Connect with us


Teen people of color are finding, and building, their own spaces in Jewish life



This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — As a young Black Jewish adoptee, Lindsey Newman felt close to the Jewish community on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she grew up. Then adolescence hit and she started to feel like an outsider, struggling to find acceptance and independence at her synagogue. 

It wasn’t until the end of high school that she began connecting on social media to organizations like the Jewish Multiracial Network and Be’chol Lashon to build her own connection to other Jews of color and find a sense of belonging.

Now, as the director of community engagement at Be’chol Lashon, an organization that supports Jewish diversity, Newman works to make sure other Jews of color like her feel welcomed and included in Judaism. 

“Diversity is one of Judaism’s greatest assets,” said Newman. “When we even unintentionally leave out or marginalize parts of our community, we all lose.” 

Around 17% of American Jews identify as nonwhite, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report. But, as the Jews of Color Initiative found, only 18% out of the 1,118 surveyed belong to a synagogue — compared, according to another Pew study, to the 35% of all U.S. Jews who are synagogue members or have someone in their household who is a member. To address this gap, organizations and synagogues are developing programs to help Jewish teens of color feel at home. 

For BBYO member Micah Pierandri, 17, the experience of being part of her local chapter in Tulsa, Oklahoma has been great. For example, she loved meeting Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas at the youth group’s International Convention. However, Pierandri, who is African American, wanted to connect more with JOCs, so she started the Members of Color Alliance through BBYO late last fall.

The club came about after she was called slurs at a BBYO summer camp in Pennsylvania by, according to Pierandri, participants who were “a mix of people of color and not.” BBYO did not respond to requests about the incident. Pierandri said the staff handled it well enough, but that she wanted to build on her experience. “I knew that if someone wasn’t going to stand up for other MOCs within BBYO I knew I could make that change,” she said. “I fought and fought until I did and here we are.” 

The 12-member group provides a space specifically for teens of color to come together and connect with others similar to them, something Pierandri didn’t see existing before. MOCA members usually meet online through Zoom to discuss racial justice, learn from speakers, play games and provide cultural exchanges. Sometimes, members just get to chill with each other. “While the club is more racial justice-based I try my best to make sure it’s still fun and everyone has an amazing time,” said Pierandri. 

Pierandri was able to form MOCA through On Demand, a virtual platform of BBYO. Late last year, the youth group released a new form for BBYO members to create any type of club that they desired. “Almost within less than 24 hours I had texts from all sorts of BBYO staff telling me they have my back for MOCA and want to help me make it a reality,” Pierandri said.

One MOCA member, Morgan Rodriguez, 16, felt turned off by other organizations’ JOC groups until she found the club within BBYO. As a Latino Jew, she felt she didn’t fit the stereotype of what a JOC should look like. “It was almost disheartening to find out that an organization wouldn’t want somebody because they’re mixed [race],” said Rodriguez, who lives in Delray Beach, Florida and is a mix of Ashkenazi and Ethiopian Jewish, Liberian, Cuban, Irish and Dutch ancestry.

Fortunately, Rodriguez sees the conversation changing, something she credits to social media. As a bonus, being able to see Jews who looked like her online made her feel more comfortable in her Jewishness.

The LUNAR Collective is trying to create this same space for teen Asian American Jews. The Bay Area-based group, which started as a film project, holds events to encourage pride in Asian Americans’ identities. 

Rabbi Mira Rivera, rabbi-in-residence for LUNAR and the first Philipina rabbi to be ordained at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary, said that when she joined synagogues after she was married, she struggled to find others to unite with. “The people I saw who looked like me were the ones I wasn’t supposed to talk to because they didn’t want to be outed [as converts] or they were the caregivers of members,” she said. 

Other institutions have introduced initiatives over the past few years to engage Jewish teens of color in their community.

Be’chol Lashon, founded in San Francisco, started a Teen Tzedek fellowship during COVID. It provides mentorship for teens who are ethnically diverse, a multicultural summer camp and an online publication, Jewish&, that allows people of all ages to express their beliefs and stories through personal articles. 

“Many young JOCS not only wanted and needed a peer network of other JOCs that looked like them, that had similar experiences, but also wanted and needed role models that reflected their experience,” said Be’chol Lashon’s Newman about Camp Be’chol Lashon. 

The North American Federation of Temple Youth plans to create a fellowship for Reform Jewish teens of color, according to Kelly Whitehead, a rabbinic intern there.

This would be a welcome step for NFTY member Ben Smulewitz, 15, a Jewish teen of color living in San Rafael, California. “I’ve found a whole new Jewish community, and I’ve really enjoyed finding those people because there’s not that many of us out here,” said Smulewitz. “It’s nice to have Jewish friends because then you can relate on different levels about things.”

Rabbi Mira Rivera, center, said that when she joined synagogues after she was married, she struggled to find other Jews of color to unite with. (Courtesy of Ammud)

Last summer, Camp Newman in Virginia Beach organized a mediation after a few white teens made a game out of trying to stick pencils in a Black camper’s hair without her noticing, according to Smulewitz. JOCs shared their personal stories, which included programming that he helped lead. 

When asked about the incident, URJ’s Executive Director of Strategic Innovation and Program, Michelle Shapiro Abraham, declined to disclose any specific information. In an email she wrote that: “We understand and embrace the diversity of our Jewish community and are very focused on making sure everyone feels like they belong.” 

Another thing that helped Smulewitz feel more comfortable at NFTY was the affinity groups he joined at L’Taken, a social justice seminar held in Washington DC. It was, however, to acknowledge that you are a “minority within the minority.”

“It makes me sad to know that there are people that are scared to come out and say that they are a Jew of color instead of just blending in with everyone else.” 

Synagogues are also striving to include teen JOCs in their programming Although Romemu and Central Synagogue, both in New York, don’t currently have programming specifically tailored for teens, they are making efforts to expand and include more teens of color. 

Romemu is working with IKAR, a synagogue in Los Angeles that helps organizations and synagogues introduce more strategies to enhance their inclusivity. 

According to Susan Brooks, human resources and operations manager at IKAR, “a lot of Jews of color are not affiliated with synagogues or Jewish organizations because in the past, they have not necessarily felt welcome,” making it difficult to get a good turnout. Being welcoming is the first step, Brooks said, to attracting a diverse group. 

Gulienne Rollins-Rishon, racial justice specialist at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that within programming, JOCs sometimes “end up feeling like collectors’ items,” because they are often treated as tokens by organizations that want to demonstrate their diversity: “Like, how many Jews of color [do] we have here?” Rollins-Rishon said that people, especially teens, need to be able to define and own their identities. 

“We need to create not only the space for Jewish teens of color to come and see that they’re being represented and reflected, but also [for them to think], I’m so glad that’s there because it means that I know I’m welcome here and I’m included here,” she said.

As a Black Jew, Rollins-Rishon has dealt with jarring experiences, such as when she was refused access to a Hanukkah party during her freshman year of college because the Hillel liaisons told her the room was reserved. They “literally tried to turn me away,” she said.

Now as an adult, her mission is for this not to happen to others. She said, “Now it’s my torch to carry to make sure that kids don’t have to run up against that wall as much.”

The post Teen people of color are finding, and building, their own spaces in Jewish life appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News