Embrace Jewish diversity

As this week’s cover story on Asian Jews makes plain, the face of Judaism is changing before our eyes.

With conversion, transracial adoption and intermarriage becoming facts of American Jewish life, we have no choice but to expand our definition of who is a Jew. It is wrong to stare at those who don’t “look Jewish” in synagogue or at Jewish functions, or to assume that they are visitors. They made the solemn choice to throw their lot in with the Jewish people. We must honor that.

As we see it, diversity within the Jewish community is a good thing. Diversity is the engine of civilization, including Jewish civilization. It is a trend that cannot be stopped.

We can no longer view the European Ashkenazi model as the archetype of global Jewish culture. Obviously, we also embrace the Israeli/Hebrew model. We embrace Sephardic/Ladino Jewry. We embrace Mizrahi/Arabic Jewry. We embrace Ethiopian/Amharic Jewry. We Jews are a true rainbow coalition.

Given those diverse communities, along with increasing numbers of Asian Jews, African American Jews and hidden communities like the Abayudaya in Uganda, we must re-examine our criteria for what constitutes the Jewish people.

Are we a race, a nation, a culture, a faith community? There are no pat answers, but thankfully there are some individuals and institutions bravely probing the boundaries of Jewishhood.

Among them is Gary Tobin, president of the S.F.-based Institute of Jewish and Community Research. An adoptive parent of an African American Jewish child, Tobin has done pioneering work on Jewish multiculturalism.

His institute is set to host its annual Be’Chol Lashon Think Tank, a President’s Day weekend series of workshops, lectures and symposia devoted to Jewish diversity. The line-up includes experts on the subject, and a cross-section of prominent Jews of color. The event is well worth the support of the broader Jewish community.

Yet we predict that wholehearted support may not be forthcoming. Why? Do we harbor some dormant racism?

Whatever the reason, it’s time to move on. Converts to Judaism are our brothers and sisters. Adopted children raised as Jews by Jews are our children. We are family.

On the other hand, change can be difficult to process. It may take time for all in our community to understand and welcome the emerging diversity.
But we can and we will get there


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