What if my child doesn’t look Jewish?

Last month I talked about raising kids in an interfaith family – will we raise them Jewish or some other religion?
One of the concerns that can arise for parents is: How will it feel raising kids Jewish if they don’t “look” Jewish? The first question is – To whom do they not look Jewish? To you? To your community? To the rabbis? Chances are what you mean is they don’t look traditionally Eastern European to most American Jews.

Some people think a blonde, blue eyed child won’t look Jewish. But you will find many blonde Jews from Poland, Germany, England. My daughter is a blue-eyed blonde and has been told frequently by peers, “You don’t look Jewish.”  One of my son’s best friends is an Israeli boy with a wild head of blonde curls, but his fluent Hebrew supports his identity.

More common concerns are that racially diverse kids won’t be accepted by the general Jewish community. Asian or African heritage is seen as “not” Jewish looking. You are correct, many traditionalists will think your multiracial child doesn’t look Jewish if she is Black, Asian, or Hispanic. AND at the very same time there are thousands of born Jews that are Black, Asian and Hispanic. Here in the bay area there are a lot more of them. In an urban, metropolitan community diversity is just a bigger reality.

On one hand, explaining to your child their different ethnic/racial heritage can be easier than explaining a different religious tradition. There are elements that are fun (and non-threatening to the mainstream Jewish community) like food, music, language, art, history from China, Italy, Mexico, etc.  Embracing these things and sharing them with your child, friends, and fellow Jews will enrich everyone involved.

On the other hand you know that your child may be faced with questions that are not always pleasant to hear. You will need to arm your child with a strong knowledge of their identity and a community that affirms that identity. Let your child know that they are unequivocally Jewish. Feel free to ward off ignorant adults.  If someone asks you, “Is your child Jewish?” You can reply, “Why do you ask?” If they continue with comments about not looking Jewish, you can reply, “What do Jews look like to you?”

Don’t let the prejudices of others determine your life. Would you let someone who disliked you pick your home? Your job? No. Surround yourself with people who share your values, your joy in the diversity of life and the beauty of the human spirit.

Call me if you want support or resources.

Check out Bechol Lashon (In Every Voice), a local group that supports and celebrates Jewish racial diversity.  Many of us (yes, me too) have racially diverse families. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t really giving your diversity a second thought.