Diversity is a strength, though it’s also stressful. Now check yourself for a moment—when I said “diversity,” what did you think about?
The easy and obvious answer is racial diversity. Certainly it’s always in the news, pervading American history, class, education, and discussions about opportunity and outcomes. Race informs so much of our national conversation, and with good reason. Social movements rise and fall, and recent trends linking racial equality with other civil rights pose new challenges for supporters and critics alike.
Maybe you thought about economic diversity: the shrinking and stretched middle class, anger against elites driving national and international politics, the self-segregating of wealthy families and the fading horizon for those who struggle to make ends meet. President Trump’s election depended on economic worry and resentment.
The British referendum vote to leave the European Union was a triumph of economic nationalism over globalism.
This past weekend saw a first round of French presidential voting in which a rebranded far-right party secured over 21 percent. Consumers are being pushed to the breaking point, taking their anger to social media, where corporate executives respond slowly and clumsily.
Gender diversity and equity is a constant national discussion. Women still make less than equally credentialed men for the same work, are passed over for deserved professional advancement, and are subjected to hostile and abusive work environments without practical recourse. Policies (or lack thereof) on childcare and healthcare disproportionately impact women, and women of color in particular. Popular culture, in all its forms, disadvantages women in ways large and small. Addressing these issues has itself become a heated discussion. Lower income households insist they have little to gain from corporate workplace equity where annual salary discussions can involve hundreds of thousands of dollars, instead seeing more in common with traditional labor organizing. Highly educated and affluent women, the “liberal corporate feminists” criticized by some, understand that change also requires top-down change and narrative shifts.
Religious diversity is a warm, understanding embrace. Spiritual acceptance is a moral imperative, but historically difficult almost beyond comprehension.
Of particular interest to this paper is diversity within New York’s Jewish community.
Old-line German Jewish families in Manhattan, Bukharians in Queens, Sephardim in Gravesend, Russian-speaking families throughout the city, progressive Jews with roots in the Lower East Side, Holocaust survivors, Persians in Great Neck, Hasidim in Williamsburg and the Hudson Valley, Modern Orthodox families in the Rockaways—all of it is beautiful. We’re charitable institutions, schools, philanthropists, artists and politicians.
And what of geographic diversity? New York is a state of varied regions. The old “upstate/downstate” divide is a relic of antiquated, ineffective thinking. Brooklyn and Nassau County, both downstate, have little in common other than not being, say, Buffalo, which in turn has little in common with Albany. Rochester is very different from Orange County, and Tribeca has little about it resembling Mineola. Sheepshead Bay and East Moriches may both be on the water downstate, but try getting Russian food in a coastal village in Suffolk County. There have always been important differences between cities and rural areas, and between suburban areas and the cities they orbit. In ancient times, Cain was a farmer forced to live in cities as punishment for killing his brother Abel, a shepherd, but the urban-or-not divide is still very real. Just ask Hillary Clinton where her votes came from, or didn’t come from, in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Professional diversity, varied family arrangements, gender identity, political party affiliation, ethnicity, immigration status, neighborhood—all are characteristics around which diversity can drive creative energy.
New York Jewish Life celebrates the diversity of all communities—the differences among them and the differences within each. Celebrating doesn’t always mean agreeing, but it does mean always recognizing those differences. In these pages, we’ll do that together.