by Jared Jackson
Growing up, I never thought about how being both African American and Jewish could be deeply meaningful. The journey to discover and understand my identity began in freshman year of college. By some strange twist of fate, I ended up living on a floor where most of the occupants were Jewish, while the floor director was African American. This interesting coincidence led my neighbors to seek explanations from me about one side or the other. Yet they never saw me as all that I am. To them I was always the “the other side” instead of just one Jared Jackson composed of multiple rich heritages.
A few years later in a new school I found myself taking a different course. I became engaged in building a Jewish community at the university. My participation in Hillel and leadership on Birthright trips led me to a crossroads. While sitting on a rock in the Negev and looking out on the gorgeous desert I thought, “How can I help multi-ethnic Jews feel welcome in all Jewish communities?” I realized that there should be something out there for us that is peer driven and built from the bottom up. Moreover, those of us who are products of intermarriage should be at the forefront of this work. What if I could share my story of being from two separate worlds with others who have similar experiences in an environment created and run by Dual Heritage Jews? What if there were something out there where the “Half Jew” wasn’t told to choose sides? If only we could create a safe environment in which to explore and discuss the issues we faced growing up and in some cases still face. Novel idea, right?
Since that amazing experience in the Negev, I have found myself in the company of individuals who share my vision. Together we are dedicated to make this dream a reality. Our project is called Jews in ALL Hues. We provide safe spaces to come together and explore what it means to be a Dual Heritage Jew in today’s world while being accepted for all that you are. Our first conference was in May of 2009 in Philadelphia. Our next conference will be on May 30, 2010 in San Francisco (co-sponsored by Birthright Israel NEXT Bay Area and Philadelphia). If you or somebody you know is a Dual Heritage Jew and would like the to join us for our Bay Area conference, please RSVP here! For more information on upcoming events, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jared is a Birthright Israel NEXT Fellow from Philadelphia.