The New York Jewish Week newspaper just released its July “Text/Context” special section, which this month is focuses on “some challenging questions about how the Jewish community relates to those among us who might be considered other, or different, whether Jews of color or with disabilities, gay and lesbian, converts, nonbelievers or women.” We of course appreciate any focus on underserved populations within the Jewish community, though if you add “intermarried” to that list (which the Jewish Week thankfully covers regularly through its columnist Julie Wiener), you’ve actually just described the majority of the community, not really “the other.” A collection of articles like this might help the Jewish community to stop considering “the norm” as two heterosexual able-bodied able-minded married white Jews with children. That’s actually the decreasing minority.
Two of the pieces in the special section address multiracial Jews. In “Jews of Many Colors,” Eric Goldstein mentions how “the Jewish Multiracial Network, a community-building, education and advocacy group promoting Jewish diversity, has created what it calls an ‘Ashkenazi/White Jewish Privilege Checklist,’ with items designed to make white/Ashkenazi Jews more aware of the slights experienced by Jews of color in synagogue and communal life.” And in “Lighting A Candle For Sammy Davis Jr.,” renowned journalist and author Samuel G. Freedman makes a persuasive argument for inclusion, though I was concerned with the way the piece ends.
Freedman writes, “Instead of a closed door, today we have a revolving door. As born Jews exit by interfaith marriage or waning attachment, Jews-by-choice enter in the Sammy Davis Jr. way [genuine interest in Judaism]. He died a generation too soon to see the American Jewish community become 7 percent non-white, according to several studies. He did not live to see adoption create a whole subset of Chinese and Latino Jewish children of white Jewish parents. He was decades in the grave when the black first lady had a black rabbi for a cousin.”
To suggest that the “exit” of the revolving door is through “interfaith marriage or waning attachment” — as if those are synonymous — and that the only ways in are through adoption or the conversion of spiritual seekers, is either poor phrasing or an incorrect understanding of the situation. Intermarriage has not been synonymous with a waning attachment or an exit from the community for many decades now, and in fact, in some communities it’s much more of a way in than a way out. And while nobody has the exact statistics, the sheer number of intermarried households engaging in Jewish life today — which far outweighs both the number of converts of all denominations as well as multiracial adoptees — suggests that in fact it is interracial intermarriage that is leading the way in creating a more racially diverse Jewish community. Freedman gives this new generation of mixed-race Jewish children produced through intermarriages short shrift by suggesting they came into it the wrong way.
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