Faith Draws More Blacks

June 18, 2008

Author: Rachel Pomerance

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pamela and Jim Harris have gotten used to the stares.

It's not that people have never seen traditional Jewish garb before. They've just rarely seen it on a black couple.

"For a black male to put on a kipah and go wandering around in a predominately black community, you get the strangest looks," said Pamela Harris, referring to the traditional Jewish head covering.

Soon the Harrises, former Christian evangelicals, will complete their conversion to Judaism. If their choice seems unusual, it's apparently becoming less so.

At Congregation Shearith Israel, a conservative synagogue in Virginia-Highland, where Pamela Harris works as the senior nonclerical staff member, at least eight of the roughly 20 people learning about Judaism with Rabbi Hillel Norry are black.

At the Marcus Jewish Community Center in Dunwoody, roughly 20 percent of the nearly two dozen people enrolled in Steven Chervin's introduction to Judaism classes are black.

Although there are no sound statistics on the subject, anecdotal evidence suggests that, in the past 15 years, increasing numbers of black Americans are exploring Judaism, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.