When Keren Soffer Sharon was a student at Solomon Schechter School of Queens, she was sent to the principal’s office just once — in seventh grade, when she asked whether King David and Jonathan might be gay.
That was but one of the early signs of the path Soffer Sharon went on to take. Soffer Sharon grew up in Flushing, Queens. Her parents came to the U.S. from Israel. Her grandparents came from Iraq on her mother’s side and Bulgaria and Slovakia on her father’s.
Thus, she grew up straddling Ashkenazi and Mizrachi cultures. Her parents kept a Sephardi home, but she went to the Conservative-affiliated Solomon Schechter, a BBYO camp and a Conservative synagogue.
Despite the differences in culture and observance, however, both worlds were traditional.
“Growing up I wasn’t exposed to a progressive Jewish community,” she said. “A lot of my education felt like it was about staying really insular in our community. … I started to struggle with the messages I was receiving.”
Soffer Sharon, who identifies as queer, got involved in progressive politics when she arrived at NYU, where she was active in the Queer Union and majored in gender and sexuality studies.
After graduation, she put her beliefs into action, holding such positions as senior trainer at the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, teen coordinator at Kolot Chayeinu, a progressive Park Slope Congregation, and community organizer/fellowship coordinator at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).
“What really appealed to me in joining JFREJ is that we’re … fighting in so many different struggles for justice,” she said. “It feels so meaningful to be able to show up in that work as a Mizrachi Jew.”
“What really appealed to me in joining JFREJ is that we’re … fighting in so many different struggles for justice.”
At JFREJ, Soffer Sharon co-founded the Mizrahi Caucus and is working to get more Jews of Color, Sephardic and Mizrachi leadership at JFREJ. She also leads anti-Islamophobia efforts, helped organize the 2015 Jews of Color National Convening and co-authored JFREJ’s 44-page resource guide, “Understanding Antisemitism.”
“I feel every day,” she said, “that I’m doing holy work by bringing Jews into critical struggles for justice.”
Brady bluff: When Soffer Sharon was in seventh grade, she broke her leg at an ice skating party. Her parents couldn’t be reached at first because she jokingly called herself and her mom Marcia and Carol Brady, and gave a fake phone number on the emergency contact form.