By now, our major study of Jews of Color in the United States,Beyond the Count: Perspectives and Lived Experiences of Jews of Color, has been widely circulated throughout the Jewish community as well as in the larger public sphere. Built on data from 1,118 survey respondents and 61 interview participants, Beyond the Count has brought a multifaceted tapestry of JoC experiences to the forefront of our communal conversation on race and racism in the Jewish community. Though the study is unable to confirm whether the findings are representative of the larger Jews of Color community—that is, there is not enough existing demographic data against which our research team could compare the demographics of the study participants—Beyond the Count is still painting an unprecedented picture of Jews of Color. Here are the top five teachings we see emerging from Beyond the Count.
1. Jews of Color have faced widespread discrimination in Jewish settings
A vast majority, 80%, of Jews of Color who participated in the survey said they have experienced discrimination in Jewish communal settings, more than half of them in synagogues or congregations. Participants also expressed a “double consciousness”—a term coined by W. E. B. DuBois to explain the sense of having to view yourself not only through your own eyes but through the eyes of a dominant group. This double consciousness showed up in a feeling of having to conform to white Jews; 45% agree that they have altered how they speak, dress, or present themselves in predominantly white Jewish spaces. 60% agree they have felt tokenized in Jewish communal settings. Given all these facts, it’s not surprising that many Jews of Color indicated that it is more difficult for their multiple identities to co-exist in predominantly white Jewish spaces than in (non-Jewish) BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) spaces. It’s also not surprising that, given the racism JoC face, 66% agree they have felt disconnected from their Jewish identity at times. Many participants described how, since a young age, they had to learn to navigate the Jewish community’s racism and assumptions, often with the guidance of their parents.
2. Connecting with other Jews of Color is vital to JoC wellbeing
In Beyond the Count, 46% of respondents said that talking about the experience of being a Jew of Color with other Jews of Color is very important to them. Yet 36% of respondents said they have no close friends who are Jews of Color, indicating that there are likely limited instances where Jews of Color are able to collectively communicate about their experiences. When JoC are able to connect with one another through participating in events and being part of communities that are specifically by and for Jews of Color, the result can be transformative and healing for many. One participant said, “Being in JoC community spaces—whether it’s conferences or cohorts—adds value and meaning to being Jewish for me. Going to synagogue fills my need for my Jewish spirituality, and there is another spiritual need that I have: to be in JoC-only spaces.”
3. Jews of Color often connect their Jewishness to a sense of justice and connection with the past and future
Beyond the Count participants were asked to identify which expressions of Jewish identity were “very important” to them. The top five most-selected responses were:
Working for justice and equality (Tikkun Olam)
Passing on Jewish identity to the next generation
Honoring their parents, grandparents, and/or ancestors
Remembering the Holocaust
Celebrating Jewish holidays
Through their response to this question, participants of this survey demonstrated that many Jews of Color express Jewishness through rich connections to traditional values that are grounded in their multifaceted identities.
4. It’s time to be rid of assumptions about Jews of Color
While we can’t be sure if this study is representative of the larger JoC community, one thing is for sure—Beyond the Count captured a diverse population with just as diverse perspectives. Inherent in this diversity is a call for the JoC community to be seen as they are, not as they exist through the narrow lens of others’ assumptions. Participants’ responses dispel many of the myths that exist about Jews of Color.
Myth: Most Jews of Color converted
Fact check: 65% of participants were raised Jewish. (However, much work needs to be done to challenge stigma that continues to be attached to conversion—despite the fact that such a stigma goes against halacha—specifically for Jews of Color who are indeed Jews by Choice).
Myth: Ashkenazi is a synonym for white Jews
Fact check: 42% of participants identify as Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi is not a racial identity, but one tied to particular expressions of Jewish practice, customs, and culture that historically evolved among European Jews and have been passed down through generations, or through conversion, regardless of race.
Myth: Jews of Color aren’t in synagogues because there aren’t any Jews of Color around or they just aren’t engaged in the Jewish community
Fact check: Beyond the Count participants are engaged in a wide variety of Jewish practices, celebrations, organizations, and communities. 60% are currently or have previously been a regular volunteer in Jewish organizations or synagogues. 49% say at least half of their closest friends are Jewish. Revisiting the powerful statistic about experiences of discrimination in communal settings may provide a window into the absence of Jews of Color in synagogues.
Myth: Jews of Color can be lumped into one monolithic group
Fact check: Participants’ diversity shines through every aspect of the Beyond the Count findings, from a wide range of identity categories and differing experiences based on colorism, to diverse perspectives on Israel or even on the term “Jews of Color” itself. There is no single “Jews of Color” perspective, identity, or experience.
5. There is a long way to go to tackle racism and white supremacy in the Jewish institutional community
65% of participants said that Jewish community leaders are poorly or very poorly addressing the specific needs of members/participants who are Jews of Color. Similar responses came up for addressing the need for greater racial/ethnic diversity in Jewish organizational leadership and for addressing racism/white supremacy within the American Jewish community. Though lower than the other percentages, 36% said Jewish communal leaders are poorly or very poorly addressing racism/white supremacy outside of the American Jewish community, indicating that perhaps the Jewish communal ecosystem requires a harder look at racism that occurs internally. In a different question measuring how connected Jews of Color feel to different groups, predominantly white Jewish organizations ranked the lowest, showing only a slight sense of connection. This means that significant change will be needed for Jews of Color to see themselves connected to, and reflected in, the majority of Jewish institutions.
For many Jews of Color, there is little in Beyond the Countthat is surprising. JoC voices have been speaking out on these issues for years. But what this study does help us do is get it all down on paper, documenting our experiences and perspectives, reflecting our truths to the larger Jewish community and to ourselves. By amplifying the voices of JoC and acknowledging our complexity, Beyond the Countcan be used to move Jewish communal conversations and actions toward a more accurate understanding of American Jewish life in all its complexity.