2015-09-30 / Local News

Former Rowan Hillel president helps community embrace Jews of color

Voice staff

FAMILY: Mother, Shellie; Wife, Rebekah Jackson; Sisters, Sara, Rachel, Rebecca (z”l), Shayna, and six nieces and nephews

UPBRINGING: Willingboro

INTERESTS: Jewish diversity, live music, cooking, relationship building

Jared Jackson knows what it feels like to be an outsider. With one parent who is white and Jewish and the other one black and gentile, Jackson and his four sisters faced stinging rejection and clear messages that they were unwelcomed by some in the Jewish community of their youth in Willingboro.

“I don’t know if I can honestly say I never thought about walking away,” he said. “For anyone, that’s always a choice.”

But for Jackson, 32, who grew up feeling a strong spiritual connection despite the challenges, walking away was never really an option. His love for Judaism and natural knack for community building led to the founding of Jews in ALL Hues (JIAH), an organization dedicated to inspiring and creating welcoming Jewish communities.

At a time when more than 50 percent of all millennial Jews in North America are of mixed heritage, the message is gaining traction. An education and advocacy nonprofit organization, JIAH supports multiple-heritage Jews, including adoptees, Jews by choice, Jews with intermarried parents, and Jews of color. The goal, said Jackson, is to build a future for the Jewish community in which a person’s heritage is never a barrier to acceptance or integration.

“It’s not enough to say you want diversity and throw up a sign,” said Jackson, who in 2013 was named one of “Ten Jews [Who] Will Change The World” by Ma’ariv News. “You really have to plan for the future to make your community as diverse and welcoming as possible.”

JIAH is located in Mt. Airy, where Jackson lives with his wife Rebekah, who is also of mixed heritage and has a Masters degree from Gratz College in Judaic Studies. The organization recently closed a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise $9,000 to develop new Jewish diversity curriculum and media.

Besides his work with JIAH, he is a professional saxophonist and also teaches music and Hebrew.

To be sure, Jackson’s life experiences have informed his work. After his father passed away when he was three, his mother, a Jew from Long Island, had high hopes that her family would find support and community within their local Jewish community. That path closed quickly when a prominent member of that community called his sister the Nword, he said.

Although Jackson still identified as a Jew, he did not return to organized religion until he was dragged “kicking and screaming” by friends into an Orthodox service during college. He stayed for dinner at the rabbi’s house with other Jews of color. This was a changing point. As a student at Rowan University, Jackson served as president of the Hillel, sparking his calling as a Jewish leader adept at bringing people together.

For Cody Greenes, a mixed heritage Jew, JIAH’s message resonated so personally that he joined the board and now serves as president.

“Jared is blunt in a positive supporting way,” said Greenes. “He’s not attacking but identifying what problems there are and that really comes across. I think people appreciate it; I know I have.”

For more information about Jews in ALL Hues, visit www.jewsinallhues.org. .

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