Jews of Color: Histories and Futures aims to recover and amplify the voices of those members of the American Jewish community who identify as people of color.
2020 Black Lives Matter protests heightened interest in racial justice, even among predominantly white institutions. As part of this broader development, many Jewish communities in America are now beginning to acknowledge their own silencing of people of color within their midst. This silencing has contributed to a false assumption that all American Jews are white. In fact, current studies suggest that 10-14% of American Jews identity as people of color. While Jews of Color have become increasingly prominent over the past decade, they have yet to receive widespread scholarly attention. Meanwhile, even as many Jewish communities take steps to address the needs and value the experiences of Jews of Color in predominantly white Jewish spaces, leading voices among Jews of Color suggest that there is still much work to do.
Jews of Color: Histories and Futures is one of the first scholarly initiatives headed by a Jew of Color to explore and document the experiences of Jews of Color. Samira K. Mehta, the principal investigator, is an award-winning scholar of American Judaism and a leading expert on race and Judaism in the United States. She currently serves as Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she is an Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies. She is collaborating with two co-primary investigators, Megan Friedel, Assistant Professor and Head of Archives and Collections Section Lead in the University Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive Collections, and Elias Sacks, Director of The Jewish Publication Society.
Our initiative aims to advance public understanding of Jews of Color in the U.S. by recovering and elevating their narratives. Centering and empowering these voices will allow us to tell new stories about the relationship between race and American Judaism–new stories that, in turn, will advance racial justice within Jewish communities, and within American society more broadly, by making more visible the roles, experiences, and challenges central to the lives of Jews of Color.
Jews of Color: Histories and Futures will achieve its goals through four primary endeavors:
A working group made up of Jewish Studies scholars, scholars of religion, scholars of critical race theory, and Jews of color who are leaders in Jewish communal life. The working group meets once a year in person, and in smaller conversational groups between those gatherings, to discuss scholarship and activism, and to guide the project’s other endeavors.
A digital, publicly available archive of oral histories of Jews of Color. The archive will be housed at CU Boulder, and is expected to launch in 2025.
A speaker series on Jews of Color in the United States. These talks will be open to the public in person as well as live streamed, and then posted to our website.
Public scholarship on the subject of Jews of Color in the United States. For one such project, see here.
Jews of Color: Histories and Futures was funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.