Jewish community member Gillian Koh is on a mission to celebrate and create more space for diversity in Jewish Ottawa.
Koh, a deeply engaged and active participant at Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI) synagogue, took part in the Sulam for Emerging Leaders program in 2021. As part of this leadership program, Rabbi Eytan Kenter urged the participants to consider how they personally wanted to improve their community. For Koh, who is Chinese and Jewish, the response was clear. She wants to reach out to multiracial Jews to recognize and celebrate diversity in the Jewish community by formalizing and expanding outreach to Jewish community members who identify as multiracial.
“I had a very positive experience joining the Jewish community, but there are times when I wish we could recognize and celebrate our diversity more,” Koh says. “We really want our children to grow up knowing, and seeing, that Jews come in many colours.”
As one of the first initiatives to connect families, Koh held a picnic last summer, which was very well attended.
“It was rewarding to see families make connections and exchange numbers,” Koh says while explaining that there have been challenges in getting the program started. Some of the concerns centred around finding a safe and welcoming place for all to join, and navigating elements such as indoors vs outdoors, or couples vs families with children.
To help work through these details and build the program, Koh now has a small team of volunteers and would welcome more community members to join her initiative.
The goal, Koh explains, is to develop a strong and vibrant network for all people and families who self-identify as “multiracial and within the Jewish community.” She adds that “this includes interfaith families. I point this out specifically because there are interfaith families who don't feel connected within the Jewish community, and then also being multiracial can add another layer of otherness.”
Koh explains that while her family is part of a group of friends that include multiracial Jewish families, she is aware there are many more connections to be made and that there are more families like her own who are longing for a space in the community but who are not yet connected.
“I know that there are so many more connections to be made and that not everyone has found the diversity they are looking and hoping for within Ottawa's Jewish community,” Koh says.
As a next step toward solidifying a community group for multiracial Jewish families, Koh is in the planning stages of an event in May partnered with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s PJ Library.
“The PJ Library program strives to welcome and celebrate all families raising Jewish children. As a PJ Library professional and PJ parent, I love that the books are inclusive and representative of the beautiful diversity within the Jewish community. It really emphasizes that there is no one way to be Jewish, and that is what makes our culture and people so rich,” explained Emily Litwack, Federation’s Community Engagement Specialist and PJ Library Professional.
Koh agrees, adding that “we love that PJ Library books are inclusive and the messaging is always filled with love.”
To find out more about how you can get involved in Koh’s initiative, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.