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Diversity in the Jewish Community 

02/14/2019 09:53:19 AM

Feb14

Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

This week, I filled out a form that required me to indicate my race: which as a Jew, always leaves me uneasy.
 
If you look at my ancestry.com profile, you’ll see that I am 96% Ashkenazi Jew and 4% Caucasian. Yes, that 4% of my genetic makeup does make me look similar to other people of Eastern European ancestry, making “Caucasian” or “white” perhaps the correct choice. There have also been a chorus of voices and articles in the past year arguing how Ashkenazi Jews living in America, sans kippah, are perfectly capable of blending into greater “white society.”
 
However, therein lies the problem: As a committed Jew, my 4% means nothing in comparison to the much more significant 96% of my life. I may live in the south, but I feel much more akin to the Ethiopian cabdriver in Israel who called me “achi,” my brother, during my last visit.
 
“Jews” are, without a question, not a race. Visit Israel to see the ethnic diversity of our people who have ingathered from the four corners of the world. In America, too, our communities are becoming increasingly diverse. Hitler (may his name be erased) tried to define Jews, and other minority groups, as races. This was pseudo-scientific quackery and a mistaken attempt to prove that races shared what he deemed to be common, inferior, characteristics.
 
So what to do with my 96%? A more apt descriptor for my 96%, in place of the word race, would almost certainly be the biblical word Am, meaning a people. Am Yisrael defines me much more than the label “Caucasian.” Am Yisrael are my folkways, rituals, and traditions that I share with Jews across the world. My childhood rabbi’s daughter married an Israeli from Morocco. Their skin complexions are not the same: but I doubt that even matters. What matters is whether or not they will eat kitniyot on Pesach (https://forward.com/food/338525/conservative-movement-overturns-800-year-old-passover-ban-on-rice-and-legum/).
 
Unfortunately, there’s no spot for “peoplehood” on most of these forms. So in the meanwhile, what to do?
 
There is an old Talmudic expression known as Teiku. It’s an acronym that means “when Elijah comes [with the Messiah], he will answer our difficulties and questions.”
 
I suspect that for now, until we begin the slow process of change, the answer to this question will also remain a teiku.
Tue, March 19 2019 12 Adar II 5779