In February 2022, the Jews of Color Initiative selected four projects for our New York Hub’s Incubator, designed to support the community of Jews of Color in the Greater New York City area. This cohort-based program provides individualized support to Jewish leaders of Color to develop their JoC-centered projects that expand the field for community-building and enhance JoC leadership to influence the wider Jewish communal field. Projects range from cultural arts, to community-building and more for Jews of Color. The Incubator offers grant opportunities, coaching, cohort-based learning modules, network weaving, and more.
At the completion of the Incubator’s successful pilot year, leaders from the first cohort presented their learnings and accomplishments to colleagues, peers, friends, and family at a showcase event to demonstrate the program’s importance, and the impact their projects will have on the field. In attendance in-person and on Zoom, the event drew in Rabbi Mira Rivera (Romemu and Ammud), Sarah Gladstone (Repair the World), Alana Mantel (TAMID Group), Lyn Light Geller (UJA-Federation of New York) and children of Incubator project leaders.
Black Jewish Liberation Collective
Project leaders: Yehudah Webster and Jessica Valoris
The Black Jewish Liberation Collective is a community of Black Jewish organizers, advocates, and changemakers working for racial justice. In addition to providing spaces for collective strategizing and healing, BJLC also hosts cultural events, such as their annual Juneteenth Seder, which began in 2018.
With the goal to more holistically support organizers’ resilience and visionary work, BJLC’s Incubator project was a Mussar Va’ad (applied Jewish ethics) program for the organization’s leadership in partnership with the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project (IOWA Project). The Incubator helped project leaders Yehudah Webster and Jessica Valoris develop the program, which largely served Black Jews in New York City but also had national reach, and attain their program goals of spiritually grounding BJLC’s leadership.
“A key element in our organizing and the desire of our collective is to have really strong spiritual grounding and integration in our community-building and the work that we do,” said Yehudah Webster at the Showcase. By applying Jewish ethics to their efforts, BJLC leaders developed new ways of understanding and sustaining their advocacy work.
“The Incubator had a major impact on our ability to run this initial Mussar program for BJLC, and has ensured that it’s not just something we did for a one-off but something that will have longevity in our organization,” Webster shared, describing how the work done during this program “agitated [them] to ensure this work continues on and becomes a pillar of how to integrate spiritual Jewish wisdom into the BJLC community.” With the IOWA Project’s support, BJLC leadership is working on a thought piece about advocacy and impact in the Black Jewish community.
Project leaders: Maryam Chishti and Jenni Rudolph
As the first and only organization created by and for Asian Jews, LUNAR has grown substantially since it launched in 2020. Initially started as a film project to create media that centered the experiences of Asian Jews, LUNAR is now expanding its efforts to have a wider reach. From its inception, LUNAR has heard from community members of their desire for more interactive programming During the Incubator program, LUNAR explored possibilities for next directions, and is now rebranding as the LUNAR Collective. As the organization moves forward, its leaders will continue to create community programming, Jewish learning initiatives, and an expanded network of local hubs in select urban centers. Some examples of this community programming include coordinating Passover Seders for Asian Jews and their loved ones in New York and creating a Haggadah that centers the experiences of Asian Jews, as well as a self-care event to heal and a Zoom community space for Asian adoptees.
The Incubator supported Chishti and Rudolph, two young-adult JoC leaders, through leadership training and transitions. “I cannot overstate how transformative it has been to be part of this Incubator,” said Jenni Rudolph, co-Executive Director of LUNAR. “To have the space to develop our leadership and tools, to have access to resources, and to have this [cohort] community has been so meaningful.” Rudolph and Chishti feel they have the tools to grow professionally and develop the community for Asian Jews.
Project leader: Rabbi Kendell Pinkney
Artist and newly-ordained Rabbi Kendell Pinkney wanted a network for Jews of Color, Jewish-Indigenous, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (JoCISM) who are engaging in cultural arts. He created The Workshop, a fellowship that provides space for producing art, access to residencies and commissioning opportunities around the U.S., and more. Rabbi Pinkney honed this project in the Incubator, where he strengthened the vision and strategy for the fellowship.
“Good art produced by a wildly talented, diverse group of artists can profoundly shape and move culture,” Rabbi Pinkney proclaimed. “Unfortunately, such groups of artists rarely receive such support.” In an effort to change this reality and transform the field for JoCISM artists in the New York City area, Rabbi Pinkney’s fellowship integrates art creation, Jewish text study, and networking with other professional artists.
“We give them all the resources we can in order for them to do their work in hopes that by virtue of being part of a Jews of Color community that’s doing some study of Jewish text and talking about their art with other professional artists, that is going to find its way into their art as they go out and make their mark on broader arts and culture.”
In the Incubator, Rabbi Pinkney refined his fellowship’s technical capacity, including budget management, developed a clear sense of next directions for the program, and learned how to distill the description of the program into a one-minute elevator pitch. Additionally, the Incubator provided a connection to a viable new funder. Rabbi Pinkney also shared that the Incubator shaped his understanding of his own leadership. “What I’ve realized about myself as a Jewish leader is that I had more of the skills to do this work than I initially thought. To be in this cohort with these wonderful leaders who are doing really great projects, you get the sense that you can do it—you just need community.”
Project leaders: Maayan Zik and Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein
Kamochah is an organization dedicated to education, engagement, and empowerment for Black Orthodox Jews. Launched as a virtual gathering space during the COVID pandemic, Kamochah has grown its aspirations for impact as it builds up its three hubs in Los Angeles, Baltimore/Washington D.C., and New York.
In the Incubator, Zik and Rabbi Rothstein, the leaders of Kamochah’s New York hub, gained leadership training that they are eager to take back to the larger organization’s full team; by supporting leaders on the ground in New York, the Incubator provided a context for Kamochah’s national growth. The Incubator enabled Zik and Rabbi Rothstein to “test out what could be possible around the country,” Zik explained; expanding their vision of Kamochah’s reach has opened up new possibilities for addressing issues of racial equity and justice for Black Jews in Orthodox communal life.
“You never know if you’re leading a revolution. If this is a revolution it is one of love that we are building for our generation,” Rabbi Rothstein professed. “JoCI gave us hope, inspired us, helped us know we’re not alone in this process, and is creating a pilar of equity for our generation.” Zik shared that the Incubator allowed her to fully embody her leadership and reach new heights: “The Incubator really helped to provide me with a structure and framework to lead, giving me an opportunity to fly a little higher.”
Each of these grantees’ projects are actively contributing to the growing field for Jews of Color. From community-building to leadership support, fellowships to paradigm shifts, the efforts undertaken during the Incubator’s 6-month program represent only the tip of the iceberg. JoCI is eager to watch the continued efforts of each leader as they envision next steps to create lasting change.