When Joshua Maxey first read the Beyond the Count study last year, he was not surprised by many of the things that were in it.
The study sought to provide an intersectional account of American Jewish life by exploring the ways in which the identities of Jews of color influence their Jewish experiences.
Led by Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Initiative, the study asked 1,118 respondents if they ever experienced discrimination in Jewish settings.
Eighty percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination in Jewish settings.
“I’ve lived those experiences,” said Maxey, a Washington resident. “Not feeling comfortable walking into certain Jewish spaces because of the color of my skin, or getting awkward stares or questions about my Jewish background.”
Kaufman, a Jew of color herself, presented these findings May 17 at Temple Sinai in Washington.
Jews of color “are always everywhere” and are already a robust part of the community, she said, adding that depending on the age cohort, Jews of color constitute 8 percent to 20 percent of the Jewish community.
As people of color in the United States, Kaufman said their experiences are different. And those different experiences happen both inside and outside the Jewish community.
She believes the unique position Jews of color hold is good for the Jews as a community.
“And understanding those experiences, understanding the headwinds that keeps Jews of color away from community, and understanding the things that push us toward community, gives us the skills and the tools to come together and to strengthen the Jewish community,” said Kaufman. “So there’s nothing but opportunity and promise if we can muddle through this hard part.”
Deitra Reiser, a Temple Sinai congregant, said that having different perspectives is a benefit of a multicultural community. Reiser said if the Jewish community loses people because Jews of color don’t feel like they belong, then “we’re just harming ourselves.”
Reiser said the biggest thing that individuals can do to make the Jewish community feel more welcoming is for Jews to begin by asking what their learned biases are.
“And then think, ‘What can I do to unlearn biases that I have?’” Reiser said. “And then think about what you can do to make sure that your synagogue is a place of belonging.”