Jewish multiracial families grow in numbers and commitment
Jennifer Kraft gathers with friends for a Shabbat celebration. From left are Kraft, her daughter Tali Bamlak Kraft, Ellen Goldstein, Dorrie Lieman and her son Jacob, and Goldstein’s daughter Anna. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)
Three Denver mothers heading multiracial families are seeking to build on what it means to live in Jewish community.
The community is changing.
It’s perhaps a surprising slice of demography that shows that 16 percent of metro Denver Jewish households headed by people ages 39 and younger are multiracial.
Among all age groups, 9 percent are multiracial, according to the 2007 Metro Denver/Boulder Jewish Community Study. National organizations note that the trend is increasing through conversion, marriage and adoption.
Last December, Jennifer
Kraft adopted Tali Bamlak Kraft, from Ethiopia. Tali is almost 14 months old.
“She’s my gift, by the grace of God,” Kraft said, explaining her daughter’s name — a Hebrew word, Tali, for dew drops, and Bamlak, a name given her at an Ethiopian orphanage. It’s an expression in the Amharic language of that country: “by the grace of God.”
Jennifer Kraft lived with her daughter in an Ethiopian hotel for three months waiting for the adoption process to be complete.
“It was important to me — intellectually — that she grow up with her Ethiopian identity and this whole other Jewish identity I would instill,” Kraft said. “After being there with her, it also became viscerally important to me that she have both.”
At sundown Tuesday, Yom Kippur, the most solemn Jewish holy day, begins a time of reflection and beloved, community-centered rituals. It’s a time for Jews to reflect on the nature of community, Beth Evergreen Rabbi Benjamin “Jamie” Arnold said.
“Atonement can only be achieved through our collective efforts,” Arnold said. “There is a stereotype that Jews are of Eastern European origins, but it’s well-documented there are Jews from every corner of the world.”
American Jews have been characterized as a “white” ethno-religious group, “both in terms of their racial classification and in terms of their cultural alignment in American society,” reported the UJA-Federation of New York in its comprehensive 2011 study released in June.
“However, several factors — intermarriage and adoption among them — have been working to alter that nearly all-white imagery and reality to some extent,” the report states.
In New York’s Jewish population, 12 percent of homes, 87,000 households, are multiracial.
Yet nonwhite Jews can feel isolated, said April Baskin, president of the Jewish Multiracial Network.
The UJA study found that nonwhite Jewish households joined synagogues in significantly fewer numbers — 27 percent compared with 47 percent. Very few of these multiracial households said they have “mostly Jewish friends,” and they use Jewish day schools less than half as often as other Jewish households.
Beth Evergreen’s 200-member “mountain Jewish” households include two families in which parents have adopted children of other races. One couple at Beth Evergreen has Chinese and Ethiopian grandchildren, Arnold said.
“These families want to give their children both Jewish culture and the culture of their origin,” Arnold said.
Jennifer Kraft has been reflecting a great deal on Jewish community and its place for Tali.
Kraft has like-minded friends. Ellen Goldstein and her daughter, Guatemalan-born Anna, 10, join her in a quest to gather together multiracial families. So do Dorrie Lieman and her Guatemalan-born son, Jacob, 5.
They are looking for other Jewish multiracial families to “celebrate Judaism,” share their distinctive perspectives and enjoy their differences — racial and cultural.
They’re planning their inaugural event, celebrating Sukkot, at Kraft’s home from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. They hope to welcome multiracial families with kids of all ages from all over the state.
“There’s a little piece of this that’s serious,” Lieman said, “but mostly it’s about celebrating, having fun and doing things together.”
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/electadraper