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#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris

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The Research Training Internship (RTI) is a 10-month Jewish feminist research cohort for teen girls and non-binary teens.  Each year, the group researches a social justice topic facing the Chicago area Jewish community to bring awareness and action to that issue. This year’s group explored marginalized and privileged identities within the Jewish community. This work is more important than ever; it is actively altering peoples opinions and understand of the world which is changing the world step by step. What follows is an excerpt from this year’s report written by Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris, two of this year’s interns. They chose to research race and ethnicity within our local community. 

“The Jewish community is not a monolith. There are multitudes of identities. Yet, there aren’t many active efforts to include these identities. We explored race and ethnicity and how it affects people’s abilities to participate and identify with the Jewish community. In doing so, we wanted to bring more awareness to the intersectionality in our community and better suit everyone’s needs to make it more inclusive. Continue reading to see what we discovered. 

Our research first started off with a survey to get a handle on if, and how, people of color and non-Ashkenazi participate in and identify with the Jewish community. We received 137 responses. Of those responses, 27 people identified themselves as people of color and/or non-Ashkenazi. Our specific focus was how White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews lives differed. The biggest difference was found in synagogue attendance. 67% of White, Ashkenazi people attend synagogue, while 48% of non-White, non-Ashkenazi people attend synagogue. These differences can be found throughout the survey, in places like camps, community centers, and organizations. It is clear that participation differs between White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews. The lack of participation means that not everybody is being represented in Jewish spaces. Whether it is a cause or a consequence, racism is directly tied into this lack of representation. 50% of people say they have seen racism occur in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence from non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews shows this in glaring detail. 

The second part of our research, interviews, solidified our understanding that there was a problem in the Jewish community surrounding race and ethnicity. Some of our interviewees talked about the connection they had to the Jewish community, but they all talked about being “othered”. Time and time again, their Judaism was called into question by fellow Jews. Non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews were not made welcome. The racism and exclusion we saw spurred us to action. Our work brings light to and tries to remedy the attitudes and behaviors of the Jewish community.”

We invite you to our virtual community presentation July 13 to learn more about Sophie and Rachel’s research as well as the other topics covered in this year’s report.  Please RSVP here: