U.S. Jewish Ethnic Diversity Great

New research finds 20% of Jewish America is ethnically and racially diverse; study shows increase in diverse Jews mirrors changing racial, religious character of America

New research debunks the commonly held view that America’s Jews are a monolithic people of exclusively white European ancestry. In a new book scholar Gary A. Tobin and co-authors and show that American Jews are a multiracial people – perhaps the most diverse people in history. Of the nation’s 6 million Jews, roughly 1.2 million, or 20 percent, consist of African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Sephardic (of Spanish and Portuguese descent), Middle Eastern, and mixed-race Jews. This minority within a minority is growing, and has the potential to change the traditional debate over the future of American Jewish life, the authors say. Prior estimates of the size of this community of Jews ranged between 10 and 14 percent.

“The Jewish people began at the intersection of Africa, Asia, and Europe. We are simply becoming who we have always been,” said Diane Tobin.

The authors of “In Every Tongue” uncovered overlooked groups among the Jewish people, including:

– Latinos reclaiming their Jewish roots, 500 years after the Spanish Inquisition – who view themselves not as “converts” but as “reverts” to Judaism.
– Long-established communities of African-American Jews in many cities, such as Chicago and New York, with their own institutional structures.
– Nearly 1 million diverse Americans closely connected to Jews – spouses, children, parents, siblings – many of whom practice some Jewish customs and identify with Jewish issues.

Over a four-year period, the authors conducted over 200 personal interviews and focus groups, collected original survey data on more than 1,000 people from over 300 households in 36 states, and visited numerous communities of diverse Jews to observe and understand their institutional structures.

The authors found that some diverse Jews feel isolated from their racial and ethnic communities as well as from the Jewish community. Despite this challenge, they identify strongly with both communities. “People from a broad range of backgrounds find Judaism a comforting home, and they do not feel they have to choose between their racial, ethnic, and religious identities simply because they are part of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Vinas, a New York-based Orthodox rabbi of Cuban descent.

The research also shows that, while many people believe that genetic heritage (being born of a Jewish parent) is the only way to join the Jewish people, conversion, adoption, and intermarriage are significant ways in which people of all races become Jewish. “More than ever, people in America are crossing boundaries and redefining race and religion,” said Gary Tobin. “The changing American Jewish people are a reflection of America as a whole.”

The Institute for Jewish & Community Research produced the book as part of a community-building effort to help the American Jewish community and Jews around the world recognize and reach out to ethnically and racially diverse Jews.


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