St. Louisan’s TikTok videos try explaining “what does Jewish look like?

Tony Westbrook

Jordan Palmer

It cannot be said enough, but the Jewish community is a diverse group of people made up of different ethnic backgrounds, different religious expressions, and more.

Tony Westbrook in an amplification of this fact.

“As someone that is visibly Jewish (through wearing a kippah and tzitzit on a daily basis) and Black,  I have had and continue to have interactions with white Jews who make comments like, ‘Oh, you don’t look Jewish!’” said Westbrook, who is the Assistant Director at Hillel at Washington University.

This week, to mark the beginning of Black History Month, he has decided to educate the Jewish community at large, as well as the non-Jewish world by attempting to answer the question “what does Jewish look like?” To do this, Westbrook is dropping a daily video tutorial on social media.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra advertisement

“My answer is a beautiful tapestry! I’m using this month to educate as many people as I can about the diversity of the Jewish community, specifically Jews of color,” said Westbrook. “Being Jewish in America has come to mean being white and that simply isn’t the case.”

The 2013 Pew Study of Jewish Americans showed insight to the changing state of the Jewish community. More Jews are intermarrying, more Jews are less religious, and more Jews are from diverse backgrounds. The survey showed that roughly 20% of the Jewish population identified as non-white. “That’s a big deal,” said Westbrook. “Why don’t we see more Jews that look like me in leadership positions, as rabbis?

The Jews of Color Initiative launched a survey last month in which they are trying to get information from 1000 JoCs to share out with the greater Jewish community. You can find out more about the survey here 

Westbrook’s 60-second videos highlight both the famous as well as the unknown Jews of Color, specifically Black Jews.

“I do plan on doing a video every day. I record the videos on TikTok and share them to my InstaStories (Instagram) and Facebook Stories via TikTok.

The goal of the videos is tell the remarkable stories of the highlighted individuals and to show just how diverse a group of people we are.

“I want them to know that whether someone converts or is born Jewish, that they are Jewish,” said Westbrook. “There’s no one way to do or be Jewish. We come in all shapes and colors. I hope people will look at their organizations and communities and ask the following questions: Is our leadership and boards reflective of all the members of the community? If the respective communities don’t have JoCs, why? How can they be more welcoming?