Opportunities for Change: How Executive Director Stacey Aviva Flint is Reenvisioning Her Synagogue
By: Tova Ricardo
What if our Jewishcongregational boards and leadership could reflect the diversity of our people? Even though Jews of Color are 12-15% of the American Jewish community, our congregations have struggled to appoint Jews of Color to executive board roles. But as the tide of JoC leaders and movement to create inclusive Jewish communities rises, more Jews of Color are stepping into these leadership roles. Stacey Aviva Flint is the Executive Director of Congregation Bonai Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Boulder, Colorado. As one ofthe few Black and Jewish Executive Directors inthe AmericanJewish congregational world, Flint understands the responsibility imbued in her role and the legacy that she is forming for future generations of Jewish leaders.
Flint knows that Jews of Color lack communal leaders in which they can see themselves reflected. As Bonai Shalom’s Executive Director, she hopes that she can be a role model for Jew of Color interested in a similar career field. Flint believes that congregational leaders have the “capacity to really be leaders and teachers in the congregation.”Through community partnerships and funding, including from the Jews of Color Initiative, these dreams are coming to fruition.
Just as Flint wants to serve as a role model to other Jews of Color, she knows that her own career path will be enriched by building community with other JoC leaders. One of the ways that the Jews of Color Initiative works to build equity into the Jewish ecosystem is by funding professional development and leadership support for JoC leaders who are stepping into new or expanded roles in Jewish professional settings. As Flint embarks on her role as Executive Director, she is receiving mentorship from SooJi Min-Maranda, the Executive Director of ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and the first Jew of Color to lead an American Jewish movement.
Mentorship is so much more than professional advice.JoC leaders benefit from seeing their mentors in leadership roles. Mentees and mentors build a camaraderie that helps new JoC leaders navigate the challenges of being the lone, or one of few, JoC leaders in their professional spaces.
Flint believes that positions like hers should be filled with more people who represent the Jewish community’s diversity, and who know how to create gathering spaces and curriculum for youth that honor the multiplex identities and lived experiences of the Jewish people.
From her own experience, Flint understands how important it is for the Jewish community to see leaders advocate for diverse representation. “I put it out there that every Jewish institution needs to engage with Black History Month, and it needs to be something that is embedded in their marketing and in their education.” Synagogues—one of the first places where individuals and families in the Jewish community learn to pray together, make friends, and form lasting memories—can help lead these efforts Jewish communal life and practice is passed through generations, knowledge is exchanged, and community fostered at synagogues. Howthese experiences occur is in part shaped by the administrative leadership. That means that each Jewish congregational leader has the opportunity to form Jewish communities based on equity and justice. By valuing diverse representation and histories as part of the Jewish narrative, we can begin to reshape the culture in American Jewish synagogues and youth education.
Imagine the typical Hebrew school class you sat through, probably learning the alephbet, facts about key holidays and biblical tales, and some history of Jewish persecution, likely focused on the Holocaust. Now imaginethat curriculum highlighted the history of the entire Jewish people, telling our stories from African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Latin American countries, stories about Jews of Color who have been here in the U.S. all along but too long ignored. Imagine if the Jewish education we passed down treasured the languages, the customs, the histories, the survival, and the tastes, textures, and songs of diverse Jewish cultures.
In the Jewish community, the Talmudic phrase kol Yisrael arevim zehbazeh(Jews are responsible for one another) calls for all Jewish people to care about and advocate for one another. Flint’s vision is one that requires Jews to not only provide aid to one another, but to learn about who we truly are, where we come from, and how we identify as a people. If we keep only telling the stories of white, European Jews, we are allowing our histories to be erased—or we might even be holding the erasers ourselves.
Envisioning a more inclusive Jewish future is foundational to Flint’s approach to leadership.Flint believes that synagogues can be spaces where we can learn to appreciate Jewish diversity that stretches across the globe. She sees this as an opportunity to create life-long curiosity and passion for Judaism and Jewish culture among Jews across generations, extending through the past, present, and future. “When they are engaging with us, they’re making an association that’s going back [in history]and that’s in the present and that will carry them into the future. That’s the most important thing.”
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