BJ’s Racial Justice Initiative

In recent years, as violent acts that claimed the lives of black American have become more visible through social and mainstream media, BJ members, clergy, and staff alike began to ask ourselves: what would it look like for BJ to act on the issue of racial justice? How can we, how should we be allies? What is our role as a faith community to address racism and racial discrimination?

As we began to explore these questions, we learned that much of what we need to do begins with ourselves. Though there are many worthy issues that cry out for our attention and support, we decided not to jump into an external campaign but instead start with heshbon hanefesh: a soul accounting of the ways that race and racism play out in our individual hearts and minds, and in the collective BJ community.

Through community conversations, anti-racism workshops and trainings, and an examination of our Hebrew School curriculum, we are asking ourselves such questions as:

 

  • What are our assumptions about who is, and who is not, part of the Jewish community—both at BJ and writ large? How can we break those assumptions?
  • Where do those of us who identify as white harbor internalized prejudice or racism?
  • Do those of us who identify as Jews of Color feel comfortable and at home at BJ? What are the barriers and how can those be dismantled?

We began this exploration with two sessions in September 2016, and continued with a study of Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’s The Colors of Jews and a pre-Passover workshop in April 2017: A Seder on Privilege, Power and Race. Out of these events, we have now formed an internal Racial Justice Task Force, which is beginning to look more systematically at the ways in which we can address issues of race and racism within the BJ community.

Concurrently, we wanted to find ways to educate ourselves about issues of racism in America. When we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our partnership with the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in November 2016, we recommitted to our relationship by launching a joint racial justice initiative. Beginning with a book study, we read and discussed Just Mercy, an account of racism in the criminal justice system by Bryan Stevenson.

We have now formed a joint leadership team, and our initiative is in the early stages of researching issues, potential campaigns, and possible partner organizations. In both of our communities, there is interest in advocacy campaign work, direct service opportunities, and continuing education. We believe the education is two-pronged: 1) Learn more about the institutionalization and implications of racism and white supremacy and 2) understanding specifics about the issue(s) on which we choose to work.

To learn more and get involved, contact Martha Ackelsberg, Jim Melchiorre, or Karen Collins.