“Rather than pretending I don’t have any connection to, or don’t really care about, what I’m studying, or even that my perspective wouldn’t influence my research at all, instead I claim my stance.” This included reflecting on the limits of her own understanding as a white Jew, and guiding her to build a multiracial research team. “It’s an honor to work with this extraordinary team to contribute to a fuller understanding of American Jewish life by centering the experiences of Jews of Color.”
For Dr. Perez, the Count Me In study is an opportunity to create visibility and connectedness for Jews of Color who otherwise can feel isolated as people of color in Jewish spaces and as Jews among other people of color. “As a Jew of Color it’s rare to see myself reflected either in Jewish spaces or in BIPOC spaces. This intersection of identity is usually a lonely experience and is not given much visibility.”
“Most Jews of Color that I know don’t have other Jewish connections in their BIPOC community spaces. This research is long time coming and will reveal important trends and themes that will ideally be used to fund and sustain more racially diverse and equitable spaces in Jewish organizations and bring attention to the unique challenges and experiences that we face as Jews of Color.”
Dr. Kelman is excited to be part of a major study that values the lived experiences of Jews of Color. “This is the first time that anybody has undertaken a major study of Jews of Color in the United States, and the first time in a national study that scholars of Jewish identity have taken race and ethnicity seriously.”
Dr. Kelman is also a white Jewish researcher and knows that a multiracial research team had to be at the center of this study. “It was critical that the research team and the advisory council included many people that represent and embody the community we’re studying. We couldn’t have done it if it were just a bunch of white folks like me.”
“In addition, I don’t identify as Jewish, so there’s a newness that I can bring to looking at things,” Brundage said humbly. He said that his position as a non-Jewish person of color on the research team encourages the other researchers to “deliberately lay out” their underlying knowledge and assumptions about how to define concepts of Jewish identity.
As a graduate student, Brundage has found inspiration and catharsis working on this research team. “Being around people with values that really align with mine and feeling more valuable and hopeful in a really dark time…we all have pretty complicated lived experiences…it’s been a really cathartic and therapeutic process…seeing this really nuanced, contextualized research happening with such diligence…has been a really good motivator for me as a doctoral student.”
Brundage is excited to be part of this research team because he can play a role in “shining a spotlight” on those “wonderful humans who have so much to share” but have been pushed to the margins. “It’s been pretty cool to be part of something that really fills my cup,” he added.
Some questions included “What does it look like to be a Jew of Color in the United States right now? What are the challenges? What are the joys? How do your experiences inform your sense of self as part of this category of ‘Jews of Color,’ and what is that category? What does it mean to people?”
Part of studying identity is allowing space for the multiplicity of experiences. “I hope the take-away from our study is that there are infinite ways of holding this identity,” Dr. Gorsky shared, adding that they want the Count Me In study to “expand understandings of Jewish identity, of intersectional identities, and intersecting oppressions.”
“The experience of a Black Jew has unique elements that are not experienced in the same way among Chicano Jews or Asian-American Jews, for example.”
Despite these differences, Vincent emphasized that there are commonalities of how Jews of Color experience identity in the context of the U.S. that makes it important to study Jews of Color as a collective identity category. “The category of Jews of Color is oriented around how folks that face particular kinds of discrimination or prejudice in Jewish spaces can work together in order to push for change within their communities,” Vincent explained.
Together, the research team is not only building a remarkable study of Jews of Color, but they are modeling the future of research excellence. Built on interdisciplinary collaboration guided by both feminist and critical race lenses, their work is fueled by the impact it will have on the community.
If you self-identify as a Jew of Color, take the 15-minute Count Me In survey today at JoCsurvey.org.