Report Says American Jews of Color Are Often Overlooked

A gathering of the group Jews in ALL Hues. Courtesy photo.

The typical photo of American Jews on synagogue websites, camp brochures and Jewish organizations’ flyers features happy-looking white people.

A new report, however, suggests that’s an incomplete picture.

A review of national and regional Jewish population studies found that Jews of color represent 12% to 15% of the American Jewish population and that many younger Jews who grew up in multiracial households identify as nonwhite.

“Counting Inconsistencies,” a meta-analysis undertaken by researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, estimates there are 1 million Jews of color in the U.S., of about 7.2 million Jews in all.

The report found vast inconsistencies in how Jews of color were counted in recent population studies of American Jews. Many studies didn’t ask about race or ethnicity. Others were inconsistent in their questions or used nonstandard language. The report recommends that future population studies follow federal guidelines for collecting data on race and ethnicity.

“We’re missing out on the diversity and richness of our community when we only think of Jews as being white or all coming from Europe or Eastern Europe,” said Dove Kent, a senior strategy officer with Bend the Arc, a social justice group. “It really robs us of a lot.”

Jewishness is typically passed down through the mother; if the mother is Jewish, her children are, too. In recent years, the Reform movement has begun recognizing the children of a Jewish mother or father as Jewish.

But interracial marriages and children adopted from South America, Africa and Asia are increasingly accounting for the growth in the number of Jews of color. Judaism also welcomes converts.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t think of ourselves as trending in the same patterns as the U.S. population,” said Ilana Kaufman, director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative based in Berkeley, Calif., which commissioned the study. “We’re not exceptional to the rest of the U.S. context.”

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Source: Religion News Service