By Lola Stanten, Southwest Regional Manager
We all carry many identities within ourselves: Jewish and American, Jewish and male/female/nonbinary, Jewish and Queer, etc. Sometimes those identities easily coexist with one another and sometimes there’s friction both internally and externally. I am Jewish and from a one Jewish parent or “interfaith” household. My parents were raised in very different worlds, but came together to create something new and all their own. My mother was brought up in a small town Christian-leaning household and my dad’s parents met through a yenta in Los Angeles. I was raised in a largely non-religious, but culturally Jewish home where Hanukkah and Christmas were seamlessly intertwined and celebrated together. I was taught to be proud of my Jewish heritage, but I was always nervous to talk about my background in Jewish spaces for fear someone would say, “Oh, so you’re not really Jewish”. And people did. A lot.
I’ve spent my entire professional career working for pluralistic Jewish non-profits, yet I still hear this hurtful and exclusionary statement more frequently than I’d like to admit. Although it isn’t always said with bad intentions, it can lead many Jews to not feel welcome in our pluralistic spaces. There seems to be a disconnect that needs to be addressed on a larger scale.
This year at Natty Con, our North American community builder training conference, I was given the opportunity to lead a “Plus One” session on inclusivity towards an underrepresented group of Jewish young adults where we explored the topic of “interfaith.” We all sat around in a circle, shared what brought us to the session and of the 40 or so young adults in the room, many were from interfaith families, in interfaith relationships, or just wanted to learn how to be as welcoming as possible to every person who comes through their door. We shared our personal stories, experiences, and engaged in thoughtful discourse. When creating pluralistic spaces, it’s important that we do our best to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of what Jewish background they come from. And that often starts with the words we use.
If you’d like to have a conversation like this in your own community, please feel free to utilize this text-based resource to help guide the discussion.