group of parents, of political influencers, of people who are stewarding Jewish identity, core values, and religious practice.”
As research reveals more and more about Jewish communities, it also raises questions, activating both new curiosities about other emergent communities we may be missing and elevating long-standing inquiries, such as how to maintain rigorous research methods while challenging tools of white supremacy. “Will the tools of inquiry designed for the past have the capacity to solve the problems and answer questions in the future?” Kaufman wondered.
Kaufman is especially interested in how knowledge gained from research can be put into practice to build more equitable Jewish life in the U.S. “As emergent communities become larger parts of our Jewish family, and as connections and intersections among those communities become more tightly fused, how do we collectively learn from new data to support emergent communities? How do we also make space for marginalized people to self-define or create research that centers their own identities and their voices?”
You can learn more and stay up to date on our ongoing research study here.
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