In 2019, B’nai Jeshurun embarked on the next leg of our ongoing journey to be an inclusive community and spiritual home to all who come through our doors. We launched Race and Us, the yearlong initiative through which we examined the history and impact of race and racism in our country, and also undertook the introspective work of understanding how racism operates in the Jewish community and results in the alienation of many Jews of color from Jewish institutions.
We travelled to Atlanta, GA, and Montgomery, AL, to learn and relearn with our own eyes the history of the civil rights movement and the legacy of lynchings. Conversations with Jews of color, both from the BJ community and elsewhere, brought forth painful stories about racism and bias in Jewish spaces. We dove deeply into the narratives we tell about who we are as American Jews, and faced the uncomfortable truth that many Jews in this country supported and benefited from racist practices and policies. Small group discussions throughout the year helped us learn and reflect.
One significant learning from Race and Us is how the work of undoing racism and building inclusive community is predicated on deep and covenantal relationships. Sharing our stories with one another, dropping our assumptions, starting from a place of common humanity, seeing ourselves as mutually obligated to one another, and being willing to give and receive support; it is this relational work that helps us create a culture of true belonging, and bolsters our capacity for powerful action.
In this coming year, there will be opportunities to engage more with the topic of race, and there will be opportunities to deepen and expand our relationships with other BJ members. Both of these are necessary for us to become a beloved community that can affect change both within BJ and out in the world. As Race and Us transitions to become our ongoing work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the Race and Us Steering Committee is becoming a standing DEI Committee, chaired by BJ members Nilda Torres Dicker and Julie Kowitz Margolies. We are grateful to the leadership of the committee this past year (Vicki Abrams, Julie Kowitz Margolies, and Eliana Slurzberg) as well as all the committee members and many others in our community who helped make Race and Us a reality.
In this season of heshbon hanefesh, accounting of the soul, we honestly acknowledge the ways in which we have contributed to the suffering of others, and commit to new behaviors in the year ahead. We invite you to explore the following resources to guide you in your own teshuvah process as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- New York Times video series on unconscious bias
- What Not to Say to Jews of Color and What to Say Instead
- B’echol Lashon has a multitude of resources on race and Jewish diversity