Jews of color by the Forward

Who are America’s Jews of color? New survey aims to find out.

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Editor’s note: In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Forward is resurfacing some of our recent coverage related to the Black-Jewish experience and racial justice. This article originally appeared in January, 2021.

The first Zoom meeting to plan a new survey about Jews of color had Ilana Kaufman geeking out.

“I was just so inspired and energized by who was around the table,” she explained. “Amazing Ph.D Jews of color who do this work, and have been doing this work, but haven’t had an opportunity to do it in a Jewish context.”

Working with a research team housed at Stanford University, Kaufman and the organization she runs, the Jews of Color Initiative, unveiled the survey on Wednesday. It is meant to gather data and stories about Jews of color — including their demographics, religious practices, expressions of identities and experiences of discrimination.

The survey, called “Count Me In,” aims to gather 1,000 responses by Feb. 19. The researchers plan to release their analysis of the results in July.

Kaufman’s group estimates that between 12% and 15% of America’s 6.97 million Jews are people of color, or about a million. Other researchers have put the figure closer to half that, causing major debate and controversy across Jewish organizations.

Most experts who have studied the demographic data agree that no surveys of American Jews have properly accounted for Jews of color.

Kaufman and other leaders in the community have said the focus of discussion should be on better integrating Jews of color into Jewish spaces and institutions. In June of this year, Lindsey Newman, Aaron Samuels and Rachel Sumekh, three Jews of color and leaders of companies and nonprofits, circulated a letter calling on Jewish groups to commit to making their governing boards and employees 20% people of color.

The researchers working on the new survey include Dr. Tobin Belzer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California; Dr. Ari Y. Kelman, a Jewish-studies professor at Stanford, Dr. Dalya Perez, a critical race theorist at Microsoft, Dr. Gage Gorsky, a statistician, and University of Washington doctoral candidate Tory Brundage and student Vincent Calvetti.

Several of them identify as Jews of color, and said the process of putting the survey together felt personal.

Gorsky said in an email that they felt “drawn” to the study “by my own complicated life experience as a mixed Mexican and Russian queer Jew.”

“This is research about myself, my kin, my friends, and my chosen family,” they explained. “It felt like a call to do something that would really amplify our collective voice, while also offering a nuanced representation — something that is still, unfortunately, rarely seen in research.”

The researchers said they were guided by a set of principles that puts those most affected by the research — in this case, Jews of color — in charge of framing questions, design, methods and analysis.

They also looked at other surveys on issues like race, religion, identity and Judaism.

Kaufman said that the project aims to address the natural next questions after the Jews of Color Initiative published a study in 2019 that aimed to quantify the number of Jews of color in the United States. Between that and the anti-racism initiatives that have grown amid last year’s protests over the police killings of Black people, many Jews have been yearning for more understanding.

“When we start to make sense of the data, we will get to understand how Jews of color move in and out of Jewish community,” Kaufman said. “Where we feel most welcome, where we find the strongest headwinds that push us away.”

Kaufman said she hopes that the data will encourage conversation and serve as a vehicle for community-building among a group that is often marginalized from Jewish spaces.

“We know that unless there is data, there can be obstacles to having the more affective conversations,” she said.

Correction, January 1, 2:18 p.m.: A previous version of this story misstated Dr. Gage Gorsky’s pronouns.

Authors

Molly Boigon

Molly Boigon

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at boigon@forward.com or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon.

New survey aims to learn about Jews of color

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