There is a buzz surrounding the results of the newest New York Jewish Federation population study, and for good reason. Among it's findings, the study reveals that 12 percent of New York Jewish households are "non-white" (Black, Asian, Hispanic or bi-or multi-racial) and 13 percent are Sephardic (origins to North Africa, Spain or the Middle East) for a total of -- with some overlap -- an impressive 25 percent of the Jewish population of America's most Jewish city. Over 400,000 Jews are living in diverse Jewish households, approximating or exceeding the total Jewish population of any one country in the world, excepting the United States and Israel.
After more than a decade working to promote recognition of Jewish racial and ethnic diversity, the numbers come as no surprise to us at Be'chol Lashon. Our research estimated as far back as 2004 that 10 percent of the national Jewish community identifies as non-white, Latino, Black, Asian or mixed race, and an additional 10 percent as Sephardic or of Middle Eastern in origin. The New York study's numbers strongly support our estimate and echo the findings of the 2011 East Bay Jewish Community Survey.
Be'chol Lashon's Director of Outreach, Lacey Schwartz, who works with UJA/Federation to strengthen leadership among minority Jewish communities in New York is excited by the findings. The numbers suggest to her, among other things, that Jews with non-white racial backgrounds are increasingly asking to be counted and included. According to Schwartz, "The Federation is on the right track. The Jewish Community needs to offer more programming and training that helps bring the voices of minorities into the mainstream and provides them with outlets for connection and engagement. We are excited that the New York Federation, through its work with Be'chol Lashon and its thoughtful attention paid to diversity in the NY area study, is taking a proactive approach to counting, understanding and meeting the needs of its diverse population."
Complementary forces are pushing the diversity of the Jewish people to the forefront of the Jewish communal agenda. Adoption, intermarriage and conversion are changing the complexion of traditionally Eurocentric Jewish communities, particularly in America. At the same time, the increasing interconnectedness of the world is highlighting the array of Jewish communities around the world and linking them together, globalizing Jewish identity.
As these trends continue to shape the Jewish community, we need to welcome the gifts and perspectives that multicultural Jews bring to the community. We also need to make sure that our leaders, educational resources and programming speak to the changing demographics and worldview of America Jewry. We are living in an era of fluid identity, people are searching for meaning and we have a wealth of resources that we can open to them. By reaching out to the households identified by the study, the Jewish community has the opportunity to engage more than half a million people, many of whom are not as strongly connected as they could be.