Investing in the Numbers and Narratives of Our Community

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This article was originally published in eJewish Philanthropy by Jamie Allison, Lisa Eisen, Jim Farley, Barry Finestone, Rachel Levin, Rachel Garbow Monroe and Elana Rodan Schuldt

We are in the midst of the Omer, the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. Counting is important during this time. Indeed, we mark each day of the Omer with blessing and reflection. Our Sages teach that the Omer mirrors the journey the Israelites took between the miracle of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah. Then, it was a physical journey. Today it is a spiritual journey, a process of introspection with each day and week of the Omer offering another opportunity for growth, learning and improvement. Counting and betterment go hand in hand.

What better time then to reflect on the findings of Counting InconsistenciesAn Analysis of American Jewish Population Studies with an Emphasis on Jews of Color, a report co-authored by a team from Stanford University and the University of San Francisco, led by Dr. Ari Kelman that we supported last year, in order to give an approximate estimation of Jews of Color in the United States.

Counting Inconsistencies is a meta-analysis of 25 prior demographic and population surveys, which some of us have funded. The report sheds light on the numerous inconsistencies these studies have had in collecting data and identified four ways in which demographic reports – both secular and Jewish – undercount people of color.

Being counted matters. This emphasis on counting is abundant in our tradition, whether in the Omer or the detailed explanation the Torah gives about the ancient census. And it matters this very day, too, as our country goes through a census that itself has historically undercounted people of color. It matters as we see marginalized communities suffering more from a pandemic because of health data and policy that consistently counted them out.

As funders, it’s our responsibility to understand the numbers so we can invest in and elevate diverse, authentic narratives. Building equitable access to both the tangible, like healthcare, or the intangible, one’s narrative, is part and parcel of our commitment. The myriad diverse Jewish voices and lived experiences in our community are what make us vibrant, resilient, and alive.

We’re as acutely aware of the narratives many of us have inadvertently perpetuated about the lack of diversity in our Jewish community as we are of the countless studies many of us have supported that have upheld those narratives. The implications of this have left Jews of Color excluded, and feeling like they alone are responsible for getting their seats at the table. The buck, quite literally, needs to stop here. We will no longer stand by or be complicit with myopic work and research that causes only harm to a community that historically has been undercounted and whose narratives have been ignored or marginalized.

Nuance gives birth to narratives and without narratives, we can’t utilize data.

The narratives missing from the 25 studies analyzed were those from Jews living in the both/and, such Jews who identified as multi-racial or didn’t identify as religious. Who weren’t even contacted because they didn’t have a “Jewish last name.” Or who fell between the cracks of flawed data collection methodologies.

There are multiple ways to discuss the diversity in our community. There are the numbers and there are the experiences. As funders, we are committed to the both/and: seeing demographics in consistent and authentic ways and seeing who makes up our community. We are committed to elevating the voices of those who have had restricted access and agency within our communal systems. Furthermore, we are committed to being in alliance with them as they become leaders at decision-making tables through the pipelines that exist today and those that we hope will exist tomorrow. Above all, we remain committed to funding their crucial efforts.

We’re engaging in the necessary improvement to the ways we collect data in order to be sure we see and count everyone. When we invest in this work, we’re investing in the fabric of our future. We’re investing in the nuance and the narratives that arise each day in our community. We invest to learn from our missteps and course correct. Ultimately, we invest to support a community where, without question, we all count.

Jamie Allison is the Executive Director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Lisa Eisen is the Co-President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation; Jim Farley is the President & CEO of the Leichtag Foundation; Barry Finestone is President & CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation; Rachel Levin is the Executive Director of the Righteous Persons Foundation; Rachel Garbow Monroe is the President & CEO of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Elana Rodan Schuldt is the President & CEO of the Rodan Family Foundation.