“Anatevka” stands out as the image of Judaism for a lot of Americans – however the heritage of American Jews is surprisingly diverse

“Tradition!” is the primary line of “Anatevka,” the Broadway play that brought Jewish life to the stages of the worldThe 1964 musical gives audiences an insight into Yiddish-speaking, rural Jewish life in Nineteenth-century Europe.

For many individuals, this image represents Jewish history as a complete. When most Americans consider Jews, they consider Ashkenazi Jews: a term referring to people of Eastern and Northern European Jewish culture. In American culture, Ashkenazi Jews are represented by cultural icons, from the milkman Tevye and the matchmaker Yente in The Fiddler to the comedians Woody Allen and Sarah Silverman and the creator Philip Roth.

While Ashkenazi Jews nearly all of American JewsThe Jewish world is rather more diverse than this picture suggests – even within the United States. The diversity of American Jews is a significant theme my very own research: each through my current project, Coloured Jews: History and Futureand in my book on interfaith families: “Beyond Chrismukkah.”

A group of people dressed in 19th century clothing gather around a smiling couple.
The portrayal of Jewish culture in “Anatevka” is familiar to musical fans all around the world.
Otterbein University Theatre & Dance/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

From the Iberian Peninsula to the world

Descriptions of Jewish life often divide communities into three foremost groups: Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

Spain and Portugal displaced Jewish residents At the tip of the fifteenth century, when refugees fled within the Mediterranean and further north in Europe. Sephardi or Sephardic JewsThese people settled in North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, France, Italy and the Balkans, in addition to in Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Sometimes the term “Sephardim” can also be used for numerous other communities that usually are not Ashkenazi, even in the event that they haven’t any connection to the Iberian Peninsula: Persian Jews And Kurdish Jews To Bukharan Jews Central Asia, Beta Israel Jews in Ethiopia and Cochin Jews in India.

Sephardic Jews often have different customs than Ashkenazi Jews, including melodies for prayers, foods, and forms of spiritual observance. For example, during Passover, all Jews avoid “chametz”: leavened foods produced from wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye. However, Sephardic tradition allows one other category of foods, “kitnyot” – rice, legumes, and corn – which might be traditionally forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews.

New word, old communities

The third category, Mizrahimeans “eastern” in Hebrew. It is a comparatively recent expressionbut describes communities with centuries of history. Hundreds of hundreds of Jews from countries apart from Europe moved to Israel in the course of the early years of the state within the mid-Twentieth century. These groups – from Moroccan, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian and “Yemeni” communities, amongst others – were known as Mizrahi.

A black and white photo of about a dozen people sitting and standing outside between simple tents.
Families living in one among the “Maabarot,” the camps that Israel inbuilt the Nineteen Fifties for brand spanking new immigrants and refugees.
Jewish Agency for Israel/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

Some people within the US discover themselves as Mizrahi Jewsand there was within the USA since Colonial style Period.

Ashkenazi Jews educate nearly all of American Jews today. Sephardic Jews, nonetheless, were probably the most influential Jewish group in the course of the colonial period. Most oldest synagogues within the USA were built in line with Sephardic custom.

Coloured Jews

In addition to those broader categories, 5 to fifteen percent of American Jews discover as coloured Jews. Surveys of the Jewish community are notoriously bad at asking questions on race, so it’s difficult to find out the precise ethnic composition. But researchers know that increasingly Jews discover as coloured Jews.

The diversity of Jews of color is astonishing. Some come from communities which have all the time been Jewish and were never considered “white” in America – just like the painter Zion Benjamina member of the Bene Israel Jewish community in India who now lives within the USA

A hand points to a world map with yellow arrows pointing to several countries.
Participants in a California program for Jewish children of color find out about communities in Ethiopia, Uganda, India and the Caribbean.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Other Jews of color are children of interfaith marriages. A lot of celebrities fit this description, including the actor Daveed Diggsactress Rashida JonesRapper Drake and feminist creator Rebecca Walker. As well Angela Buchdahlthe primary Asian American to be ordained as a rabbi is the kid of an Ashkenazi Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother.

Other coloured Jews were adopted into Jewish familiesChildren with non-Jewish biological parents have normally formally converted to Judaismoften on the time of adoption. Since Ashkenazi Jews make up nearly all of American Jews, these children are often adopted into families that reflect Ashkenazi views on Jewish life.

As with all adoptions, families make numerous decisions about whether and incorporate their children’s culture into their upbringing. Families often feel more comfortable Incorporating elements of Buddhism into their Jewish homesthan, for instance, including points of Christian or Muslim culture.

The decision for Judaism

Experiences of mixed-race and adopted Jewish children vary, after all, but they often encounter challenges as they grow up and move away from the synagogues and Jewish groups of their childhood which might be familiar to them. As adults in recent Jewish communities, a few of them find their Jewish identity is more frequently questioned than in places where everyone knew them and their families.

Many Jews of color report that individuals often assume that they converted to Judaism as adults. Certainly some Jews of color – perhaps most famously – the musician Sammy Davis, Jr.A more moderen and well-known example is Michael Twittyan African-American Jewish food historian and cookbook creator.

Michael Twitty explores cultural heritage through food, including Jewish and African-American traditions.

Converts often feel that they’re expected to explain themselves and their motivesalthough Jewish law prohibits draw attention to the conversion of an individualMoreover, the fact stays that nearly all of coloured Jews usually are not converts to Judaism.

'What brings you here?'

Despite the nice diversity of Judaism, much of it stays invisible to the remainder of the world, even to the Jewish world as a complete.

Many people assume that “the” Jewish experience is the Ashkenazi experience. Therefore, in addition they assume that Jews are white. There have been times in American history when white Americans thought Jews as racial outsidersHowever, Jews of European descent were treated like whites under most racial laws within the United States, giving them legal protections and economic benefits not available to other American minority groups.

This assumption that the true Jewish experience is Ashkenazi is named “Ashkenormativity.” Like any culture, Ashkenazi culture has many wonderful things: Bagels! Matzo ball soup! Yiddish Theater! Klezmer music! Really beautiful prayer melodies and really biting humor! But Ashkenaziness is usually a problem.

First, the wealthy traditions of those other Jewish cultures might be marginalized—or exoticized—in the event that they are included in any respect. More importantly, assuming Jews are Ashkenazi white could make Jews of color feel unwelcome or unsafe.

I recently went to a dinner at a synagogue with three other people. I’m Indian American and the others were white. Complete strangers asked me where I used to be from and after I revealed that I used to be not from an Indian Jewish community, they asked if I used to be actually Jewish.

The hosts, nonetheless, simply assumed that the opposite guests were Jewish and tried to steer them to go to the synagogue, though the people at our table had already heard me recite the blessings over the wine and bread in Hebrew without having read the printed prayers.

My story is upsetting, but other people, especially black Jews, have stories about how they were persecuted in synagogues because people thought they didn't belongIn a world of rising anti-Semitism, synagogues are increasing security measures – sometimes without considering how this affects the protection and well-being of their members of color.

There is an excellent diversity of views and experiences amongst white Jews. Jews of color bring additional perspectives to all the pieces from racial justice issues to the present war within the Middle East. Remembering this diversity will help us see American Jews not as a narrow demographic group but as a kaleidoscope.

image credit : theconversation.com