When we think of someone who is Jewish, our immediate thought goes to someone with a European-influenced appearance. But what many fail to remember is that Jews can come in all shapes and sizes.
Jen Chau, 34, identifies as a Jew. She was raised Jewish by her European-American mother and Chinese father. Many people often tell her that she “doesn’t look Jewish,” which falls into the stereotype that all Jews look like Jerry Seinfeld or Wood Allen.
The face of Judaism in America is rapidly changing, as the religious community becomes more diverse, thanks to adoption, conversion, intermarriage, and immigration.
A nonprofit group called Be’chol Lashon, which means “in every tongue” in Hebrew, has tried to expand the definition of Judaism, one that would include the diversity of Jews from around the globe.
The group was founded by Daine Tobin and her late husband, Gary Tobin, who started the organization in 2000 after adopting their son, Jonah, who is African American. They decided to raise their song Jewish but realized that they didn’t know any African-American Jews. The Tobin’s then decided to find other Jews of different races, nationalities, and ethnicities. Be’chol Lashon also runs a summer camp which educations people about the Jewish religion and it’s diversity.
Gary Tobin had previously headed the Institute for Jewish and Community Research and in 1999 did a survey about the ethnic background of America’s 6 million Jews. The survey discovered that about 1.2 million, or 20%, of Jews are non-Ashkenazi Jews, which means not descending from Central and Eastern Europe, and around half of that 1.2 million are Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, whose roots lay in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East. The rest were what are called “ethnically and racially diverse Jews,” or people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The survey revealed most importantly though that the Jews who are in this latter category feel isolated and often unwelcome in their house of worship.
Be’chol Lashon has helped the community as a whole become more wary of how they’ve treated outsiders of the religion. It’s become important for the community to recognize that there is no one way to be Jewish.