Current Research and Projects
Be’chol Lashon is part of a research institute that combines the creativity of original research with the rigor of social science models of inquiry to create, implement, and evaluate programming. Be’chol Lashon helps conceptualize and design programs-even envisioning new organizational structures-to address the needs uncovered in the Institute's research. Successful components are replicated; others are redesigned and improved.
Be’chol Lashon Research Scholars
Be'chol Lashon research scholars are part of the Association of Contemporary Jewish Studies, a new group founded and hosted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. It represents scholars from across many disciplines who conduct research and teach about the current character and condition of Jewish life. This new Association seeks to bring men and woman from political science, economics, geography, psychology, history, sociology, philosophy, and other fields to contribute their methodological, theoretical and intellectual skills to study Judaism and Jews.
Be’chol Lashon Fellowships
Be’chol Lashon fellowships provide financial support and professional recognition to community leaders whose work and ideas will have long-term impact on the Jewish community. Fellows provide innovative knowledge, strengthening the Jewish people by ensuring a range of perspectives, backgrounds, and nationalities.
Be’chol Lashon provides two types of Fellowships. Research Fellowships support work about ethnic and racial diversity in the Jewish community. This includes research about specific sub-populations, communities, and social trends. For example, Fellowships have been awarded to study the religious and communal structures of the Lemba Jews of Southern Africa and the emerging Jewish communities of Nigeria. We supported the creation of the film Judaism and Race. Research Fellowships are open to the widest variety of academic disciplines, intellectual frameworks, and modes of inquiry. We encourage cross-disciplinary approaches and assist in building a network of scholars with similar research interests. Fellows benefit from mentoring opportunities with other researchers around the world.
Community Development Fellowships provide support to established and emerging leaders who will make significant contributions in building their local, regional or national communities. Fellowships support educational training and organizational development. The Fellowships support individuals who are often at pivotal moments in their careers. We are especially interested in models that can be adapted and utilized in other places. Fellowships have included the formal rabbinic training of Abayudaya leader, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, at American Jewish University, Aaron Franco to establish Sefarad Beitenu and build Jewish communal infrastructure in Spain, and Rabbi Capers Funnye to build African American Jewish communities in the United States and to serve as a liaison to Nigeria. Fellowships often includes technical assistance from planning and management experts.
An Assessment of Community Building: The Ugandan Model
We are engaged in a ten-year model building and evaluation project with the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, a growing community of 800 in Southern Uganda.
The model relies on a professional relationship with community leaders, who utilize sound management principles to improve community life. We conduct feasibility research and project evaluations, and construct models for community development. We are engaged in developing communal infrastructure, including water access, health care, and economic development. We are also involved in providing technical assistance to assist in the creation of an Abayudaya NGO system on the ground in Uganda to work interactively with professionals in Jewish organizations in other countries.
The Abayudaya community also wishes to build institutional capacity for training rabbis and leaders from emerging Jewish communities throughout Africa. We are conducting feasibility research for creating a new yeshiva in Uganda that will be organized and led by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu.
A Needs Assessment of the Jewish Communities of Nigeria
A survey was conducted to examine the demographic and religious characteristics of Nigerian Jewish communities. These communities are ethnically and geographically diverse, and our research shows a strong desire to forge links with other Jewish communities around the world. The survey was designed to also serve as a needs assessment for organizational planning.
A self-administered questionnaire was distributed and collected in Nigeria in 2005 by Dr. Dele Jane Osawe (may her memory be a blessing) on behalf of the Pan-African Jewish Alliance (PAJA), an initiative of Be'chol Lashon. It was completed by over 300 members of the Nigerian Jewish community.
Among the many issues explored were how Nigerian Jews navigate living among Christian and Muslim majorities, how spiritual seekers express their Judaism, and their relationship to world Jewry. The community needs analyzed included infrastructure, such as schools, synagogues, and libraries. We found that the community is seeking Jewish education, rabbinic training, and access to the world Jewish community. Rabbi Capers Funnye is spearheading this important work with Ibo congregations in Nigeria.
An Oral History of the Lemba Jews of Southern Africa
Dr. Rabson Wuriga is writing a monograph entitled, Of Sacred Times, Rituals, and Customs: Oral Traditions of the BaLemba of Southern Africa on the ritual practices and beliefs of the Lemba from original research.
The Lemba of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique have an oral history that tells how they are descended from a group of Jews who left Judea and settled in Yemen before journeying to Africa to their present home in Southern Africa. BaLemba oral traditions have been transmitted from generation to generation in various forms. The fear of extinction, and the fear of loss of accumulated knowledge is the drive behind the writing of most traditions-the BaLemba oral traditions being no exception.
Among the questions to be examined are:
|•||What are the Lemba oral traditions?|
|•||How have the Lemba people maintained these traditions?|
|•||Why are oral traditions so important to the Lemba people?|
|•||What are the beliefs and behaviors of the younger generations?|
|•||How can the traditions of the Lemba people be passed on to new generations?|
The Pan African Jewish Alliance (PAJA)
The Pan African Jewish Alliance (PAJA) represents historic and emerging African and African-American Jewish communities around the world. PAJA was created with the goal of unifying African and African-American Jewish communities and building bridges with other Jewish communities. PAJA is conducting historical and sociological research, including a needs assessment on how to serve African Jews. Communities include: Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burundi, and Uganda.
A Feasibility Study to Establish Jewish Institutions for the Anusim of Spain
This study is an analysis of a nascent NGO system, the development of emerging leadership, and the creation of a modern Jewish community of Anusim in Spain. It explores the planning philosophies and methods to reclaim and rebuild a community that was forced into exile or underground during the Inquisition over 500 years ago. The research conducted by Aharon Franco in Lorca, Spain serves as a case study in how Anusim communities can and will re-emerge as openly, practicing Jews.
The World Federation of Anusim
This initiative calls for expanded and coordinated efforts to bring people of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish descent back to Judaism. The World Federation of Anusim Communities is a union of Anusim communities, Agudat Sefarad Olami La Union de Comunidades de Anusim Mundiales, whose mission is to coordinate outreach efforts to Anusim. The Anusim Feder0ation seeks to welcome and facilitate the return of Anusim, including assisting them in return/conversion.
Outreach to Diverse Jews: The Bay Area Model
Bay Area Be'chol Lashon programs serve as a case study in meeting the needs of African American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Latino, mixed-race and other ethnically and racially diverse Jews-a fast growing segment of the local Jewish population. Our research has shown that one in every seven (over 14%) Bay Area Jewish households have at least one person who is an ethnically or racially diverse Jew.
Many mainstream Jews who do not fit into an obvious Be’chol Lashon category also want to be part of Be’chol Lashon: It is more representative of the pluralistic, multicultural values embodied in a dynamic, global people. Participants feel part of something less insular and more accepting of difference, including new and dynamic interpretations of community and ritual Jewish practice.
A National Survey of the Racial and Ethnic Identity of Jews in the United States
A national study of Jewish attitudes toward race and ethnicity will explore how Jews see themselves in terms of their own self-identification. Many discussions take place about whether Jews are an ethnic group or a religious group. Research in this area has been largely superficial. We are examining in depth the intersection between racial and religious self image and behavior in the United States. At the same time, we are exploring attitudes toward conversion, group heritage, and interactions with other racial, ethnic, and religious groups.
National Study of Religious Intolerance: Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Tolerance
We are engaged in a four-year study of religious tolerance and intolerance in the United States, in partnership with the Institute for the Studies of Religion, Baylor University. We will begin with a national survey of the American population based on a sample of sufficient size to permit the examination of many religious subgroups.
A survey of Americans will examine three dimensions of religious tolerance and intolerance:
|1.||Stereotypes that religious groups have of one another|
|2.||Positive and negative feelings that religious groups hold of other religious groups|
|3.||Knowledge and feelings about the theological frameworks, ritual practices, and belief systems that groups have of one another.|
Bay Area Be'chol Lashon International Think Tank
The Bay Area Be'chol Lashon International Think Tank is an invitation-only conference for leaders of Jewish communities around the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Europe, Israel & the United States. The Think Tank is a lively forum for conversation, creative thinking, and developing new approaches to communal growth. Many Jewish communities exist in isolation, separated from one another by history, geography, knowledge, culture and experience.
Every year is different but common themes include:
|•||How do we redefine who is a Jew?|
|•||How do we enrich Judaism by embracing our ethnicity, culture, and identity?|
|•||How do we respond to spiritual seekers who are interested in converting to Judaism?|
|•||How do we nurture and grow established and emerging Jewish communities around the world?|
The Think Tank allows for the exchange of information, projects (planned or envisioned), and the opportunity to develop networks and groups that work together throughout the year.