נעשה ונשמע

When the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai awaiting the revelation, they declared, “na’aseh v’nishma—we will do and we will listen.” We, as B’nai Jeshurun, are responding to the call of our siblings, Black Jews of Color and non-Black Jews of Color, who are re-imagining the sacred covenant of the Jewish community. We are saying yes to dreaming big and to affirming that the Jewish community, beginning with our community, must become an anti-racist community. We are saying yes to doing our part to right the wrongs of 400 years of injustices in America: from slavery to the perniciousness of interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism that is alive and well in our community and in America as a whole.

The time is now. Too many lives have been lost. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Eric Garner. Countless Black and Brown lives. Too much pain has been inflicted. Too many people have been sacrificed on the altar of white supremacy. The Jewish community, our community, has a sacred calling to truly become a holy community, honor the dignity and equality of all, and embody the values of love, justice, and teshuvah that have guided our tradition for thousands of years. We too are called to build an America of true freedom, opportunity, equality, and dignity for all.

We believe that Black Lives Matter.

We believe racial justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the heart of what it means to build a religious community, and to belong at its center.

We believe we need to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish community and to invest in and honor that diversity in all areas of synagogue life, including our hiring practices, leadership development, and how we educate our children, families, and adult populations. 

B’nai Jeshurun is on a path to become an anti-racist community. A community in which we all work to uncover and recover our humanity, and to celebrate the humanity of others. A community that is just, dignified, and living its deepest religious values.

We have been guided by the voices of People of Color in our own community, as well as the wise counsel of Yavilah McCoy, CEO, Dimensions Consulting, and Lindsey Newman, Director of Community Engagement, Be’chol Lashon. We have been listening, learning, and growing, knowing that we do not yet embody the culture that is necessary for all who walk through our doors to feel at home here. We still have a long path ahead.

The work of undoing racism is not new to B’nai Jeshurun. Over the last three years, we have:

  1. Established staff, community, and board of trustees diversity, equity, and inclusion committees.
  2. Established a racial justice committee with our longtime partners at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, and are now working in partnership with the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) to support their efforts addressing mass incarceration. We have leveraged our power and resources as a Jewish organization to secure a grant from UJA-Federation of New York, which will fund an organizer at AFJ. 
  3. Devoted financial and human resources to become an anti-racist community through the hiring of consultants to work with our staff, community leaders, and board of trustees.
  4. Created anti-racist educational initiatives through our Race and Us year-long initiative, in addition to ongoing Undoing Racism workshops.
  5. Reviewed our Kadima@BJ (Hebrew School) curriculum, offered Kadima electives and family and teen education focused on the diversity of the Jewish community, and provided professional development for our educators under the guidance of Be’chol Lashon.

Recognizing that the work involved in fighting the evils of racism is a lifelong pursuit, we will build on the work we have already done and will continually assess and renew our efforts. In the coming year, we commit to:

  1. Continuing to engage our community and staff in learning about the history and present-day realities of racism in America.
  2. Continuing to develop a shared understanding and vocabulary for undoing racism through workshops, lectures, and small groups, as a step toward developing a communal and staff culture that is inclusive and embracing of people of all racial and ethnic identities.
  3. Furthering our educational initiatives that explicitly recognize and honor the inherent multiracial identity of the Jewish community and the history of diverse Jewish communities around the world.
  4. Reviewing our paths to hiring and retaining staff and cultivating lay leadership, and developing explicitly inclusive hiring and leadership development practices (including setting goals for staff, membership and lay leadership). Both the Staff and Board of Trustees DEI Committees will be working on this initiative, with involvement of all lay and staff leadership.
  5. Reviewing our security practices. This review will be led by our Board DEI Committee and will look at the assumptions that are driving our security decision making, including exploring what security means for the range of members and staff of BJ, as well as all people who may enter our building, and how best to ensure a secure environment in a way that is welcoming and inclusive.

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.
—Pirke Avot 2:16

We will not desist from it. It is our work to do individually and collectively.

Signatories

Board of Trustees

Brad Abelow
Karen Adler
Dale Bernstein *
Ellen Corenswet
Susan Fishman
Mike Gantcher
Marvin Israelow
Michelle Jacoby
* Board DEI Committee

Steven Koppel *
Julie Kowitz Margolies *
Paula Kramer Weiss *
Shira Nadich Levin
Galit Lopatin Bordereau
Alan Mantel
Lisa Mednick-Owen *
Les Nelson
Josh Penzner

Ilene Rosenthal
Irvin Rosenthal
Suzanne Schecter *
Jonathan Schwartz
Gideon Taylor *
Marjorie Vandow *
Lisa Zucker *
Ariel Zwang

Staff

Elizabeth Alonzo
Nicholas Arroyo *
Michael Baez
Alberto Banchon
Rachel Barnehama *
Liard Booker
Terrence Brooks
Cassandra Bryan *
David Christenberry
Johnson Danquah
Matthew Davey
Adarra Davis *
Billie Di Stefano
Alex Diaz
Joseph Diaz *
Michael Dorfman
Tynika Eggleston
Joy Feinberg

Danielle Freedman
Harriet Goren
Denisha Green *
Amanda Greenawalt
Kristen Kersey
Shira Kestenbaum
Joshua Klafter
David Lalor *
Robert Malone
Rabbi Roly Matalon
Erika Meister
Cantor David Mintz *
Jonathan Muniz
Dan Nadel
Joshua Nodiff
Donald Ostrower
Rabbi Shuli Passow *
Armando Perez

Saintrose Pinel
Jane Potter
Hazzan Ari Priven
Daniel Restrepo
Sarah Rosenthal
Jennifer Rubenstein
Laura Schultze
Julie Schwartz
Lisa Shillan
Rabbi Felicia Sol
Beth Tarson
Luis Vega
Colin Weil
Rabbi Rebecca Weintraub
Michael Witman
Larissa Wohl *

* Staff DEI Committee

Community DEI Committee (at the time this statement was written)

Co-chairs:

Vicki Abrams

Julie Kowitz Margolies *

Eliana Slurzberg

Bradley Abelow *
Martha Ackelsberg
Ellen Bender
Ted Berger
Nilda Torres Dicker

Carmen Keels
Rabbi Shuli Passow
Judith Plaskow
Suzanne Schecter *
Lucy Slurzberg

Rabbi Felicia Sol
Paula Kramer Weiss *
Michael Witman
Larissa Wohl
Ira Wolfman

* Board of Trustees

J. Rolando Matalon

Written By J. Rolando Matalon

José Rolando Matalon, B’nai Jeshurun’s senior rabbi, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was educated in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Jerusalem, and New York City. After his ordination at the Jewis...

Felicia L. Sol

Written By Felicia L. Sol

Rabbi Sol has served as a rabbi at BJ since 2001, becoming the first woman to serve as a rabbi to the community in the congregation’s almost 200-year history. Rabbi Sol began her initial involve...