Reflections, Wonders, and Hopes of Jewish Leaders of Color After the Launch of Beyond the Count
As the Jewish community continues to learn from and engage with Beyond the Count: Perspectives and Lived Experiences of Jews of Color, communal leaders are sharing their reflections, wonders, and hopes for what comes next. Adapted from two dynamic panel conversations with Jewish leaders of color, this article shares the voices of Dr. Analucía Lopezrevoredo, Janu Mendel, Ginna Green, Paula Pretlow, Tiffany Harris, and Gamal Palmer.
What is the significance of Beyond the Countlaunching at this moment?
“This study is coming at a time where there is a lot of national discourse on similar issues,” said Janu Mendel, the Executive Director of Repair the World, Miami. “There are many learnings from Beyond the Count you can apply to both the Jewish community and the larger national community.” Dr. Analucía Lopezrevoredo, Founder and Executive Director of Jewtina y Co., spoke to similar themes: “The 2020 racial uprisings made many people think a lot about the racial makeup of our organizations in the Jewish community. We need structural change. Similar to what leaders across the country are asking, we should think about what needs to be given up in order to make necessary change.”
For years, Jews of Color have been experiencing and speaking out about many of the inequalities detailed in Beyond the Count. Multiple JoC leaders reflected on the significance of this moment, having long awaited a communal conversation on issues Jews of Color face. “This study and this conversation probably wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago, so this feels really monumental,” stated Tiffany Harris, Chief Program Officer at Moishe House. Paula Pretlow, Trustee of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, said, “It’s up to us to continue to push for the moment and the movement.” Pretlow has previously told us that she believes “there is a JoC movement on foot nationwide, worldwide.”
How might Beyond the Count impact our approach to anti-racism?
“We cannot let the immediate strategy only focus on diversity in itself without the equity and inclusion pieces,” Tiffany Harris asserted. “I’m getting the sense that the move right now is a sort of rushed inclusion to create a diverse-looking organization and check that box, assuming the rest of the problem will solve itself. But it’s the longstanding structures and knowledge within the organization that have to change. Otherwise we will not be successful.”
“In Judaism, we have such potent ways that we think about our history and how we remember where we come from and how we tell our story,” said, Gamal Palmer, the Senior Vice President of Leadership and Development at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who has spent almost 10 years in the Jewish communal field. “This study is so monumental because it is a part of really having the opportunity to think about how we’ve been telling and living our story as a people. What has worked for us and what must really change? This is an opportunity—given COVID and the renewed racial justice movement—for us to really step up and be visionaries in our communal anti-racism.” Palmer added that there is too much at stake if Jewish institutions do not find a way to bring about change. “We have to get creative because we have a whole sector of our community that wants to be engaged and included, that are already engaged in our own specific ways that the rest of the Jewish community can really learn from.” Beyond the Count showed that many Jews of Color are actively engaged, such as approaching Jewishness through tikkun olam (repairing the world) or creating spiritual, religious, or communal gatherings centered on Judaism and Jewish values.
Janu Mendel spoke simultaneously to the importance of jumping in now while also not expecting our communal anti-racism to immediately transform. “We’re not going to learn how to create the perfect anti-racist practice just by reading this study. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of self-reflection and work. What many Jews of Color want to see is white Jews owning impact in moments of racialized harm and spending a lot less time explaining intent or why they are not at fault. When the conversation focuses on whether the harm was intentional or not, then the conversation centers on making the person who caused that harm feel comfortable. If as a community we can put our ego aside and recognize what we’re hearing about the experiences of Jews of Color in the community, that is a positive development.”
Ginna Green, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Uprise, also spoke about disrupting the collective ego in the Jewish community around historical engagement with anti-racism. “There is a lot of ego in the Jewish community around our own anti-racist practice because historically we have been a group concerned with justice in this country. We saw in Beyond the Count that JoC are connected to the concept of seeking justice and equality—tikkun olam. That’s also historically true for Jews in the U.S. more generally. But that story that we tell ourselves about that history can lead us to feel like we’re better at being anti-racist.”
We have a communal narrative in the U.S. that has Jews at the center of social justice movements. But we know that narrative is part myth. While one-third of white student volunteers during the Mississippi Freedom Summer were Jewish that does not mean that the majority of Jews participated in or approved of those efforts.
Green believes that disrupting this historical myth might be an essential part of the path forward in the Jewish community’s anti-racism. “Taking a few steps back, doing some learning, correcting the myth, and being truthful about who we are and who we have been is really important.”
What do you hope to see in the community moving forward?
“This data is such a gift,” said Dr. Analucía Lopezrevoredo, who is also a researcher and academic. “I really want everyone to be able to look at the data, sit with it, look at it again from a different angle, and share it with your communities. For Jews of Color, it’s an opportunity to ask, what else do we want to know about our community?”
Dr. Lopezrevoredo also reflected on the cultural change she hopes to see in the community to make Judaism and Jewish communities feel like home to Jews of Color. “Thinking of l’dor vador,” (passing tradition from generation to generation), “how can we support folks in a way that will allow them to joyfully pass down the traditions they want to pass down, and how can that support be done in a way that sees the holistic nature of our multifaceted identities?” Lopezrevoredo hopes framing our communal future through questions that center Jews of Color can create more equity in the community.
Janu Mendel reflected on the “long-game” of communal change. “I’m hoping for a day and a time where there is such fluid partnership and collaboration among everyone who is a member of our community. To get there will be a path of sometimes difficult work, and I encourage folks to jump all the way in and not just put one toe in. It doesn’t work if you put only one toe in. It’s important to recognize that you’ll probably make some mistakes or do some things that don’t feel right, and that’s not an indication to stop. That’s an indication to keep going.”
Fostering racial equity is increasingly relevant as the Jewish community becomes more and more racially diverse. Tiffany Harris spoke to the need for Jewish institutions to adapt to our evolving community. “We have to change our priorities and our strategies because the community is looking different. And this country is looking different. If we don’t put those structures in place now, my fear is that our institutions’ relevancy will change in the community.”
Paula Pretlow similarly shared, “If we as a Jewish community do not first recognize and then embrace our multiracial, multicultural environment and who we really are, we run the risk of just dying out. We are all the future of our community. We cannot afford to ignore any part of who we are as a people.”
“We’re in the month of Elul,” Dr. Lopezrevoredo said. “This is the perfect time. I can’t imagine a better piece of literature to implement, to share, to engage in conversation with alongside colleagues, your community, other folks who are asking these big questions. We need to start listening and here’s an opportunity to begin to do this work Jewishly. This is an opportunity for teshuva. The opportunity to pursue a process of healing and repair in a communal endeavor. Don’t think we’re at the end. This study is just the beginning.”
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