Multiracial Jewish Families

Increasingly, Jewish families are adopting non-white babies.

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"These children are gradually changing the face and color of what people think is Jewish life," Tobin said.

Diversity in the Jewish Community

The personal experience of Tobin and his wife, Diane Tobin, led them to start the Ethnic and Racial Diversity Study of the Jewish Community, which got underway a year ago and is now concluding the first phase of research, interviews, and questionnaires surveying 500 families. 

All the respondents were hungry for ongoing contact "with people like themselves," said Diane Tobin, who is directing the study. In response, the project has also turned into a network, with periodic meetings and speakers. 

The Tobins were married a few years ago when they were in their mid-40s and have, between them, five children from previous marriages. They soon realized they weren't likely to conceive, given Diane's age. Six months after they decided to adopt, Jonah, who is now a toddler and is African-American, arrived. 

"People have been very supportive" of their decision, Gary Tobin said, though "both white people and black people are curious about why somebody would want to do this." 

Issues of race become part of Jews' everyday lives when they adopt children of color. 

There's a good chance that Jonah will be treated differently than white children will, said Tobin. "He will be a minority within a minority wherever he goes, as a black being raised in a white family, as a black within the Jewish community." 

Tobin isn't alone in being concerned about his child's experience as a black child in a white family. The National Association of Black Social Workers has, for the past two decades, promoted the view that black children should be placed with black parents.

"The non-African-Americans mean well but have not had the intimate experience of being raised in a discriminatory and racist society, as we have, and cannot pass along the values we need to our young people, as well as the inheritance of our African ancestry," said Rudolph Smith, national president of the organization, in an interview.

 Despite the concerns, an increasing number of such children are being adopted by white Jewish families--enough that a new organization, the Multi-Racial Jewish Family Network, is now being created to deal with some of those issues.

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.