The American Jewish community is diverse due partly to historical precedents and contemporary social forces at work. The Jewish community is expanding and changing through intermarriage, conversion, and adoption. People of colour are among those who enter the community through these channels.
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As Jews become more integrated into American society, it should be no surprise that an increasing number of African Americans, Asians, Latinos, and mixed-race people are joining the Jewish community. This growth, however, complements a diverse Jewish population that has existed in America for hundreds of years. Before Ashkenazi Jews arrived in the New World, the first Jews in America were Sephardic and African.
Ironically, the American majority defined Jews as non-white well into the 1950s and early 1960s. Others considered Jews to be “black” or “Oriental.” Before the late 1940s, racially restrictive covenants and housing laws in America targeted African Americans, Asians, and Jews, all considered foreign, non-white racial groups.
The white status of Jews is a rarity in the history of the Jewish people. Some Jews find it difficult to accept that not long ago, all Jews were considered non-white. Others, strangely, will never think of themselves to be white at all. Some Jews still believe themselves to be a minority that exists outside of America’s white mainstream. They still feel like strangers in their land. Even if they can sometimes empathize or identify with people of colour, most Jews in the United States are white when it comes to people of colour.
Many Jews of various races and ethnicities are born Jewish. These people are not necessarily of mixed race. There are long-established families and communities of colour who have been Jewish for generations worldwide, including the United States. Furthermore, many Jews marry people who were not born Jewish. Even if the non-Jewish partner does not convert, their children may develop a Jewish identity, multiple religious identities, or none. Some people of colour become Jews through formal conversion, while others live as Jews by psychologically and functionally transforming their identity without undergoing conversion rites. When adopted by Jewish parents, many children of colour become Jewish. Many, but not all, of these adopted children undergo formal conversion while still minors and grow up the same way as other Jewish children in America.
The public, as well as sociologists, anthropologists, and demographers are changing their perceptions of racial categories. Conventional categories have long been muddled due to centuries of racial mixing. We have outgrown the definitions that we devised. They were fabricated and problematic from the start. Furthermore, language is absent to discuss the complex combinations of race, religion, ethnicity, and nationality.
The changing racial boundaries in the American landscape have contributed to diversity in Jewish families. Like other Americans, Jewish Americans are African-American, Caribbean, African, Asian, Latino, and various racial and ethnic groups, as they have always been.
Jews of diverse backgrounds, like many Americans of mixed heritage, have multiple identities that can be conflicting, complicated, and difficult to reconcile. Others accept and are at ease with their various identities. Diverse Jews who do not feel welcomed by the Jewish community may find it easier to identify with their racial community than as a Jew. At the same time, they may face discrimination from their racial group due to their Jewish identity. Jews of colour may have dual identities, culturally connected to their respective racial communities and religiously connected to Judaism. Others easily navigate multiple identities and consider themselves fortunate to be a part of so many different cultures.
Why Is Diversity Important?
The Jewish community values racial and ethnic diversity for five reasons:
Whatever proportion of the American Jewish population diverse Jews make up, their numbers are growing.
Diverse Jews contribute to the Jewish population’s growth. The possibility of increasing that number, and thus our communal numbers overall, is significant and intriguing. Numbers are robust in and of themselves. Despite the standard cry in Jewish institutional circles that quantity is more important than quality, both are important. A larger, more diverse Jewish community is preferable to a shrinking one. Given the number of “connected” non-Jews already present, as well as those Americans, including people of colour, who feel free to choose or reject the religion of their birth, the Jewish community could grow significantly, possibly by millions, if it were more open and could attract new people, including people of colour. Should Jews consider those who are not officially Jewish? Jewish people should treat Jews as friends, just as guests in their homes. In addition to violating Jewish values, Jews should cherish those people they can rely on for support in the face of rising anti-Semitism.
Diverse Jews identify strongly as Jews.
Although population growth is critical, more is needed to sustain the Jewish community. Individual Jewish involvement and participation are also essential. The larger Jewish community should be concerned about diversity because most diverse Jews, regardless of their path to Judaism or level of institutional or religious affiliation, are deeply identified as Jews who want to build a stronger Jewish community.
The Jewish community’s diversity helps to bridge gaps with other racial and ethnic groups.
Anti-Semitism (sometimes disguised as anti-Israelism) has been rising in the United States, Europe, and, mainly, the Muslim world in recent years. One way to address this threat is to promote diversity within the Jewish community. Increasing the number and visibility of racially and ethnically diverse Jews aids in closing the racial and ethnic gap. Anti-Semites portray Israel and Jews as “white colonialists,” sometimes unfairly comparing Israeli actions to apartheid policies in South Africa or even Nazi practices. Those who want to destroy Israel try to rally people of colour to oppose the “white colonialists.” When it is made clear that Jews are also people of colour, it becomes more challenging to promote misrepresentation of Israel, Jews, and Judaism.
Diversity contributes to the meaning of Judaism.
To ensure that the Jewish community thrives in future generations, the American Jewish mainstream must find a way to make Judaism more meaningful to the growing number of disenfranchised Jews, including young people. One of the keys to that future is diversity. People worldwide, including younger Jews, yearn for a world where racial or ethnic segregation is less polarizing. Communities that distinguish themselves from other minority cultures are regarded as archaic. Popular music, film, and other forms of art that appeal to younger people freely borrow from many cultures and no longer conceal their origins. Because diversity is an essential component of American identity, the Jewish community would benefit from devoting resources and energy to racial and ethnic diversity within its ranks.
The hallmark and soul of the Jewish experience is racial and ethnic diversity.
Because diversity has always been an essential part of Jewish history and heritage, the Jewish community must support, encourage, and seek it. Throughout Jewish history, Jews have borrowed from and contributed to other cultures wherever they have lived, whether in Egypt or Ethiopia, Cartagena or Calcutta, Russia or Romania. Jews have consistently expanded through the addition of people from other cultures, changing and adapting and becoming more prosperous with each addition, whether by choice or by force. There is no single ethnic or racial group that holds the “true Jew” card. Jews have survived by being resilient people.
Conflicts Both Internal and External
The Jewish community is troubled by denominational differences, questions about who is a Jew, what forms of Judaism are legitimate, and how one defines participation and belonging. It is debatable under what circumstances someone converts, how they study, and how they live their Jewish lives. Jews of colour are frequently caught in the whirlwind of the Jewish community’s inability to resolve standards, discord, and mutual suspicions. Aggressive and effective measures are required to deal with internal strife in a healthy Jewish community.
These tensions are, of course, not new. Jews have been contentious, plagued by familial and tribal strife since their inception. Differences became entrenched over time through ritual practice, loyalty to various religious leaders, nationality, origin, and various other issues. On the other hand, external threats, oppression, and persecution almost always dampened internal strife. The majority of populations around them forced Jews into geographic and communal proximity or forced them to hide their identity, as the Anusim has done for centuries.
To deal with internal strife and external oppression, Jews primarily used three strategies. The first is to turn inward and protect oneself. Strangers are kept at a distance, and newcomers are turned away. Jews either physically or psychologically carry the ghetto with them. The ghetto strategy, whether imposed externally or internally, creates the illusion of unity: however, it is a closed system rife with internal divisions. The second option is to completely abandon Jewish identity, assimilate, and eventually disappear into the majority population. Jews assimilate to such an extent that they leave their distinctive Jewish identity and behaviour. The strategy of disappearance provides more options and choices—but without Judaism. The Anusim perfected the third—living inwardly as Jews and outwardly as gentiles. For generations, the descendants of those forced to convert to Christianity, known as conversos (converts), Marranos (swine), crypto-Jews, and now b’nei anusim (children of the forced), kept their secret hidden from their children and grandchildren. This legacy of fear and hiding is so strong that many b’nei anusim do not risk revealing themselves even today. One of the twenty-first century’s most complex challenges is to have identity and integration in moder
1 describe why culture and diversity is important to healthcare
2compare and contrast the scope of culture and the scope of spirituality
3 Give an explanation as to why you chose Jewish.
4 what are you hoping to learn from this part of the course.