Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
When I was eight years old, our family began looking into adopting a child. I was nervous and excited about the possibility of becoming a big sister. During the adoption process, I had a feeling that we would get to adopt an African American baby boy. It turned out I was right. A few months after I turned nine, my little brother was born and became part of our family.
For the last three and a half years, we have been a multiracial Jewish family. This has opened my heart and eyes to the diversity in the Jewish community, in our country and in the world. It has also made me more aware of the inequality and racism in our country. Before we adopted my brother, I knew racism and inequality existed, but now they affect me personally because my brother is black and we are part of a multiracial family. I don’t want my brother or anybody else to be discriminated against because of their race or color. I want to help do something positive to raise awareness about the diversity of the Jewish community and our larger communities.
When I hear about shootings of black boys and men, it makes me angry, and I am scared for my brother and what’s going to happen when he gets older. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him or any other person of color. I don’t want him to have to worry about being in danger or being shot when he leaves the house. I want him to be able to live a normal life, be able to go outside and play, and not be discriminated against. I want him to be able to live like any other kid and play with his friends, without anybody making judgments or assumptions about him because of the color of his skin.
My brother is a really cute little kid. My friends and our community are aware that he is black, but it’s not a big deal. He is a part of our family like any other child would be. Sometimes my friends ask me if he is adopted and I simply tell them he is.
The summer after fourth grade, when my brother was just a baby, I went to overnight Jewish camp for the first time. At first, I was really nervous because it was my first time at sleep-away camp, and I was going to be there for a whole month. But after the first week, I really opened up to it and it started to feel like home, like I belong there. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had because it really opened me up to Judaism and my Jewish identity. I made friends who are also Jewish and with whom I have lots in common because we have shared experiences. At Jewish camp, I don’t have to worry about being different because everybody there gets what it means to be Jewish. Connecting with other Jews means that they understand what your life is like, even if you live in different states. It really helped me realize that I am not alone in being Jewish.
I love my camp, but the one thing that I would change about it is for it to be more diverse and have more Jews of color. Even though all Jews of any color are welcome, the reality is that at my camp, my brother or another Jewish person of color would probably be one of the only non-white people there. I think this would take away from their being able to feel as understood and not alone as I have as a white person at my Jewish camp.
Preparing for my bat mitzvah, I really wanted to be able to help Jewish kids of color be able to have a camp experience as meaningful and special as mine. After doing research, I found out about the Be’Chol Lashon summer camp. I thought it would be an amazing idea to help raise money through my mitzvah project so that kids could go to camp and have a camp experience with other kids from diverse Jewish and racial backgrounds.
Diversity makes communities thrive, both in Judaism and throughout our country and the world. I want Jewish kids of color, like my brother, to grow up knowing that they belong. That sense of belonging will help them feel more connected to Judaism, and will show them that they are safe, appreciated for who they are, and part of many diverse communities.
Pronounced: MITZ-vuh or meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, commandment, also used to mean good deed.