Kavannah of Transformation

Growing up in apartheid South Africa, there wasn’t much reason to believe that things would change in that despicable system of white supremacy. From my youth, however, I was taught to “speak out” for justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Indeed, eventually progressive speech and actions led to collective change.

This past year has taught me that sometimes “speaking out” really means “speaking in.”

I am blessed that my leadership of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) allows me to speak out and support some of the most oppressed and vulnerable people in the world—all people of color—in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. These people include adolescent girls who are forced to marry young, villagers who are driven off their land, LGBTQ+ people who are imprisoned, and minorities who are victims of genocidal violence.

But this outward facing work must not overshadow the equally important personal and internal work that is necessary to build a truly inclusive world. That world must start in my own organization. I have much work to do to ensure that everyone at our organization is seen and valued for who they are. This is true for Jews, especially Jews of color, as well as my colleagues who are African- and Latinx-Americans, South Asians, Central Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans, Christians, Muslims, and others.

My Elul kavannah is to hold myself accountable to ensuring that everyone is seen and truly feels welcomed and included. It is to continually ask myself what more I can do to make this transformation of our organization a lived reality.

Written By Robert Bank

Robert Bank is President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights in the developing world. Robert and his partner Alan Cohen are pro...