March 31, 2011

Jews in all Hues: A Shabbat Experience of Inclusivity

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 4:28 pm by chavalah

Yours truly with my Facebook friend/ co-founder of Jews In All Hues, Jared Jackson

As indicated, I spent last Shabbat at my childhood synagogue, convening with other dual-faith Jews and sharing experiences.

I had wanted to take part in a Jews in All Hues event since I first blogged about them last April, and now finally, here was my chance. This Shabbat experience was made all the more meaningful for me, because it took place where my own Jewish journey began—where I was a child playing in the nursery on High Holidays, where I became bat mitzvah in the sanctuary, and with Rabbi Liz, with whom I grew up in part, presiding over dinner and Havdalah.

We spent the day siphoning off into small workshops and talking about our own Jewish experiences. There was a certain willingness for openness here, which I don’t usually find in my general Jewish events for general Jews. We had a strict understanding concerning privacy, and concerning respect—not interrupting someone, for example, to say, “if you were at my synagogue, you’d never be treated like that.” Obviously, coming from a non-“traditional” Jewish background can be tough sometimes. I was personally humbled by the stories of the “Jews of color,” to use an overarching term. When I tell “full” Jews of my Catholic patrilineal descent, they often give me weird or wary looks. But until that time, I am accepted unquestionably as a member of the community.  Unfortunately this is not so common when diverse races are involved.  I can only feel a sense of hope that these Jews from diverse backgrounds still want to be a part of the Jewish people, and that such an organization like Jews in All Hues exists.

I wish I could have had more time to talk about stereotypical “images” of Ashkenazi Jews with these folks, as was one of the workshop discussions suggested, but instead I went off with one of the organizers, a fellow Ashkenaz whose mother converted, and wrote out a “manifesto,” to be so bold, about things we want the larger Jewish community to know about reaching out to adult children of intermarriage. In all honesty, it’s a list of firm talking points concerning the problems we’ve faced before with acceptance, and a lot of my own points were ones of frustration that the “interfaith” talk in the Jewish world has been largely commandeered by the “war trenches” mentality—that is, angry grandparents and defensive interfaith couples. There has rarely been a place for the children of interfaith marriages to be heard.

…I’m a little terrified and gleeful that my voice will be heard when Jews of All Hues shares our “manifesto” at their professional development day next month. I almost wish I could attend—I’m curious to hear peoples’ responses to my thoughts, beyond my usual, rambly blog entries. 😛

A final thought before I sign up—a discomforting thought that I wasn’t expecting from this Shabbat of Inclusivity. I talked for a long time with Mira, my fellow “manifesto” writer, about the idea of “genetic Judaism,” and how it’s responsible for one of the biggest fears concerning dual-heritage—that the children are “less Jewish” by blood. It’s something I haven’t thought about in awhile concerning my own genealogy. In fact, I have always been comforted by the fact that Judaism is a hereditary religion—instead of engaging in the “whoever has the most converts wins” game, it’s about following the traditions of our ancestors. However, heritage does provide problems—for people like me, who also need to find a way to honor the other side of our families, and most especially for our converts. When our narrative focuses so heavily on following traditions “because this is what our parents and grandparents throughout the generations have done,” I wonder at the invisible doors of exclusivity that converts face. Indeed, this is another oft-ignored voice in the Jewish community that needs to be heard.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Jackson of Jews in All Hues. (I attended one of their programs a few years ago and wrote about it here.) Also a joint service at the Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ, and […]

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