During phase one of the Sephardic Jewish American Research Study which was completed in 2021, JIMENA assembled a 40-member Sephardic Study Advisory Committee composed of Sephardic communal leaders, scholars, rabbis, educators, and advocates representing diverse Sephardic communities from across the United States. The committee includes scholars of Sephardic Jews from UCLA, University of Washington, SUNY, Brandeis University, George Washington University, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Orthodox Union, and the Berman Jewish Databank. Senior leadership from every single major Sephardic organization in the United States joined the advisory board in addition to heads of Jewish Day Schools, philanthropists, and emerging young Sephardic lay leaders.
During phase one of the research, Rosov Consulting and Dr. Mijal Bitton developed standardized research questionnaires for Sephardic Study Advisory Committee participants in an effort to build an understanding of Sephardic communal leaders’ needs and priorities for data. Rosov interviewed ten Sephardic Advisory Committee participants and twenty participants completed the survey prepared by Dr. Mijal Bitton. From the sampling of the surveys prepared by Dr. Mijal Bitton we learned the following:
- 70% of the leaders identify as Sephardic and 75% as Mizrahi
- 15% of the leaders surveyed identify as a Jew of Color, 10% as a Persons of Color, 20% as Hispanic, 30% as white, and 50% as Middle Eastern
- 50% of the leaders surveyed identify as Traditional, 20% identify as Orthodox, 20% as Reform, 15% as Conservative, 10% as Secular, and 55% as other
- 100% of participants recognized a dearth of standardized, high-quality, qualitative and quantitative data on Sephardic Jewish Americans
- 100% of participants recognized the need for a significant investment in Sephardic communal leadership infrastructure and community engagement and education models
- In response to the question, “As a Sephardic Jew, do you feel represented and included in mainstream Jewish communities across America? “80% of the leaders said they do not feel included and 15% said they do.
Questions that emerged during phase one that need to be addressed in further research:
- What does the term Sephardic mean and who does it apply to?
- What does the term Mizrahi mean and who does it apply to?
- What is the size and location of the Sephardic/Mizrahi populations in the United States?
- What are religious, socio-economic and political characteristics of the Sephardic/Mizrahi population in the United States?
- What is the relationship between the identity of Sephardic/Mizrahi and racial identities such as ‘white Jews,’ or ‘Jews of Color’?
- What is the self-understanding of Sephardic Jews vis-a-vis the Ashkenazi-majority institutional Jewish community in America?
- What are barriers for Sephardic representation and integration in broader American institutional life?
These are but some of the questions for which we have no data or any infrastructure to begin collecting this data on Sephardic Jewish Americans. The most significant barrier for answering these questions is that Sephardic Jews are underrepresented in social scientific studies of Jewry and in the centers of institutional life which collect these types of data. A significant effort is necessary to begin collecting information that will allow for an accurate and inclusive portrait of the full U.S. Jewish population, including Sephardic Jews.