Recently, I contacted New York City’s Department of Health to get more information on the reason that so many names of Jewish origin have become popular, and why those names are heavily represented in the “White” category.
The department replied, stating “Race is self-reported by the mother or parent, and we use the same categories as the census. More details can be found in the Mother/Parent worksheet.
(As an aside, I read the entire reporting form NYC gives to mothers, and I don’t remember seeing some these questions on any of the birth documentation I was given in either Michigan or Israel.
21. What is your HEIGHT?
22. What was your PRE-PREGNANCY WEIGHT?
My profession is Victoria’s Secret model. I’m 5’11 and before the pregnancy I weighed 99 lbs… I’m just going to speak that into the universe.
And who would answer this one honestly?
24. Did you use ALCOHOL during this pregnancy?
I’m not much of a drinker, pregnant or no, but I wouldn’t want to admit to it on a government form. Is this just an undercover way of smoking out bad [and apparently stupid] parents?)
From the NYC Heath Department, I went to the Census website, to see their definition of race. Although I had filled out two census forms during my 40 years, I had never paid much attention to the instructions regarding race, since in my family the answers always seemed pretty self-evident. But now I stopped to read the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards on race and ethnicity:
White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
Uh, hello?! Middle East?! So, argument closed, son! As far as America is concerned, ethnic Jews are White. Sephardi Jews are White. Ashkenazi Jews are White. Admittedly, you may sometimes get treated badly, despite being White. I recommend keeping a clipping of the Census definition in your pocket so you can remind people of your entitlement to White privilege. Just treat it like an American Express card, and don’t leave home without it.
In fact, the Census definition also resolved another pet peeve of mine.
Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
Any of the “Black racial groups”… I had better not catch another Boer who immigrated from South Africa checking the African-American box on a scholarship form.
I went back through NYC’s baby name lists for the last 15 years, and I noticed that while Sarah and Rachel were almost always in the list of popular White baby names, the infiltration by names that are more connected specifically with Jewish communities started in 2003, with the addition of Esther. Chaya was added in 2005, and Leah and Miriam appeared in 2008. The trend is definitely more noticeable with girl names than boy names, which have already shown a biblical spin for decades.
In an even more interesting twist, we can see confirmation that these names are linked to the soaring Ultra-Orthodox birthrates thanks to NYC’s name breakdowns. The popularity of traditionally Jewish names like Esther, Leah, Chaya, and Miriam shows a ten to twenty-fold increase for Kings County (the official name for Brooklyn) versus any other New York county or borough. Brooklyn is the center of American Hasidic life, famous for neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Crown Heights. As proven by the reporting records, at least the Hasidim know they are White.
Instead of expending energy arguing how White you aren’t, or how separate Judaism is from White culture, how much more productive would it be to say that even though you are White, you understand what discrimination feels like, and you don’t support it in any form. In this way, you can serve as both an example to mainstream culture, and also show your Jewish brothers and sisters of color that you don’t want to throw us under the back of the bus.
Malynnda Littky moved to Israel from the Detroit area in 2007, and lives with her family in Hadera, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. She currently works as a Content Manager for a software company.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay.