Koleinu/Our Voices

A Letter from Executive Director, Ilana Kaufman

Welcome to our family!

I am thrilled to invite you along for the ride as we launch Galim, the Jews of Color Initiative’s monthly newsletter! Galim is the Hebrew word for waves, and it is our intention to send waves of love and justice through the Jewish community. We began the Jews of Color Initiative (JoCI) to provide pathways for Jews of Color (JoCs) to lead and make change in the Jewish community.  We are proud of all we have accomplished so far.  And we’re excited for all that’s to come.

In my early professional experiences in the Jewish nonprofit world, I was faced with the frustration of being the only Jew of Color in each organizational space I entered. I knew that the Jewish community held much more diversity than I was seeing in offices, meetings, and board rooms. Instead of asking “where are other Jews of Color?” I instead asked, “what is keeping Jews of Color away, and how can we change that?” It was with this genuine desire for change that I mapped the early stages of what would become the Jews of Color Initiative.

Galim will keep you up to date with all the happenings at the Jews of Color Initiative and in the JoC community. Since formally establishing the JoCI in 2018, we have expanded our reach more than we could have dreamed, making real change for our community. We want to launch this newsletter by amplifying our amazing colleagues and sharing the ways that the JoCI’s partners cultivate diverse and inclusive Jewish community.

Each issue will include one story for each of our organization’s key focus areas, grantmaking, research, and educational outreach. You can find stories on grantmaking in our section “Grants on the Ground,” where we will tell you the who, what, and how of our innovative grantees’ efforts. Our grantees are doing truly inspiring work in the community, and I know hearing about them will give you the same sense of pride in our JoC family as we feel here at the JoCI.

In our last year as an organization, we nearly doubled our previous year’s grant funds, totaling $419,000 directly to the hands of JoC community leaders and organizers, and, this year, also supporting 77 individual Jews of Color in need of emergency financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the most exciting work we do with our grantmaking is support the creative excellence of JoC leaders out in the community, and exemplary organizations looking to make structural changes that foster inclusivity, equity, and belonging for Jews of Color. As the field of JoC leaders continues to grow, gatherings of Jews of Color are happening more frequently, in new and more diverse ways, and for a broader range of reasons. While Jews of Color are still gathering for the sake of being in community and embracing a shared identity, gathering now also includes professional development, or coming together over a common passion or purpose, such as studying Torah, engaging civically, or skill building.

Imagine a Jewish community where podcasts about the Jewish experience center Jews of Color; havurot where the faces and the experiences of the Jews with whom you share a Shabbat or high holiday service reflect your own; a Torah academy where you are learning in community with the brilliant diversity of our people; Jewish wellness retreats that are designed with the lived-in knowledge of your identities and experiences; Shabbat retreats for queer JoC teens where you see the beauty of embracing your unique Jewish story; leadership training for social justice change-makers where you are not the only Jew of Color. Through the ingenious programming and visions of leaders in our community, and our grantmaking capacity, all of these and so many more have come to life or are laying the groundwork to do so.

This issue’s grantmaking story takes a look at Ammud: the Jews of Color Torah Academy, and how they are reclaiming the power of Jewish learning for the JoC community.

The “Research Recap” section will keep you in the loop with how we are breaking new ground through research using community-informed approaches, data-driven analyses, and ongoing dialogue to chart new paths in developing knowledge about Jews of Color. Today you’ll read about our first major research study, Counting Inconsistencies, and how it’s already changing the conversation about Jews of Color.

The section “JoCI In Session” will offer stories about our educational community outreach, illustrating the ways we teach inclusivity, justice, and equity to Jewish communities and beyond nationwide.

Our role in community education has taken on an additional level of importance as the network of Jewish organizations, funders, and communities—what we call the Jewish ecosystem—recognizes the dire circumstances Black folks face. These circumstances are not new, and the Black Lives Matter movement and the long, continuous Black Freedom Struggle have been urging whites (including white Jews) to listen for far too many generations. Although long overdue, the historical moment we are in is forcing predominantly white Jewish spaces to sit with their discomfort, acknowledging the role they have played and are playing in racism toward all people of color (not only “out there,” but within the very boundaries of our people) and to make concrete changes to improve experiences, access, and inclusion of Jews of Color.

In this issue’s “JoCI in Session,” we take a dive into a conversation between myself, Yavilah McCoy, and webinar facilitator La’Mar Walker, as we explain the systems of inequality that necessitate the Black Lives Matter movement, and how, as Black Jews, we want to see change in Jewish institutions.

Each issue will end with two short sections. “Horizons” will tell you what is next on the table for the JoCI, keeping you in the loop as we continue our efforts. We know that all of you care about having a hand in working toward justice. We will conclude each issue with a call to “Engage” where, in the name of racial justice in the Jewish community and beyond, you’ll be guided toward opportunities to be more deeply informed and civically engaged.

With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, we are eager to see the change we can make as a community, bringing the sweetness and hope of a new year to our quest for progressive, beautiful justice. Looking forward to continuing this journey together.

L’Shanah Tovah,

Ilana

Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director