Are Jews all one race?
The answer is a hard “no.” Jewish people come in every colour and hail from all over the world. The short film Periphery, to be shown May 11 by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month, explores the ethnic diversity of the Jewish community in Canada. It was created in partnership with No Silence on Race, a Jewish non-profit organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of Jews from multi-ethnic and multi-racial backgrounds, and the Ontario Jewish Archives. The E-Bulletin had a chance to sit down with Akilah Allen-Silverstein, co-founder of No Silence on Race and a production assistant on the film as well as a financial planner.
Akilah shared that she feels equally connected to her mother’s Caribbean roots as her father’s Canadian Jewish roots. She enjoys engaging with both communities, however, felt a pull to more deeply explore her Jewish identity after participating in a Birthright Israel trip.
“The Israelis made me feel a part of the community. I met Mizrahi and Yemeni Jews and some Ethiopian Jews. We had an understanding. I saw people from different Jewish backgrounds who don’t look Ashkenazi, it was very comforting.”
In addition, visiting Israel gave her a sense of pride about the country. She is proud of what her people have achieved in such a short time.
Despite all the joy and pride she feels, being a Jew of colour hasn’t been easy for her.
“I want to be proudly Jewish, whatever that means. When people see my last name, which is hyphenated, they very quickly ask me which parent is Jewish and then say, ‘Oh you’re not really Jewish.’” This is painful for Akilah who feels such a connection to the Jewish community. She firmly believes that “as a community, we are only as strong as our numbers, so how do we make everyone feel welcome and be inclusive?”
Akilah wants people to know that this film has changed her, and she wants it to touch and change others.
“It’s given a voice to a lot of internal thoughts that I’m not sure I really knew how to articulate before. It’s opened up opportunities for people who have mixed-race/multi-ethnic identities within our community, to feel heard; To have opportunities to speak and share and celebrate their identities. It’s really special to see how much it impacts other people. This is an amazing way to change perceptions and open up the conversation of ‘who is a Jew’.”
She closes with, “as a Jewish community in Canada we need to focus our efforts on including everyone who identifies with and want to be a part of our community. We need to make sure there are inclusive, anti-racist spaces where we can all be together, where we can all support each other, and where we can celebrate our differences and bond based on things that we do share.”
Come celebrate the diversity in our community on May 11, 2023, at 7 pm for a live, in-person screening of the documentary film Periphery hosted by Federation in partnership with the Ottawa Public Library, The Sephardi Association of Ottawa and the United Way. The film screening will be followed by a discussion panel with Yonatan Belete and Akilah Allen-Silverstein, co-founders of No Silence on Race.
All are welcome.
Dessert reception, showcasing Jewish desserts from around the world, will follow. Tickets $10 • Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive. For more info and to register for tickets click here.