The Jews of Color Initiative is thrilled to announce the New York Incubator’s second ever cohort! The Incubator, supported by the UJA-Federation New York, is one of two premier programs in JoCI’s New York Hub. The Incubator helps leaders develop and scale their JoC-centered projects by combining a cohort model with individualized support. Leaders in the Incubator participate in a series of learning sessions and expand their network of JoC colleagues, who each bring their projects and experiences to the cohort.
This year, the Incubator cohort features six Jewish leaders of Color representing four innovative projects that are shaping the field for Jews of Color. The program orientation in mid-October began to prepare each cohort member to expand their project. Connecting as a cohort helps to create a sense of belonging among the participants.
“To be in a space, in one meeting, with everyone in the cohort, and to be able to talk about really complex issues without having to explain each word, that was huge,” said Chama Mechtaly, who brings to the Incubator an education-based advocacy project for Jews of Color called Moorish Jewish Confluences. “Just that mutual understanding and feelings of reciprocity and empathy and compassion in one space without having to feel guarded about our identities…was something I knew I’d find going into this, but it’s different when you’re actually there.”
Project leaders: Tonia Purnell-Respes (she/her) and Tameika Minor (she/her)
Achim Sheli: My Brothers and Sisters was founded at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, NJ, and is led by Jews of Color who are committed to engaging, supporting, and encouraging ethnic and cultural diversity in the Jewish community. Achim Sheli strives to support, connect, and empower through education, service, and programming. They have a strong focus on family-friendly offerings, including book clubs, interactive conversations, meet and greets, Table Talks, and other events. This year, they will embark on more “boots-on-the-ground activism,” synagogue visits, and more.
Camp Kulanu @ Hannah Senesh Community Day School
Project leader: Jamie Maxner (she/her)
Collaborating with partner organizations serving the JoC community, Hannah Senesh Community Day School will hold a week-long multicultural Jewish camp that centers Jews of Color for children currently in Kindergarten through 2nd grade during the February 2023 school break. Camp will provide ethnically and racially diverse Jews with an opportunity to see themselves as an integral part of the Jewish people and experience a Jewish program in which diverse voices, stories, and experiences are celebrated. Senesh imagines expanding this work to year round family programming and to include more grades each year.
The goals of this program are for campers and families to have a warm, joyful, connected, and safe experience in a Jewish space where it is understood explicitly and implicitly that there are many ways to look, act, and be Jewish.
Sephardic Mizrahi Q Network
Project leaders: Ruben Shiminov (he/him) and Kadijah Spence (they/them)
Sephardic Mizrahi Q Network is home to queer Jews of Color who are reclaiming Jewish cultures and histories, particularly around Shabbat traditions. SMQN is dedicated to providing a space where queer Jews of Color can be our full selves without being judged for customs or identity. It was founded for queer Jews from Western Asia, North Africa, Portugal and Spain and has since expanded to be a haven for all queer Jews of Color.
Over the past five years, SMQN has coordinated hundreds of gatherings for queer Jews of Color.
It has chapters in New York, Jersey City, and Seattle, where people have hosted events in their homes, and outdoors and virtual events have broadened their reach and community.
Moorish Jewish Confluences
Project leader: Chama Mechtaly (she/her)
Moorish Jewish Confluences is an emerging project that seeks to use education and events to engage with and advocate for Jews of Color communities. In the Incubator, Mechtaly will develop an educational project primarily based on social media to uplift and shine light on the ways that Jews of Color have historically and presently contributed to wider Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
Moorish Jewish Confluences aims to address lack of awareness of, and education about, JoC issues, identities, histories, and stories to respond to the core needs of Jews in the margins so they can experience belonging, inclusion, and visibility. Mechtaly also hopes this project will build bridges between Jews and non-Jewish communities to advance shared understandings and coexistence, and dismantle otherization and antisemitism.
We are incredibly excited to welcome this second cohort into our New York Incubator. Reflecting on the orientation process she led, Riki Robinson, Program Director of the New York Hub, described an inspiring communion of like minded individuals. “I was warmed by seeing everyone together and their eagerness to be in community with other JoC leaders,” she said.
Whether they are working on creating inclusive spaces for queer Jews, or creating spaces for children to experience Judaism as a multicultural community, each of our leaders are driving impactful projects that will broaden Jewish engagement opportunities for generations of JoC to come. We are eager to witness the cross-pollination of ideas and visions among this cohort of leaders.