The Future Jewish Community

I often find myself thinking about the kind of Jewish community I’d like to help build as a rabbi and or be a part of as a Rabbi.  I want to find ways to connect with Jews that do not feel welcomed in Jewish communities. This is also a personal issue for me because as a queer Jew of color, I often do not feel safe or welcomed in Jewish spaces for a lot of reasons, but one is that my identity as a Jew, who is also a person of color changes the conversation of what a Jew looks like.

We live in a world where the larger Jewish community still sees itself defined along racial and ethnic lines and those ethnic lines do not include Jews of color. They also do not include Jews who have converted and or chosen Judaism and sadly Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews and Jews from other Jewish communities also feel left out.  The larger Jewish community is connected to a narrative of an Eastern European past.  I find it hard to connect with other Jews when they see themselves so connected to this narrative. There is nothing wrong with being proud of one’s family background, but today that same narrative does not work in a Jewish community where many Jews do not share that same background.

 Today 20% of the Jewish community is racially and ethnically diverse. Many Jews have chosen Judaism, including many of the students at my rabbinical school. Slowly, more Jews of color are becoming leaders in the Jewish community, and there are more Jews of patrilineal descent. What does all this mean? I’m not sure. One thing I think of, is this means a growing Jewish population unburden by a collective tragedy. Does this have the potential to change the mindset of the Jewish community? I don’t know. I know for some in the Jewish community this means fear but for me and many others we are excited about the possibilities and we are excited for the Jewish people.

5 thoughts on “The Future Jewish Community

  1. Well reasoned and written, as always. I do have to stop and think, however, about a Jew by choice being ‘unburdened by a collective tragedy.’ By adopting a new family/group/religion/community, doesn’t one also adopt the collective consciousness of the group, as well? I don’t see how a Jew, no matter the origins of his/her Jewishness, can be ‘unburdened’ by our collective history _as a people_ (as opposed to each members’ individual experience or family lore). BTW, this is an interesting thing for me to think about, as I am somewhat indifferent about this aspect of our shared history. Not because of a general callousness, but because all human atrocities are horrific and deserve our consideration and action; wearing the shoah like a cilice has always seemed very un-progressive to me, and therefore, somewhat anachronistic to my understanding of modern Judaism. Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward Reconstructionism!

    • Great article Sandra! Deborah, I think probably (based on my own experience and anecdotal knowledge from other converts that the typical Jew-by-choice relates to the shoah in much the same way that you talk about in the second part of your post–as a particularly egregious example of the kind of atrocities to which humanity is prone, one which affected the families of many of the people in the community they’ve become a part of. What tends to be missing is the “and so…” In other words, they can lack the many ways in which the deeply ingrained sense of the holocaust as a personal and familial reality affects the fundamental attitude and decisions of many Jews with respect to Judaism–with regard to intermarriage, for example, or the necessity of a specifically Jewish state of Israel as a last-ditch refuge in case it all happens again. Neither of these perspectives is necessarily more valid or grounded in reality than another of course, but there does tend to be a difference.

  2. Hey thanks for posting. I agree that Jews can adopt a narrative and a collective conscience as their own but do they adopt the trauma? I think not, unless that trauma continues in present day. Also this trauma creates a space where folks from other Jewish communities (Sephardic, Mizrachi, Jamaican, Africa etc) also feel unwelcomed. The Ashekanzi Jewish story is one of many in our tradition, it is the story that get’s the most play in the United States. With more and more Jews in the United States coming from different backgrounds it means fewer Jews sharing that same trauma and a shift in the American Jewish experience, which for some is scary but for many exciting.

    Sometimes I think American Jews forget that not all Jews are Ashkenazi and because they forget it makes it harder for other Jews to fit in. I see a future where american Jews don’t see themselves so connected to this ethnic background

  3. I see conversion and interfaith marriage as G-d’s attempt to breed out centuries of Ashkenazi neurosis. There is something seriously wrong with large segments of the mainstream Jewish community, psychologically. Have you ever sat in on a synagogue board meeting? Case closed.

    We also have cultural problems — food, music, style. Folks, there is significant room for improvement. Have you ever eaten schav? Evaluated the fashion quotient on shabbat morning? Sang 15 dirge-like zemirot in a row? Case closed. It is okay to let go of some things that are really not working for us.

    My fellow Ashkenazim, we need help. I have never met a convert to Judasim who did not see Judaism as a source of joy. For this, we often see them as “not really Jewish”. We look down on them because they actually believe in connecting to G-d or doing mitzvot. Because Judaism should be painful, right? We should feel constantly conflicted about it. If it’s not a heavy burden, we can’t possibly be serious about it. We have taken gravitas too far.

    No one is going to remain Jewish in the next century because they find Judaism painful or oppressive. Thank G-d people choose to marry us, breed with us, and join us. Left to our own devices, we were not doing that well. G-d is sending us amazing souls, full of light. We have something to teach but even more to learn.

  4. Shalom Sandra,
    I am more than delighted to see you ‘at this place, at this time’.
    You will be a bright light for the Jewish Community.
    I am a Black Jew and I am a member of a Conservative Synagogue
    In Southern California.
    There is much work to be done, especially in the area of social justice.
    Oh yes, as Jews we will never stop learning, and that’s a good thing.
    I would like to share my story with you , but on a personal basis.
    I can be reached at jfrancessmith@gmail.com. B’Shalom, J Smith

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