The obvious reason for a celebration of multiracial, multi-ethnic Jews is the opportunity it gives all Jews to appreciate a lush array of literature, music, customs, and food from the many regions Jews come from. Yet a more ominous reason lurks behind the shadows of this glorified collective celebration of diversity—that is, Jews have been historically demonized, exiled, and massacred. Jews literally need each other, or, in words of editor Karen Primack, “History teaches us that a Jew never knows…where that help might come from.”
The founder of the organization Kulanu (“all of us”) which is devoted to discovering and supporting Jewish life around the world, Karen Primack has compiled Under One Canopy: Readings in Jewish Diversity (Kulanu, Inc., $15; available from Kulanu.org). This is a wide-ranging anthology of stories, songs, and poetry representing Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Mizrachi Jews, Jews of Africa and Asia, converted Jews, and Jews of the modern Israel.
In a striking piece on the Jews of Spain, Robin Becker writes, “I love the sad proud history of expulsion and wandering, the Moorish synagogue walled in the Venetian ghetto, persistence of study and text.” Other passages speak to childhood revelations. Eva R. Yelloz recalls the day her mother slapped her face when she unknowingly spoke of her fellow Mizrahi (Jew from the Middle East or North Africa) classmate as a Frenk Parech, meaning pockmarked by the facial scars from a bacteria-borne illness that struck the people of North Africa and the Middle East. One piece translates the Passover four questions into the Luganda language, while another finds its voice as a Ladino bedtime prayer for children. Some of the passages work to educate. Writes Yitzchak Kerem, “Most of the details of the Sephardic experience in the Holocaust are unknown in the Jewish world.” Margie Klein, who set out to teach Jewish subjects to the Jewish Sefwi Wiawso community in Ghana, West Africa, found that in the midst of singing praises for the corn growing and the bearing of beautiful children, the Jewish Ghanaian farmers had “a whole lot more to teach me about Judaism than I had to give them.” One writer, a woman with a Jewish father and Korean mother, recalls the spicy cabbage kimchee which her mother would place on the seder place each Passover instead of maror.
The material Primack has drawn in reveals poignant moments in which families are exiled from homelands or children discover the Jewish roots their parents have kept hidden for so many years. These diversity stories give us a rich narrative about the union of culture and religion, illuminating the many underreported ways Jews live around the world.