Grants on the Ground

Healing from Swallowed Tears: How Rabbi Mira Rivera is Connecting Jews of Color to Mental Health Resources 

Healing is an essential element of moving toward a multiracial, anti-racist, and just future. Whether healing from the wounds of our ancestors or those we encounter in our day-to-day lives, one thing is certain: we cannot make racial progress without confronting pains of the past and present. With this knowledge, Jews of Color have come together in multiple contexts to develop, lead, and participate in spaces of healing. In April 2021, Rabbi Mira Rivera partnered with the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center to provide space for what she believes are essential therapeutic and medical resources for the JoC community. 

Over the past year, Rabbi Mira, as she likes to be called, has noticed a rise in the need for healing among Jews of Color. For her personally, this awareness was heightened when other Asian Jews reached out to her amid rising anti-Asian violence earlier this Spring, most notably the shootings in Atlanta. “That event really opened my eyes to the rawness and the muted voices of Asian Jews,” she said. As the first Filipina rabbi in the U.S., this is a group to which she also belongs. 

As Rabbi Mira expanded her vision of the need for healing to include Asian Jews, she also began noticing ways that Jews of Color were working to provide spaces of healing for one another. “Now there are Black Jewish and Asian Jewish initiatives that have cropped up that are very D.I.Y. and very powerful. But at the same time, there are other therapeutic resources connected to healing that right now are missing.”  

Although Rabbi Mira cautioned against over-prioritizing Western Medicine, she believes that in a social system that restricts access to necessary medical and mental health needs, work must be done to connect Jews of Color to networks that can provide those resources. “Having worked in a hospital, I know some of the needs we are hearing [in the community] need medical or therapeutic resources,” she shared. “I saw the chance to connect with professionals at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center as the closest to being connected to the resources of a hospital.” But while Rabbi Mira wanted Jews of Color to have access to the types of resources one can get in hospitals, she wanted to maintain the openness of the community initiatives she has seen which focus on the experience of healing. 

Partnering with Rabbi Elliot Kukla of Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Rabbi Mira developed a two-part series to hold space for the unique pains faced by Jews of Color. The first event, guided by Rabbi Mira, Arielle Korman of Ammud, and Tonda Case, offered a remembrance circle for Jews of Color and their family and friend support networks to process personal loss. The second event, led by Rabbi Mira, Kristin Eriko Posner, Paula Pretlow, Denise Dautoff and Rabbi Elliot Kukla, offered a remembrance circle for Jews of Color, their families, and allies to mark the heightened collective loss and grief that plagued the prior thirteen months.  

While these events centered on trauma and grief, Rabbi Mira sees beauty in the organizing and community-building that is happening around healing, and it is a healing process for her to help connect Jews of Color to needed resources. She found that beauty by “turning all this horribleness into an opportunity for sustaining community and society.”  

The process of thinking about the need for healing among JoCs has led Rabbi Mira to revisit her own struggles. Rabbi Mira says that she herself has experienced traumas of diaspora across multiple generations and the trauma of experiencing systemic racism as a constant sense of longing for a sense of peace and belonging. “The longing was something I could taste in my mouth like swallowed tears, tears I shared with my grandmother.” Rabbi Mira knows that among Jews of Color, this sense of longing is palpable, and she wants to use her knowledge of longing to build deeper communal relationships and to create the partnerships that will lead to greater accessibility of mental health resources.  

Rabbi Mira believes that the next step should be to develop publicly accessible networks of Jews of Color “who are credentialing their healing expertise,” who may include JoC rabbis with pastoral education or JoC social workers. “I want to take a chance with this because I want those resources for the community,” Rabbi Mira said.  

Her message to those who may not be Jews of Color and are part of mental health services: “Let’s really begin networking in a deep way and develop sustained networks so that our community of Jews of Color can access the resources they need.”