Welcoming those who dont look Jewish

Who looks Jewish?

The answer is changing, according to San Francisco demographer Gary A. Tobin, who has been involved in a three-year study on multiracial Jewish households.

And had one stumbled into the Women's Building in San Francisco's Mission District Sunday night, where Tobin's Institute for Jewish & Community Research sponsored a gathering, one surely would have been surprised to see a roomful of people of color celebrating the first night of Chanukah.

Some 200 were there, from all over the Bay Area. While some are active in synagogues and the broader Jewish community, more feel somewhat estranged from Jewish life. They don't feel fully welcomed or accepted. They know their identification with Judaism is genuine yet believe others are too caught up in their skin color to see that.

The high intermarriage rate in the Bay Area is only one cause of Judaism's changing face. There are also Jews-by-choice and Jewish couples adopting children of another race.

What is evident at the party Sunday night was that the notions of what it means to look Jewish are changing. And this trend will only continue.

On the one hand, it was a truly wonderful sight to see a diverse community engaging in a joyous Chanukah celebration. As Anthony Stewart told the Bulletin, before participating in the institute's study, he never knew there were other blacks like him searching for answers in Judaism.

A community for multiracial Jews is needed, and Tobin should be commended for helping to provide it.

On the other hand, that so many multiracial Jews feel excluded from the mainstream Jewish community should be a lesson to the rest of us.

Once someone converts to Judaism, we are supposed to consider that person as Jewish as a Jew-by-birth. Sometimes we forget this. And we are probably even guiltier when it comes to a person of another race.

Stewart, who is converting to Judaism next month, said finding his way to Judaism was like coming home. The rest of us need to make sure he continues to feel that way.