How Can Jews Talk About Race?

How can Jews talk about race? How can Jews not talk about race? Race is part of all of our lives no matter the color of our skin or Jewish background.

Throughout the country and the Jewish community, discussions about race, racism and how to navigate the legacies of slavery and civil rights as well as the complex contemporary landscape are as important and challenging as ever. At Be’chol Lashon, these issues are on our mind all year round, as they are for many Jews.  But we recognize that there is heightened attention and concern as we mark the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At our offices, we frequently get calls for help facilitating conversations about these topics. Often these requests are hoping that we will be able to provide a singular insight into the experience of Jews from all backgrounds. However, the experience of ethnically and racially diverse Jews is anything but monolithic. It is as rich and complex as the many multicultural Jews and their families. It is an Orthodox rabbi, and a snapchat rabbi. Jewish diversity is a Korean mom, a Sephardi mom, and also a teen with a sense of humor, and a Nordic American teen, as well as an Ethiopian attorney, and a poet. To really make change happen, we need to hear them all. And while it is essential that the voices of diverse Jews be the starting point for such conversations, change within the Jewish community will only take place if all Jews, including white and/or Ashkenazi Jews, examine their own experience of race.

For this reason, we have just published a discussion guide about diversity in the Jewish community. This guide is published in conjunction with Repair the World ahead of the MLK weekend. Our intention is to help Jews of all backgrounds listen more actively, to the stories of others and to the way each of us tell our own stories. Listening is an essential skill if we want to avoid making assumptions about what it means to be Jewish and how we express ourselves as Jews and as people. This guide is meant to facilitate conversation informed by multiple points of view and to allow everyone, regardless of background, to get personally involved and invested in the conversation.

The guide highlights some of the many Jewish leaders who are making a daily impact on the Jewish world and beyond. For regular readers of this blog, it will come as no surprise that these Jews represent a variety of forms of leadership: communal, artistic, scholarly, religious and other, racial and ethnic identities. Recognizing the increasing diversity of the experiences of contemporary Jews is an essential starting point to moving forward conversations about race and diversity in the Jewish community.

Over the past few years, this blog has served as a unique space in Jewish life, providing a forum for Jewish voices that are not always heard. It is has been gratifying for us at Be’chol Lashon, as well as for our individual contributors, to see the interest in the stories that have been shared. Each and every Jewish story has a value to the Jewish people. In order for the rich tapestry of Jewish community to live up to its own vision of being a welcoming and engaging space for all, the stories of multiracial, Black, Asian, Latino, mixed-race as well as Sephardi, Mizrachi, and African Jews need to be heard and validated as part of the collective Jewish narrative.

And as always we welcome your feedback about this blog and the discussion guide. We also welcome your stories.


Discover More

#BlackLivesMatter, A Jewish View

Black Lives Matter, on the first night of Hanukkah and also on the second night, the third night and every ...

Race: Pushing Myself & the Jewish Community

“Everyone has a different tolerance for complexity.” This is a concept that was introduced to me in anticipation of adopting ...

Martin Luther King’s Forgotten Visit to the Holy Land

What we can learn from MLK's most important trip of his life