Skip to main content

Are Jews an "underrepresented community" in children’s publishing?


I applied for a writing award yesterday. I'm not going to get it, but that's not what I wanted to share with you.

Here's what I wanted to share.
This box:



I stared at this box for a long, long time. And then I decided not to check it. Even though I believe people like me truly are underrepresented, we probably wouldn’t fit the definition in other people's minds.


Well, because we're European.
Because we are white.
Because as everybody knows, Jews control the media. (do we???)
If anything, some people say, Jews are over-represented in publishing.

And yet.

Some definitions are careful not to include people like me. Like this random definition from the State of California which defines underrepresented for some very specific business purposes as: "an individual who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender."

Sorry, I self-identify as an Israeli-Canadian Ashkenazi Jew. Any room for me on that spectrum?

According to Wikipedia:  
“An underrepresented group describes a subset of a population that holds a smaller percentage within a significant subgroup than the subset holds in the general population.”

Hmm. Does that sound like me?

As of 2019, Jews are only 0.2% of the world population. Even that sounds super-high and probably includes many, many Jews who'd be surprised to hear they'd been counted. But thinking of all the books I’ve seen and read in my life, including children’s books, I would say far fewer than two in a thousand characters were recognizably Jewish. Mayyyybe…

Then again, in the U.S., according to the latest Pew polls (which, again, include Jews who’d probably be surprised to hear that they are classified as Jewish), Jews comprise 2.4% of all U.S. adults. Are two (point four!) in a hundred people in every American picture book you pick up Jewish? Every graphic novel? Every middle-grade novel? And let’s be clear: I mean the kind of Jewish you can pick out from a crowd; the kind of Jewish where the home, practices, child’s behaviour are notably different from their peers’ simply because of being Jewish. Seems like we’re underrepresented for sure.

Yet I've been told repeatedly that

as an Ashkenazi Jew, I have to step aside and let other people claim their diversity and speak up for THEIR underrepresented culture.

And yes, I have been told that literally. More than once.

I once applied for a scholarship to a children's writing program based on financial need and being a middle east person and a person from an underrepresented Orthodox Jewish background. And got a call from the director of the program, very excited to find out more about me to make sure I qualified. Their voice dripped with disappointment when they found out I wasn’t actually a person with an interesting ethnicity or culture they could help out.

I can't call the director antisemitic, considering they're Jewish themselves. (Can I?)
That person probably envisions themselves lifting OTHER people up... not their own people. Their own people are doing just fine, thank you.
I wonder if that person has been to Israel and seen what Jews truly look like.
I wonder if that person has ever tried to find high-quality children's books that reflect an Orthodox Jewish perspective.
From a mainstream publisher.

What's that -- never?
Oh, yeah. We really are underrepresented.

But. But. But what about all those glittering blue-and-white Chanukah books out there? Isn't there an Elmo Rosh Hashanah book? Surely Jews should take what they can get and be happy and shut up about it?
Yeah, no.

I can't help wondering, for instance, if a white European Muslim would have checked that box. I strongly suspect they would have. And I would support that because, as a Jew, my liberal heart bleeds for underrepresented and minority people. Someone Lithuanian or Bulgarian or heck, Polish Muslim. The Lipka Tatars, who have been in Poland since the 14th century -- unlike my family, who were probably there since around the year 1048.

Lipka Tatars

Maybe that extra 300 years was enough to make my family truly white.
Truly Polish.
Truly European.
Truly privileged, as opposed to a minority, an underrepresented person whose voice deserves to be heard.

Because the thing about privilege, we're told, is that if you have it, you can't see it.
I walk into a store with my white face and security guards don't follow me around to make sure I don't shoplift.
My husband doesn't get pulled over for driving through a white neighbourhood.
I don't have to train my kids to put their hands up if they encounter a police officer.

That certainly makes me privileged.

So why do I flinch when the world alternately tells me to go back where I came from AND to get out of my ancestral homeland?
Or simply to shut up, quit making so much noise, and blend in like everybody else?

Or when the children's publishing world tells us they've heard enough from Jews, especially when it comes to Israel. We are now officially over-represented and can go back to shutting up and not making waves.

When books about kids like my kids, living where we live, are still nowhere to be found from mainstream publishing companies.
When the Jews in many kids' stories are exactly like everybody else.
Exactly the way the world wants us to be.

Sure, we're represented.
Sit down.
Be quiet.
Don't make waves.


Should I have checked that box???



Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


Popular posts from this blog

לימודי קודש/Limudei Kodesh Copywork & Activity Printables

Welcome to my Limudei Kodesh / Jewish Studies copywork and activity printables page.  As of June 2013, I am slowly but surely moving all my printables over to 4shared because Google Docs / Drive is just too flaky for me. What you’ll find here: Weekly Parsha Copywork More Parsha Activities More Chumash / Tanach Activities Yom Tov Copywork & Activities Tefillah Copywork Pirkei Avos / Pirkei Avot Jewish Preschool Resources Other printables! For General Studies printables and activities, including Hebrew-English science resources and more, click here . For Miscellaneous homeschool helps and printables, click here . If you use any of my worksheets, activities or printables, please leave a comment or email me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com, to link to your blog, to tell me what you’re doing with it, or just to say hi!  If you want to use them in a school, camp or co-op setting, please email me (remove the X’s) for rates. If you just want to say Thank You, here’s a

Hebrew/ עברית & English General Studies Printables

For Jewish Studies, including weekly parsha resources and copywork, click here . If you use any of my worksheets, activities or printables, please leave a comment or email me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com, to link to your blog, to tell me what you’re doing with it, or just to say hi!  If you want to use them in a school, camp or co-op setting, please email me (remove the X’s) for rates. If you enjoy these resources, please consider buying my weekly parsha book, The Family Torah :  the story of the Torah, written to be read aloud – or any of my other wonderful Jewish books for kids and families . English Worksheets & Printables: (For Hebrew, click here ) Science :  Plants, Animals, Human Body Math   Ambleside :  Composers, Artists History Geography Language & Literature     Science General Poems for Elemental Science .  Original Poems written by ME, because the ones that came with Elemental Science were so awful.  Three pages are included:  one page with two po

What do we tell our kids about Chabad and “Yechi”?

If I start by saying I really like Chabad, and adore the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, well... maybe you already know where I'm headed. Naomi Rivka has been asking lately what I think about Chabad.  She asks, in part, because she already knows how I feel.  She already knows I’m bothered, though to her, it’s mostly about “liking” and “not liking.”  I wish things were that simple. Our little neighbourhood in Israel has a significant Chabad presence, and Chabad conducts fairly significant outreach within the community.  Which sounds nice until you realize that this is a religious neighbourhood, closed on Shabbos, where some huge percentage of people are shomer mitzvos.  Sure, it’s mostly religious Zionist, and there are a range of observances, for sure, but we’re pretty much all religious here in some way or another. So at that point, this isn’t outreach but inreach .  Convincing people who are religious to be… what? A lot of Chabad’s efforts here are focused on kids, including a