Lacey Schwartz, a Jewish filmmaker and outreach strategist, did not learn about her black identity until she was a teenager. In June, the CLIP Interns were fortunate enough to meet Lacey and discuss her accomplishments as a Jewish professional in a diverse setting. Lacey shared her story, the focus of the documentary “Little White Lie,” and I immediately felt connected. Unlike Lacey, I always knew the origins of my biracial appearance. Growing up, I knew I did not look like the other students of my Temple’s religious school in Brooklyn, or like my friends from my Jewish sleep away camp, URJ Camp Harlam. While Lacey constantly questioned her appearance, I usually accepted my difference as a unique quality and conversation starter.
Similar to Lacey, I began to question my identity in my teenage years. I understood that I am both black and Jewish, but I did not understand how to be a part of both communities simultaneously. Throughout high school and during my early college years, I focused on the “other” narrative. Because I was neither fully black and both of my parents weren’t Jewish, I saw myself as an outsider. I believed my identity was “mixed,” and felt I was not allowed to relate to one more than the other.
As a young Jewish professional today, my personal conflict is not the ambiguity of my identity, but rather my ability to find comfort within the Jewish community. The students of the Sunday school classes I teach are increasingly diverse, yet I continue to feel like the token black voice in a room of peers. During discussions on race related current events, I feel responsible to be the voice of an entire population. Following the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities across the country, important conversations were held amongst Jews of my campus. Although I wrote my senior history thesis on tensions between the black community and the police in the 1960s, I felt that my opinions on current events were legitimized purely based on the color of my skin and not my knowledge on the subject.
According to the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, the number of households that contain biracial members are on the rise. A diverse community is essential to the strength and longevity of the Jewish people. In addition, future young Jewish children will grow up in a community where their role models are from unique and varied backgrounds. I am comforted to know that the world my campers and students grow up in will be different from the single white Jewish narrative experienced by Lacey and myself.