Affinity Groups: A Space for Strength, Belonging, and Empowerment

November 30, 2020Anabelle Keimach

As I logged on to Zoom for my fifth meeting of the day, I felt overwhelmed, tired, and hesitant to start my next call, aware that I would be joining a group of strangers  without knowing what to expect. I took a deep breath as I saw a message pop up on my screen: “The host will let you in to the Jews of Color & People of Color in the Reform Movement Affinity Space Gathering soon.”      

When entering the Zoom room, I acknowledged that my entire screen was filled with the faces of People of Color, grounding me in my purpose for being there that night. Never before had I been in a Jewish space with so many People of Color; for some, it was their very first time speaking with other Jews of Color. It was an emotional event for everyone, seeing such a large and diverse group of Jews when we are used to being the sole non-white person in Jewish settings. My initial hesitation was immediately replaced with feelings of comfort in this new community.

As I got to know the other participants, I understood that we were a group diverse in race, age, geographic location, and other identities (yay, Internet wonders!), brought together by our connection to Judaism. The affinity gathering allowed us to connect through our experiences as JOCs and to discuss what we hope for the future of the multiracial Jewish community. As I talked to everyone, the stress of the day faded away. I felt uplifted by the care and support offered by the group members and energized hearing of people’s efforts in pushing for diversity, equity, and inclusion in Jewish spaces.

Most importantly, I felt that I belonged, with no worries that people would question my being Jewish. Of the many topics we discussed that night, the very first point upon which we came to consensus was that we are asked  “So how are you Jewish?” far too often in Jewish spaces. Having to constantly explain ourselves is discouraging when the fact is that we have made a choice to identify as Jews, whether we were born into Judaism or converted – so why should it matter how we came to our decisions? For some, feeling a sense of belonging and knowing that there are other Jews like them is crucial to their involvement in Jewish communities. Many JOCs turn away from Jewish experiences because of the idea that they will not be immediately accepted for who they are.

Affinity groups are important spaces for people to further consider their identities and draw strength from similarly identifying individuals. I first began thinking about the convergence of my Chinese identity and Jewish identity only a few months ago. Since then, I have had many opportunities to communicate with other Jews of Color, whether through affinity groups or other programming. Each time, I have come away considering something new about my role as a Person of Color in the Jewish world and, consequently, have learned more about myself.

Lastly, affinity groups allow people to organize and take action. One reason Jewish spaces have remained as primarily white spaces is not because JOCs don’t exist but because they don’t feel welcomed into those spaces. What I have gained from the affinity groups I have been a part of is the agency to make space for myself in Jewish communities, as well as the initiative to make those communities more educated and accepting. The Jewish community is becoming increasingly multiracial, and we have to intentionally shift our mindset about what “Jewish” looks like.

I feel immense gratitude toward organizations like the URJ that are working to make Jewish diversity and inclusion a priority and particularly to the Reform Jewish leaders who facilitated this gathering. My experience with JOC affinity groups has empowered me as a young Jewish leader, helped me understand the power of connection, and inspired the ways in which I hope to influence the Jewish community. 

Learn more about and join the next Jews of Color & People of Color in the Reform Movement Affinity Space December Gathering on December 9, 2020, from 6:30-7:30pm ET.

Congregational leaders are invited to join our upcoming Affinity Space Training on December 16, 2020, from 8-9pm ET.

 

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