Research that Got Us to This Moment: We Stand on the Shoulders of Others
The Jews of Color Initiative is entering an exciting moment. As most of you know, your participation in our Count Me In survey helped create the largest dataset on Jews of Color in United States history. Now, our research team is finishing up its analysis not only of the survey data, but also of the qualitative interviews that represent a second part of the study. We will release the findings later this summer. But just because Jews of Color have been under-considered by researchers doesn’t mean we’re the first to pay attention to our community. In fact, several studies and other writings paved the way for us—and our research team—to have a foundational understanding of the JoC community.
Using our own familiarity with past studies and connecting with our research team to see which writings on Jews of Color helped inform their knowledge of the community, we’ve developed a list of some research studies and books from the 2000s to today that shaped research on Jews of Color, and on whose shoulders we stand.
Loolwa Khazzoom is a revered elder among many who value the diversity of the Jewish people. Developed from Khazzoom’s genuine passion for an inclusive Jewish community and her own struggles to have her story known, The Flying Camel is a compilation of essays about identity from Jewish women with Middle Eastern and North African roots. The essays are filled with vision, memory, anger, joy, and longing, and together create one of the only books that amplify the voices of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jewish women.
In Every Tongue offered a refreshing view of Jewish identity in the United States that challenged the common assumptions of Jewish life as one-dimensional. Diane Tobin and Gary Tobin, the founders of Be’chol Lashon, and Scott Rubin challenged some of the widespread assumptions about Jewish peoplehood, taking on issues of Ashkenormativity, racism in the Jewish community, and the racial politics of how we define who is a Jew. They estimated at the time that, including Sephardic Jews, 1.2 million, or 20% of the American Jewish population was diverse and did not fit into the standard box of white Ashkenazi Jews.
The Colors of Jews, written by the founding director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, provided another early challenge to Ashkecentrism, showing, even in the early 2000s, that Jews were increasingly racially diverse. This book shares experiences of Jews of Color in their own words and pushes back against assumptions of Jewish whiteness, the limitations of the “Black-Jewish-relations” framework, and the need for solidarity across racial lines to combat racism and antisemitism.
Soomekh’s book brings together chapters from different Sephardi and Mizrahi academics, artists, and thinkers to explore some of the most relevant questions about Sephardi and Mizrahi identities and experiences in the U.S. Covering a wide range of topics, such as the use of Ladino, how the ethnic category “Sephardi” was interpreted by Sephardi Jews in the United States, and the political and social contributions of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, this book sheds new light on the unique Jewish experiences beyond Ashkenormativity.
Asian Jews are one of the biggest groups of Jews of Color in the United States, in large part due to higher rates of interracial marriage between white Jews and Asians. JewAsian takes an in-depth look at couples and the children of white Jews and Asians in the United States. Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt’s book shows how the growing demographic of multiracial Jewish-Asian families make sense of their intersecting identities and communities. Through interviews with couples and adult children, Kim and Leavitt show that the idea that intermarriage erases Jewish identity is far from the truth, and that the unique experiences of Jewish-Asian children lead them to develop thoughtfulness around identity, belonging, and authenticity.
The Soul of Judaism shows the immense diversity of experiences and identities among Black Jews in the U.S. In a direct challenge to the assumption that Black Jews must all share a singular experience, Haynes dives into the lived experiences of Black Jews who arrived at Judaism through different paths and who represent a wide spectrum of observance and movement affiliation (Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform), using historical analysis and the oral histories of diverse Black Jews.
Latino Jews are understudied even among research on diverse Jews. Laura Limonic’s book takes a look at how Latino Jewish immigrants understand their racial identity in the context of limited racial categories in the U.S., immigrant assimilation, and other factors like religion and class. Limonic finds that Latino Jews are sometimes able to make choices about how to identify their race, and at other times are forced into racial categories without their choosing.
These are not the only writings on Jews of Color. Still more works have explored the personal narratives and lives of Jews of Color, such as MaNishtana’s Thoughts from a Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe, or Rebecca Walker’s Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. The above list shares some of the resources that have guided our research, but is certainly not an exhaustive list. Although scholarship and writing on Jews of Color has been few and far between, it has—just like Jews of Color—always been here.
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