22 August 2011

That's What Jewish Looks Like

Also this past Shabbat, thank you to congregant Rita Ferraro for bringing me a copy of the New York Times Article on B'chol Lashon's summer camp (August 12, 2011, "Prayer, and Bug Juice, at a Summer Camp for Jews of Color" by Samuel G. Freedman).  A few of my colleagues  on faculty at URJ Eisner Camp had brought it up as well last week.  The camp is run by Bechol Lashon, an organization that is trying to publicize a fact we tend to forget, not all Jews look the same.

When I was growing up, every Jew was Ashkenazi (descended from Jews living in Eastern and Central Europe). Everyone had relatives that came from Russia or Poland, with maybe a few strange ones (like myself) with a great-grandparent or two of German descent.  That made it easy to tell the Jews - they looked similar and they all had names that sounded the same.  I was very surprised to discover, as I got older, that not only were Sephardim (Jews who trace themselves back to the 1492 Expulsion from Spain - later settling in Italy, Turkey, Amsterdam, and other far-flung places) the first and largest population of Jews in North America until the 19th century, but that there were still Sephardic Jews and even Sephardic congregations in the US.  Now, of course, with Jews marrying people with all different ethnic backgrounds, you can no longer tell who is Jewish by last name or by hair color (if you ever could).  Add to that the prevalence of Jewish overseas adoptions and we have a stereotype that we need to overcome.  Sometimes Jews can feel like they are "of color" even in their own synagogue.  Be'chol Lashon (which means "in every tongue/language") exists to overturn that stereotype and, equally as important, provide a place where Jews who might look different find a supportive community.  Hence their camp.

The rest of the job is up to us.  Kol hakavod to Be'chol Lashon for coming to fill this need.  Now we need to make Jews of every ancestry, accent, background, color (or sexual orientation) feel that they are just as welcome as anyone else.

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