Be’chol Lashon had the opportunity to interview Olamim’s founder, Ariela Ronay-Jinich, and learn about her recent graduate research on Latinx Jewish families and the mission of Olamim. Olamim, which means“worlds” in Hebrew, is a Be’chol Lashon incubator and family engagement program for Latinx Jewish families in the Bay Area. Their programs blend nature connection, cultural expression, and community-building, and include seasonal playgroups, a year-round Chavurah (family group), and community programs open to the larger community.
Ronay-Jinich has been involved in the Bay Area Jewish and social justice scene since 2009. She noticed quickly that despite the significant number of Latinx Jews in the Bay Area, there was work to be done in giving Latinx Jewish families a space to voice their own needs, and for those needs to be met by Jewish organizations. Ronay-Jinich took this need and turned it into the focus of her Master’s level research at Mills College, where she took a community engagement approach to understanding Latinx Jewish families in the Bay Area.
Ronay-Jinich modeled her own social justice values in how she conducted research by centering the lived experiences of the families she interviewed. She wanted to know about the experiences of Latinx Jewish families in both their Jewish and Latinx communities, and also what these families wanted, needed, and cared about in regards to raising their multiethnic and multilingual children.
In her findings, Ronay-Jinich learned that having access to heritage language and culture is important to these families who are navigating multiple ethnic, racial and linguistic identities. She shared, “When you are trying to cultivate multiple diaspora identities in your children, that can be a challenge.” Many Jewish Latinx families often have to make choices about which part of their children’s identities will be at the forefront of community and educational settings. The cultivation of both Jewish and Latinx identities is what makes Olamim’s programs unique, creative and essential. Olamim’s innovative approach to considering multiple identities in Jewish programming offers a model for organizations, and provokes an important conversation about how multiethnic Jewish families navigate their multiple identities. Just as the Olamim families hold Latinx and Jewish identities within themselves, Ronay-Jinich believes in the importance of Olamim being in solidarity with and having a presence in both the Latinx Bay Area communities as well as the Bay Area Jewish communities.
Olamim co-creates experiences with the Latinx Jewish families in the Bay Area that they serve. As one of the only local, in-person, intergenerational initiatives that fully integrates Latinx and Jewish culture, Olamim is doing something very special. Since the majority of participating families are raising bilingual children, and with Ronay-Jinich’s passion for people having access to their heritage language, the bulk of Olamim’s family programs are in Spanish. Olamim’s Spanish language programs have also been particularly successful with the larger Bay Area Latinx community who share a need for heritage language programs.
Olamim’s uplifting of Latinx and Jewish identities is having a real impact on the children and families the organization serves. During a Hanukkah candle lighting, an Olamim parent shared that their child asked, “Mommy, do all Jews speak Spanish?” Ronay-Jinich expressed how this was an example of how children learn about what Jewish looks and feels like through what they experience. This moment emphasized how one experience for a child can change their view of what Jewish is.
In hopes of making a broader impact with her research, Ronay-Jinich partnered with Jewtina y Co., a like-minded Latin-Jewish organization with a global reach and attractive offerings, to receive a research grant from the Jews of Color Initiative. This grant and partnership has enabled Ronay-Jinich to continue her research, disseminate the study’s findings to a larger audience, and highlight the experiences of Latinx Jewish families in Jewtina’s upcoming season of their VOCES podcast.
Olamim invites everyone to become engaged with their work. Save the date for two exciting upcoming events. In partnership with other prominent Jewish organizations, Ronay-Jinich will present her findings in a global virtual convening February 16. And don’t miss the Latin Jewish Family Festival on April 30th at Urban Adamah, celebrating community, multi-ethnic families, and Ronay-Jinich’s findings. You can stay up to date on everything Olamim offers by signing up for their newsletter here!
Ariela Ronay-Jinich (she/her/ella) grew up in Mexico City, where her family is from. She has been serving Bay Area youth and families since 2005, focusing her work on innovative Jewish educational programs that center nature connection and community-building. Programs she has founded and directed include Urban Adamah’s youth and family programs, B’Hootz (Wilderness Torah), Edah (Berkeley), and garden programs at Camp Tawonga and Gan Shalom Preschool. She offers a signature professional development and consulting program, “Jewish Outside,” which has trained educators from over 15 preschools throughout the Bay Area in nature-based Jewish learning.
She most recently served as Program Manager for Project Shamash, a racial justice initiative of Bend the Arc focused on supporting Jews of Color leadership and racial equity work among Jewish organizations in the Bay. Her recent launch of “Olamim,” a family engagement program for Latinx Jewish families, uniquely blends her equity work with her extensive background in nature connection, early childhood education, and community-building.
Ariela holds a B.A in Education Policy and History from Brown University, and completed a Masters in Educational Leadership from Mills College in Oakland. Her current research focuses on heritage language learning and intersectional identity among Latinx Jewish families, and she has received a generous grant from the Jews of Color Initiative to continue her research while launching Olamim’s community programs. She is a Helen Diller Family Award recipient for Excellence in Jewish Education, a JECELI alumna, a Kevah Teaching Fellow, TorahTrek Guide, and a Selah and Rockwood Institute alumna. Ariela lives in the Bay Area, calls the Redwoods her family, and is enjoying raising her daughter, Alma (4), to delight in speaking Spanish and feel nourished by her Jewish, Mexican, and Persian cultural roots.