As a diversity, equity, and inclusion leader within the Jewish world, I am rarely shocked by what I hear. But right before the lockdowns came into effect, I was. I spoke with a few colleagues, friends, and clients about their experiences being in a community facing a pandemic. One colleague said, “This past Shabbat [before Purim] was the first Shabbat I’ve ever spent in services, in my entire life, where someone hasn’t touched me inappropriately and/or without my consent.”
This sent shocks through my system. A rare gift: the mere absence of violation. When speaking with some of our people at Jews in ALL Hues, one explained it like this: “These Zoom services give me part of the feeling I wanted to get when entering [synagogue] to pray. I want to be able to enter into a service and not be glared at or spit on, unwantedly touched or assumed to be the help. I am a Jew and it saddens me that I’ve never felt this way before — this fully a part of the community. Why can’t the situation be that I feel this accepted when I’m there in-person?”
I highlight these two voices because many Jewish organizations and movements that claim to be progressive are the very places where racial minorities are marginalized, narrating this gap between intent and impact.
Since the moment COVID-19 entered into our lexicon, a wave of anti-progress hit our communities. Relationships the Jewish communities of the United States built with Jewish people of color, survivors of abuse, those in poverty, and those whose identities intersect with the aforementioned, shifted.
Funding for projects that lift up the voices of those directly impacted by white supremacy within our communities folded into “general” relief with little-to-no infrastructure to reroute that funding to holders of said identities and statuses. Investments in Jews of Color-centered initiatives that dismantle the walls that keep us from deep connection are put on hold. Without those connections, who are we protecting when it comes to those on the frontlines of COVID-19?
My older sister, Rachel, a proud Jew of Color and multi-heritage human, leaves her three children – one of whom is immunocompromised – to go to work as a nurse supervisor six or seven days a week during this pandemic. She is an essential worker and is on the frontlines in a nursing care facility.
I worry about her, my nieces, my mother, and my other niece and nephews every second of every day. I worry about the other Jews, people of color, and Jews of Color in our created or inherited families, those considered essential workers.
For minorities within Jewish America, history tells us that in times of great communal need our needs will not be met. Why? Because, the Jewish communal system’s foundation does not serve the entire diversity of our people; it’s a system built upon the fabric of the United States, a United States built upon white supremacy at the expense of black and brown lives.
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In this time of great adversity, we have the greatest opportunity to start to fix the biggest crack in our communal foundation. And for that to happen, resources need to be allocated equitably. But there’s having the ability, then there’s doing the work.
We have the ability to work on our structures and make them more equitable. The day we come back to be in close proximity to one another, we can be armed with a new vision of Jewish America that is further down the road to true equity than the rest of the country. We need to start pro-liberation/anti-bias training while almost everyone has the ability to connect from home.
We need diversity, equity and inclusion plans for our synagogues, camps, JCCs, and organizations so we shape a future that is liberated from the influence of white supremacy now. And for all of this to happen, we need leaders and philanthropists who invest in leadership that looks as diverse as we, the people. We’re out there doing the work and are available for consulting. We have the capability to make great progress and support a sustainable, Jewish future where intersectional diversity and dignity are felt and lived in our communities.
Jared Jackson is the founder and executive director of Jews in ALL Hues.
An opportunity to confront white supremacy and create a Jewish, intersectional future