BJ’s Racial Justice Initiative

In recent years, as violent acts that claimed the lives of black Americans 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 engage more explicitly on issues of racial justice? What is our role as a faith community to address racism and racial discrimination? How can we—how should we—be allies to members of other communities? What work do we need to do within our own community?

BJ’s Racial Justice Task Force

As we began to explore these questions, we recognized 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 to 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 Kadima@BJ 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 challenge or broaden 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 2016, and continued with a study of Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’s The Colors of Jews and a Pre-Pesah Seder on privilege, power, and race in 2017. Out of these events, we formed the 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.

SPSA/BJ Racial Justice Group

Meanwhile, we are also working on addressing issues of racism in the broader US and NYC community. When we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our partnership with the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in 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 formed a joint leadership team, and in the winter of 2017 we researched issues, potential campaigns, and possible partner organizations. We came to recognize that, in both of our communities, there is interest in advocacy campaign work, direct service opportunities, and continuing education. The education piece is two-pronged: (1) learning more about the institutionalization and implications of racism and white supremacy; and (2) understanding specifics about the issues on which we choose to work.

There are currently three subgroups working together on:

  • Education: developing joint BJ/SPSA reading and discussion groups
  • Direct service: working with Welcome Home—an organization addressing the needs of men in Lincoln Correctional Facility (a work-release program)
  • Advocacy: becoming part of a new program of the Fair Housing Justice Center to harness the power of religious communities and faith-based organizations to advance fair housing in the New York City region; and working with the Alliance of Families for Justice, which addresses the needs of families of people who are incarcerated).

To learn more and get involved, contact Martha Ackelsberg (at BJ) or Jim Melchiorre (at SPSA).

Upcoming Programs

Upcoming Racial Justice events and programs will be appear below.