Why She Needed to Create the Jews of Color Torah Academy

At times growing up it was difficult to feel ownership over my Jewishness. I remember being told as a child that I was not even Jewish by a person who simply looked at my mother, who is Filipina and Jewish, and made an assumption. I did not grow up seeing very many people in my Ashkenazi Jewish community who looked like me or my family, which is not to say they were not there— they always were, but spread out in different communities or perhaps none at all. Jews I meet in life have often assumed I know less about Judaism or am not Jewish based on the way I look. Though in my heart I have always felt deeply Jewish, so many cues in the world around me and in my own education told me that it must not be the case.  

Particularly outside of Orthodox spaces, Hebrew and Jewish education in this country are inaccessible at best, and unnecessarily expensive (Adult Beginning Hebrew classes in New York regularly range from $500- $800 for a season). Hebrew is by no means the best or only Jewish language, but it is one that can grant access to a wealth of Jewish texts and histories spanning time periods and continents. The distinctly American myth that adults cannot learn new languages impedes access to Hebrew courses. The pervasive idea is that if you did not or could not access Hebrew or Jewish education as a child, if you do not have the yichus, the background, as some might say, then you will not be successful. Jews of Color have as many individual experiences as there are Jews of Color in the world, but the JOC community includes many adult learners wanting a Jewish education who are particularly likely to fall through the cracks. When you add pervasive racism, which exists even in the most progressive majority-white Jewish spaces, Jewish learning spaces that do exist can still not be the right place for good learning to occur.