A highlight from Episode 68: Beyond the Count: Talking to Jews of Color

Can We Talk?


Being a black American Jew means that no matter what I'm doing, the first thing people see is that I'm black. I am from an interfaith Muslim Jewish family, growing up in a post 9 11 post second intifada, America, I grew up a racialized Jew. For me, being a first generation immigrant to by choice means that I most often find myself on the outside looking in of multiple spaces and places. Koreans see me as being more American than Korean Jews see me more as being non Jewish as a convert than really and truly Jewish. For me being mixed ethnic, queer, Jewish person is both about being part of something vast and communal and also something that's isolating because it's the pie is getting cut into very small slices and it's hard to find others like yourself. That was Cassandra housley, maruchi zalal, tsuji men Miranda, and gage gorsky, who all identify as Jews of color. The Jews of color initiative, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, estimates that between 12 to 15% of American Jews are Jews of color. The Pew Research institute has a similar if slightly lower estimate. The Jews of color initiative recently released a survey of over a thousand self identified Jews of color from all over the United States. The survey respondents were a diverse group of Jews who also identify as African American, Hispanic or LatinX, Native American or indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, mizrahi, and beta Israel or Ethiopian Jewish, and multiracial. Ilana Kaufman is the executive director of the Jews of color initiative. I spoke with her about the survey's findings, and the Jewish communities growing awareness of its own diversity. As this conversation has continued to gain momentum. There's been some very sincere wondering about our experiences as Jewish people of color. Our perspectives, what happens to us when we're communal spaces? Do we really have experiences or racism or not? How and in what ways do we engage Jewish life and why? The survey respondents report engaging in Jewish life in many of the traditional ways. Going to synagogue, celebrating Shabbat and holidays, passing on Jewish identity to the next generation. Three quarters of them said that engaging in tikun olam or social justice was an important expression of their Jewish identity. And an overwhelming majority report facing racism and discrimination in majority white Jewish communal settings. In this episode, ilana and I talk about the survey and its implications. You'll also hear from Cassandra morocha gage and suji about their personal experiences. So elana, this is an engaged group of Jews. That's right. And yet the survey shows that the vast majority, 80% report they faced discrimination, especially in Jewish congregational settings. I mean, I don't imagine that came as a surprise to you or did it. I mean, what was your reaction to that finding? This number is jaw dropping. And while it's not surprising, because each one of us who's a Jewish person of color who engages in community life, experiences racism on a daily basis. What does it mean that a group of a collective group of people who again have different experiences based on our own racial ethnic backgrounds, but a collective experience of racism in this context, what does it mean when a group is so highly engaged and enduring so much so much injustice and pain and what would it be like if we could just dive in and just engage in Jewish life without having to into a racism? My name is Cassandra housley. I'm originally from Terre Haute Indiana, but I've been in Bloomington now for quite a long time. I'm hyper aware that I'm the only black woman in this space. There's no way around that. And all of that subconscious like performance like I have to be awesome because if I do anything wrong, it's not just because I'm, you know, I had a bad day or because, you know, I tripped on my way here and it threw up my mojo, 'cause, well, she's black and she's this, and she's that. And she's the affirmative action hire that we didn't. Or whatever, you know? And I just not wanting to go down that road because once you go down that road, you don't have brain space left to think about what it is you're there to do. I'm suji men Miranda. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am an immigrant first generation was born in Seoul Korea, converted to Judaism as an adult on my own, and I am currently the executive director of the aleph alliance for Jewish renewal. I was in a waiting room and happened to come across a woman from a synagogue that I was the executive director of for 6 years. I was very, very involved in this synagogue for 6 years. And she mistook me for another Korean woman who belongs to the synagogue. So they're really is, you know, this feeling that Asians, we all look alike. I mean, that's what resonated or made me real. My name is Miro Shah. I also go by Mira. I'm 22. And I grew up on the northeast coast

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