The first-ever Jews of Color National Convening takes place in New York this weekend, intended to help Jews of color better assert themselves within “mainstream” American Jewry without having to compromise either their Jewish or racial identities.
One of the highlights of our tour with the members of KALA has been the many meetings they have had with Jews of color across the U.S. Both African-American Jews in the U.S. and Ethiopian Jews in Israel often find that their Jewish identity is questioned, because so many people make the false assumption that being Jewish means being white. But just as religious LGBT people who refuse to give up their Jewish or sexual identities become a bridge between the LGBT and the religious communities, so do Jews of color who celebrate both their Jewish and their racial identities become a bridge between two rather different cultures that have much to learn from each other.
Gay Jewish actor Jussie Smullet lights up Hannukah candles (Photo: Instagram)
When you look at Jewish-American celebrities, from Woody Allen to Barbra Streisand, Jerry Seinfeld to Sarah Silverman, it’s easy to understand why most Americans associate being Jewish with being white.
But what about Lenny Kravitz? Or “Hamilton” lead Daveed Diggs? Or Tracee Ellis Ross from “Blackish,” “Empire’s” Jussie Smullet, Rashida Jones of “The Office” and former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet, who recently turned up on “Girls?”
Then there’s Drake (though he’s Canadian). And don’t forget about Katie Rost, the snarky socialite from Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives of Potomac” — or Julianne Wainstein, the stick-thin new lead on this season’s “Real Housewives of New York.”
None is white, but each is Jewish — or at least has a Jewish parent and claims a strong connection to the faith.
They’re part of the estimated 10 to 12 percent of American Jews who are multiracial or non-white. It’s a figure that includes me — the son of a Jewish mother and black father — and one that’s expected to grow as intermarriage and assimilation continue to blur the lines between Gentile and Jew.
Of course, from Burma to Baghdad, “Jews of color” have existed long before their Ashkenazi counterparts settled across Europe and into the United States.
In fact, outside of America, a majority of world Jewry is at least part Mizrahi or Sephardic — the darker-hued descendants of Jews who fled to the Muslim World following the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. There are also Ethiopian Jews, a black-skinned minority who mostly settled in Israel after emigrating in the 1980s and ’90s.