Judaism adjusting to multiracial congregations in Bay Area

A new generation of Jewish children in the Bay Area are being raised in multiracial households, according to the Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities study released last February, which means that congregations will have to become accustomed to Jews who are black or have other backgrounds not usually associated with Judaism, writes Maya Mirsky in The Jewish News of Northern California (Aug. 10). Home to the fourth largest Jewish population in the U.S., with 350,000 Jews and 123,000 non-Jews living in 148,000 Jewish households, according to the study commissioned by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Bay Area Judaism is admittedly very diverse in multiple ways. As noted in the press release for the study: “One-in-ten [Bay Area Jewish] households overall, and one-in-five in San Francisco specifically, include a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person. 25% of Bay Area Jewish households include a Hispanic, Asian-American, African-American, or a mixed or other ethnic or racial background (other than white) individual.” The researchers also found that interfaith marriage “rates vary widely by age, from a low of 42% among those 65 and older to a high of 66% among those 35 and under.”

The rise in interfaith marriages helps explain why there is “a real jump in non-whites” among younger Jews and Jewish households, remarks Steven M. Cohen (Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, New York). Seventy-five percent of Bay Area Jews between the ages of 18 and 34 are white, compared to 96 percent of those over 65. In Jewish schools, the number of children of color raised in Jewish families is growing. Quoted in the Jewish News article, Rabbi Samantha Kahn (InterfaithFamily/Bay Area) says that one should no longer presume that the white person in a multiracial couple is the Jewish one. The article also reports on how the Jewish Federation of the East Bay has been trying to ensure that non-white families have been represented in its newsletter to local Jewish families, which contains information about programs for children and features a “family of the month.” Indeed, in the article several Jewish people with racially diverse family experiences emphasize the need to make non-white Jews feel part of the community in order to keep them connected. Along these lines, the educational programs of some synagogues are now teaching “that there are many types of Judaism, all of them normal.”

(A Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities, https://jewishfed.org/community-study)