In the wake of the Pew survey researchers ask for more research on Jews of color in America

“What we see in this report is that the US Jewish community is becoming more diverse in all of our ways."
(Photo: Getty Images)

America’s Jewish community looks much different today than it did in 2013. It’s “more racially and ethnically diverse,” according to the Pew Research Center’s new survey of Jewish Americans, which was released on Wednesday. 

Among young Jews (ages 18 to 29) surveyed in the Pew study, 15% identified as either Hispanic, Black, Asian or Pacific Islander or multiracial. Among all Jews that number raised to 17%. 

But does the community really look different? Or are people simply paying attention now?

Read more about what Pew’s new survey says about the American Jewish community

Unlike in 2013, this year’s survey asked about race, ethnicity, and immigration and included an interview with Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Initiative, who has been critical about the undercounting of Jews of color as a result of institutional bias.

“As you know I was very critical of the 2013 Pew study for glossing over, and in some ways omitting, the experiences of Jews of color,” Kaufman said on a panel discussion Thursday. “The fact that we’re having this conversation and that there’s a section dedicated to the discussion of Jews of color is meaningful.”

In 2015, Kaufman presented about the systemic undercounting of Jews of color at a conference.

The 2021 Pew survey did not ask specifically about the term “Jews of color” for a number of reasons, including debates about its definition, but it aimed to measure the racial and ethnic diversity of American Jewry.

The conversations surrounding this issue grew more heated in the wake of protests over racial injustice across America that began in 2020.

“[Jews of color] are putting some stakes in the ground about the reality of the data, which is very important because it informs everything we do from there,” Kaufman said.

“What we see in this report is that the US Jewish community is becoming more diverse in all of our ways. We are more deeply integrating into the United States as Jews, with all of our identities intact, which means that we’re not going to lose who we are as Jews as we continue to become more diverse, to come from more diverse pathways into Jewish life.”

At this point, she says the Jewish community should focus less on merely recognizing its diversity, but truly working towards engaging and including diverse populations.

“Let’s not belabor the issue of diversity in the Jewish community,” she explained. “Let’s belabor the issues of racism and whether that might have something to do with engagement, or let’s belabor the issues of how to make sure that we as an American Jewish community can realize who we are as multiracial.”

One important element missing from the data is information regarding the identities of Jewish people aged 0 to 18, Kaufman said.

“We need to know about all of those Jewish children who are coming up in our community and who are of color… They should inform what we are doing in terms of communal programming, understanding who’s coming into our community, and how we should be planning.”

Kaufman adds that Pew’s research was affirming for her, and should be seen as only a starting point for engagement.

“This was affirming for the work of the Jews of color initiative,” she said. “It speaks to the fact that we need to do more research around Jews of color, the diversity of the Jewish people, but also it means that we need to move on this conversation to think about community engagement, community resilience, again focusing our mandate on the community”

Kaufman shared that the Jews of Color Initiative has been collecting data of their own which they plan to debut in August of 2021. 

“We have a data set of over 1000 Jews of color in the United States, the largest data set of Jews of color in American history, and we have actually studied the experiences of Jews of color, questions around ethnicity, racial background, Jewish identity, expression, and sense of connection.”