We Are a Global People
By Diane Tobin
Published: March 2012
Like many young Jews, coming of age for Lacey Schwartz meant confronting assumptions and misconceptions about family, race, and religion. “For me it took a long time to integrate my two identities of being Black and Jewish.” Her upcoming documentary, Outside the Box, is one of Be’chol Lashon’s educational resources designed to spark conversation about identity. Jewish education can strengthen the identity and inclusiveness of young Jews, especially growing up in the 21st century.
Jews are part of American life and are affected by social trends. According to the 2010 Census, the number of multiracial children has increased almost 50 percent (to 4.2 million) since 2000, making it the fastest growing youth group in the country. This is not surprising given that, according to a 2011 Gallup poll, the vast majority of Americans (86%) approve of interracial marriage, up from 4% only 50 years ago.
Even though American Judaism tends to be defined by immigration from Europe, Jews are more diverse than many assume. Be’chol Lashon estimates 20% of America’s 6 million Jews are racially and ethnically diverse — African, African American, Latino, Asian, Native American, Sephardic, Mizrahi and mixed-race —by heritage, conversion, adoption, and marriage.
Although race may be the most “visible” identity, in reality all Jews have multiple identities. Influenced by globalization and the increasing popularity of social networks, diversity and inclusiveness are a key lens through which young Jews build identity and make choices about Jewish engagement. A new Pew report about the Millennial generation suggests the need for more expansive supplemental resources that resonate with the first “always connected” generation and those to follow.
New challenges require equally new approaches. Be’chol Lashon is an initiative designed to make the Jewish community more inclusive. Be’chol Lashon’s Camp, Speakers Bureau, and educational outreach campaign use films like Outside the Box in classrooms to explore how Jewish identity is transforming in the 21st century. In addition to media, Be’chol Lashon’s educational resources highlight the global history of the Jewish people through maps, articles and hands-on projects. Beyond the educational impact, Be’chol Lashon provides a curricular resource that simultaneously reinforces students’ identities as global citizens and as Klal Yisrael. Lacey concludes, “I had been raised in a world where being Jewish meant being white. I challenged myself and that assumption by connecting to the many racial and ethnic diverse elements of the global Jewish world.”
Diane Tobin is the founder and director of Be’chol Lashon, the author of In Every Tongue: The Racial and Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People, and the mother of an adopted African American son.
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