The Jews of Color of the 2020 Forward 50

Representation matters. It tells a story about who we are and how we portray ourselves as a Jewish community.

A recent annual review of influential American Jews from 2020 offered an example of ensuring that the narrative we tell about U.S. Jews reflects our multiracial reality.

Published on January 3, 2021, the Forward 50 2020 listed fifty innovative and inspiring Jews—6 are Jews of Color. Six out of fifty is 12%—within our study’s population estimate for the percentage of JoC among the Jewish community of the U.S. This is an exciting example of proportionate representation of Jews of Color.

These 6 Jews of Color are contributing to the very fabric of Jewish life in our current era. From rabbis to rappers, activists to historians, these six JoCs are giving us a little extra simcha (joy).

Aaron Samuels

The co-founder of the well-known news and culture platform for Black millennials, Blavity, Aaron Samuels has also immersed himself in Jewish organizing and activism. In 2015, Samuels participated in Bend the Arc’s Selah Cohort. Along with two other JoCs, Lindsey Newman of Be’Chol Lashon and Rachel Sumekh, CEO Swipe Out Hunger, Samuel co-authored a widely-circulated letter in the summer of 2020 titled Not Free to Desist, calling on the Jewish community and others to stand up for racial justice. Samuels is also a published poet, sometimes using the medium to write on his intersecting Black and Jewish identities.

Photo from aaronlevysamuels.com

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl

Rabbi Buchdahl is the Senior Rabbi at Central Synagogue in New York City, the first woman to lead in the community’s 180 year history. In addition to her ordination as a rabbi from Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Buchdahl was also invested as a cantor; music has always been and continues to be a major part of Rabbi Buchdahl’s Jewish practice. She is the first Asian American to be a rabbi or a cantor in North America. Rabbi Buchdahl sees the melding of Judaism with other cultural customs not as a rare occurrence among Jews, but as part of the ongoing story of how the Jewish people have adapted to customs of host countries in the Diaspora.

Photo from centralsynagogue.org 

Daveed Diggs

Daveed Diggs is an accomplished actor, singer, producer, writer, and rapper, perhaps most well-known for his Grammy and Tony award-winning role as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. He is also a vocalist for an experimental hip hop group, Clipping. Diggs likely graced your social media this Chanukah when his music video “Puppy for Hanukkah,” which solely featured Jewish children of color, was released. Along with Rafael Casal, Diggs wrote, produced, and starred in the 2018 film Blindspotting, which tackles issues of racism, policing, and the criminal justice system in unexpected and even humorous ways. The film is now being developed into a series with Starz.

Photo from imdb.com

Maayan Zik

Maayan Zik became a leading voice in Crown Heights this past summer when she organized “Tahalucha for Social Justice.” The event was organized as a post-George Floyd protest and educational space. Developed in conversation with other Chabad community members in the Crown Heights neighborhood of New York, the event drew over 100 people who wanted to stand up for Black life and rights. Maayan is continuing to be a strong voice for justice in Crown Heights. Zik told the JoCI, “I am one of the founders of Kamochah, which exists to support Black Orthodox Jews and engage with the broader Orthodox community. I am also one of the founders of Ker A Velt, which is a Yiddish rallying cry to ‘turn the world over’ in pursuit of a world liberated in justice and peace. I am so humbled and honored to be considered a change maker in 2020.”

Photo from vogue.com

Michael Twitty

A food writer, historian of culinary arts, and an independent scholar, Michael Twitty uses his talents and knowledge to build a culinary practice he calls Kosher/Soul. Twitty describes Kosher/Soul on his website as “melding the histories, tastes, flavors, and Diasporic wisdom of being Black and being Jewish.” In another innovative and provocative presentation of identity, history, and culinary and performance arts, Twitty developed “Southern Discomfort Tour,” in which he enacted a day in the life of a slave, including cooking in an old plantation kitchen for guests, to call attention to the severity of the oppressive, torturous conditions. Twitty is also a teacher of Judaic Studies in the Washington D.C. area.

Photo from hadassahmagazine.org

Rabbi Sandra Lawson

Becoming one of the leading rabbinic voices of our time, Rabbi Sandra Lawson is a Reconstructionist Rabbi dedicated to improving issues of Jewish engagement and Jewish diversity and inclusivity. She recently became the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with Reconstructing Judaism. In a break from the “typical” rabbi most people have in mind, Rabbi Sandra has made strategic use of social media to build Jewish community and identity in a highly accessible and relatable way, drawing in diverse and unaffiliated Jews. Rabbi Sandra also shares her exploration of music as a source of spirituality and connection, sharing the vulnerability and realness of her creative process and learning with the community. “2020 was unlike any other year,” Rabbi Sandra shared with the JoCI, “and I am very honored to have a platform and that people wanted to listen to me. And totally honored to be recognized alongside many others that I admire.”

Photo from jewishboston.com