We are approximately six months past the launch of Beyond the Count, our unprecedented study of Jews of Color in the United States. Since the study’s release, Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director of the Jews of Color Initiative, has shared the findings with communities across the U.S. In November, Kaufman did so with the Union for Reform Judaism, one of the largest American Jewish institutions, and its activist arm, the Religious Action Center (RAC). The event drew prominent Jewish leaders of Color and allies. From sharing shocking statistics and quotes from the study to holding an affinity space for Jews of Color to reflect on the findings, this event set the tone for movement-wide institutional change.
“I love how the program was located in D.C.,” Dee Sanae, founder of Mosaic Visions, began. “It’s this power-city where policy change happens.” Mosaic Visions is a nonprofit by and for Jews of Color to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish community. But the diversity that Sanae’s organization centers is not reflected in most Jewish institutions. For Sanae, the findings of the study further motivated her to continue the work she’s doing.
“Ilana alluded to a lot of concepts that really resonated with me and gave me a whole different set of encouragement and drive to run the organization that I’m running.” Sanae also shared that she felt a sense of wholeness and excitement to “be in community with other Jews of Color who are also leaders in their own right.” At Mosaic Visions, Sanae is fostering community for JoCs by organizing a Spirit of Humanity | Ein Sof Festival for JoC and culturally and ethnically diverse artists, which will begin later this month. However, the positive connections and energy she experiences in community with others and during Kaufman’s presentation were tempered by a sadness over the experiences of racism reflected in Beyond the Count.
Deitra Reiser, founder of Transform for Equity, a consulting firm described as an antiracist repair group, also attended the Beyond the Count event. Reiser said that her strongest reaction after the overview of the study’s findings was that the “overall picture of the JoC community is both beautiful and heartbreaking.”
“A number that always sits with me,” said Reiser, “is that 80% of Jews of Color in the study have felt discriminated against in our community. I use that statistic when I’m consulting, when I talk to synagogues, when I’m sharing the study with folks. This one statistic is the seminal heart to showing that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is beyond needed in our community.”
At the event, Reiser was impressed by the way Jews of Color remained at the center throughout the program. “Folks of color were just completely centered in that space. There aren’t many places where that happens. Often there is a shift away from centering folks of color. And Ilana didn’t let that happen. She really did keep the center right on us, where it needed to be in that moment.”
“Ilana brings significant power with her,” Reiser continued. “She certainly shares it, it’s a collective power, but she’s there to hold it. When she talks about the study, she’s bringing the power of over a thousand voices that this team of researchers captured. And she shares the power of those voices with folks who hold institutional and structural power who are trying but have not yet figured out a way to center Jews of Color such that everyone has a place to be.”
Both Reiser and Sanae mentioned that having allies who are well-known communal leaders, such as Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, and Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the RAC and Senior Vice President of the URJ, added to the importance of the event for shaping institutional change. Representing the largest Jewish movement in North America—with approximately 850 congregations and 1.5 million members—the potential for institutional change was palpable to those who attended. “I was struck by having Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Rabbi Jonah Pesner present and willing to help move the needle on what needs to be done in the community,” Sanae shared.
“Ilana encouraged everyone at the event to agitate with data,” Sanae said. “For anyone who is still questioning if there is an issue of racism in the Jewish community: yes. You can’t argue with the data. It’s not conjecture at this point, it’s not something you can argue with. This is what’s coming directly from people in our community.”
Reiser sees the event and the study itself as a wake-up call to the Jewish community. “For our community to survive and thrive, we have got to do better.” Reiser says that one of the measures of our progress toward equity will be to see DEI as a priority and reflected so in organizational budgets. She also hopes to see “systems that help all Jewish people feel connectedness and belonging.”
Ultimately, Reiser hopes that reading Beyond the Count is just a small first step down a path of actionable change. “There has to be an action, a next step, that comes out of the study. Just reading it won’t be enough.”
We’d love to know how you’re putting the findings of Beyond the Count into actionable change in your community! Share your story with us!