We are currently in the Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holidays are two weeks away. This is an important point in the Jewish calendar -- a time to take stock of where we’ have been and to dream about the year ahead. What will we do differently in the upcoming year? What kind of impact do we want to make?
As columnist Gary Rosenblatt recently wrote, “The High Holidays remind us of our personal and communal obligations -- to ourselves, our loved ones, our people and humankind. Most heartening, though, is that in Judaism there are second chances. The primary theme of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy is that atonement brings forgiveness and the promise of a clean slate.”
The Jewish Federation has created this High Holidays Resource Page for you to see the various opportunities available at local synagogues and Jewish organizations. I hope that you find your place in our Jewish community during this meaningful time of year.
Last week, the Jews of Color Initiative released a landmark study, Beyond the Count: Perspectives and Lived Experiences of Jews of Color. The study “presents an intersectional account of American Jewish life by exploring the ways in which the ethnic, racial, and cultural identities of Jews of Color (JoC) influence and infuse their Jewish experiences.” The national study had 1,118 respondents with 17 from the State of Oregon. Survey participants characteristics included:
- 64% of respondents have at least one Jewish parent – while 22% or respondents have two Jewish parents.
- 40% indicated they converted or were converted to Judaism.
- Two-thirds of respondents were raised Jewish or raised Jewish and something else. 77% of respondents today identify as Jewish exclusively.
- 66% of survey respondents were women.
The study covers a wide array of issues with some key findings:
- The number one way respondents expressed their Jewishness (76%) was “working for justice and equality.” Less than 45% identified participation in Jewish organizations and synagogues, engaging in Jewish education, or caring about Israel as ways they expressed their Jewishness.
- Two-thirds of survey respondents say they have felt disconnected from their Jewish identities at times, and nearly half have altered how they speak, dress or present themselves to conform to predominantly white Jewish spaces.
- 80% of survey respondents agreed they have experienced discrimination in Jewish settings. More than half reported experiencing discrimination in a synagogue.
- 36% of respondents said they have no close friends who are Jews of Color.
- Most survey respondents think of being Jewish as belonging to a culture (85%), a people (82%), or a religion (73%).
- Respondents have never: attended Jewish overnight camp (61%), traveled to Israel (58%), participated in a Jewish youth group (51%), been to a JCC (44%), or participated in a JoC organization (80%).
- Most survey respondents agreed they have had a wide range of negative experiences in Jewish communal settings. JoC have been ignored, or conversely, showered with unwanted attention. Respondents described a variety of assumptions made about them including, repeatedly mistaken for security guards or nannies, and presumed to be the non-Jewish partner or guest of a white Jewish person. JoC have been offered unsolicited explanations about Jewish rituals and practices, or have been asked intrusive questions about how they became Jewish.
- Two-thirds of respondents indicated that American Jewish leaders were either “poorly” (41%) or “very poorly” (24%) addressing racism in the American Jewish community.
Here is an interesting article from the JTA about the study and a blog post from Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director of the Jews of Color Initiative.
The study made four concrete recommendations:
- Support organizations and initiatives led by and serving Jews of Color. Help expand and develop additional opportunities for JoC to enrich their Jewish lives and communities.
- Shift organizational leadership to reflect the diversity of American Jews more accurately.
- Prioritize creating spaces and places for discourse and dialog with and among JoC. Productively reckoning with the impact of racism in American Jewish life requires organization- and community-wide reflection and action.
- Promote further research by and about JoC.
Ilana Kaufman wrote, "When the environment is open and welcoming, Jews of color are able to actively contribute to the continuity of Jewish tradition and peoplehood in ways that are powerful and meaningful to them and the larger Jewish community. Jews of color feel very connected to Judaism, and want to be connected to, engaged in and part of Jewish communities and Jewish communal life." By amplifying the voices of JoC and acknowledging them, Beyond the Count can be used to move the Jewish communal discourse toward a more accurate understanding and portrayal of American Jewish life in all its complexity.
In the New Year and beyond, our Jewish community has the opportunity to be more open, inviting, understanding, and inclusive.
On a different topic, sadly, one of the priority topics in the Jewish community is security. Did you know our local Jewish organizations spend over $600,000 annually just on security personnel? Security is more than guards – it includes cameras, access control, gates, locks, specialized window treatments, etc. For the past several years, the Department of Homeland Security has provided funds to non-profit groups to purchase such equipment.
With a national pool of $180 million available, 13 Jewish organizations in the State of Oregon requested $1,709,692. As reported in this week's Jewish Review, seven Jewish organizations received funds totaling $866,632 (last year grants received totaled $512,000) for security upgrades. It is important to note that of all non-profit grants in the state (Jewish and non-Jewish), the Jewish community received 70% of funds available.
Organizations receiving funds: B’nai B’rith Camp, Chabad Center for Jewish Life, Congregation Beth Israel, Havurah Shalom, Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Jewish Academy, Temple Beth Israel (Eugene), and Temple Beth Sholom (Salem). Camp Solomon Schechter also received funds through the State of Washington.
I want to acknowledge the work of Gene Moss, our Director of Community Security, for his support of organizations throughout the process. We hope that more funds will come to our Jewish organizations in the future.
Finally, we are co-sponsoring a webinar on Wednesday, August 25 at 11:00 a.m. on the response to the crisis in Haiti. We will be joined by elected officials, community leaders, and representatives of relief organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), who will share what is happening on the ground. We are grateful to those who contributed to this relief effort. Register here.