Since Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka is bringing the only Jewish African American gospel singer of our time, Joshua Nelson to their synagogue on November 7th to sing Hebrew, Israeli and Jewish music with a gospel sound with his backup band, Adath’s cantor and the Adath choir (check the website for tickets), it seemed fitting to talk a little about cultural and racial diversity in the Jewish community. As in – What do we feel about it? And do we even talk about it?
So often, it seems like people talk and think about Jews as white and European. Employment applications and census forms force us to make that distinction every year, right? I check the box “white” or “European” but I identify as “Jewish” and would rather check that box, but there never is one. Understanding the diversity of the Jewish people makes the discussion of whether Judaism is a religion, a culture, a race, or some combination of all three so much more complicated.
Whether you are rocking out to Joshua Nelson at Adath, watching Ethiopian Jews dancing wildly to Israeli tunes, or dancing salsa steps with Shira Schwartz at the Saint Paul Jewish Community Center, there’s no question that the diversity of Jewish experiences and culture only heightens what it means to be Jewish in America.
Those whose Jewish heritage is multi-racial or multi-cultural – and rabbis, Jewish educators and others interested in making their communities more welcoming – should check out the national Jewish Multiracial Network, which provides online resources (like which synagogues are friendly to Jews of color, websites, discussion groups, films, events, and more) in order “to build a community of Jews of color and multiracial Jewish families for mutual support, learning, and empowerment . . . and to enrich Jewish communal life by incorporating our diverse racial and ethnic heritages.”
The Jewish Multiracial Network also has a fabulous poster for sale entitled “Because Jews come in all colors” (pictured above). I’d be thrilled to see that poster on the walls of our local Jewish delis, synagogues, schools and non-profit organizations. Will you purchase one for your shul?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments: Do you think that Judaism is a race, a religion or a culture? How has the diversity of the Jewish community in America enriched your life? How do you think our Jewish community could do better in embracing the diversity within each of us and the community as a whole?
Okay, that’s a lot to talk about. Go.
(P.S. – if you need a little Jewish soul music to wake up your fingers before you comment, watch this video of Joshua Nelson.)
(Photo of poster “Because Jews come in all colors“)