Knowing where you stand is important to knowing what’s already working and where to grow.
The Jewish community is stronger and more authentically rooted in justice when everyone has an equal seat at the table. This moment calls us to do the best, most authentic, and most effective work for justice that we can. We know that there are many kinds of injustice in our world, including racism, antisemitism, and white supremacy. This guide approaches our drive towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, primarily through a lens of race; it offers ways to understand, and work against, racism in our organizations. However, we also acknowledge the ways in which racism is intertwined with other forms of oppression, and in particular how antisemitism and racism are linked through white supremacy in the United States.
To do our part in dismantling these systems of oppression and building a better, more just world, we need to understand how they affect each other, and we must do true coalition building. This racial justice guide is intended to be a resource for Jewish nonprofit organizations. It has been written for all stages of leadership, as racial justice and inclusion are everyone’s responsibilities. In each section, we share an example of how Avodah worked through this stage of our process, and resources for how your organization might put this into practice. This guide is also available in a PDF format here.
In the fall of 2016, Avodah convened a Racial Justice Task Force comprising staff, alumni, and Board and Advisory Council members with the goal of strengthening Avodah’s racial justice work, both internally and externally. After reviewing data from Avodah and the broader Jewish community, as well as interviews with staff, alumni of color, and other Jewish leaders of color, the Task Force, with the help of a consultant, identified a set of recommendations broken out into short-term steps that were easier to implement, and longer-term changes that would take more time to work on.
Short Term Recommendations
Medium/Long Term Recommendations
While some of these pieces have moved forward swiftly, as you’ll see below, many of the recommendations submitted by our task force are still very much in process. While our audit was a point in time in 2016, through regular feedback mechanisms, we seek to be in a continual process of evaluating our work and areas for growth.
Consider hiring a consultant to support you in this process
Check out our spreadsheet with some suggestions of consultants
Deepen your understanding of the diversity of the Jewish community
Be strategic about who is making decisions
It is important to ensure that those in power are representative of the community you are serving. It is also important to avoid tokenization of the Jews of Color (JOCs) in your community. The work isn’t done by just hiring one JOC. Involve a diverse constituency in the process. Here are some resources to create more equitable decision making processes:
The hardest part of completing an audit is facing the reality of the data and figuring out how to make changes. The real work begins after your organization has compiled the data and begins to strategically tackle the primary pain points. It is important to incorporate education and training organization-wide to help develop a shared language, strategic frameworks, and operating principles.
Consider the identity of your trainer
As you provide training for staff and board to better understand Jewish racial diversity, bring in JOC organizations or trainers who have a track record of helping Jewish organizations strengthen anti-oppressive practices.
Make it ongoing
Racial justice training isn’t just a one-time thing; consider integrating monthly, quarterly, or yearly learning into your professional development calendar.
Make sure your trainer can train virtually
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way organizations approach education and training has changed for the foreseeable future. In the short term, education and training will need to be on a digital platform. Consultants and trainers hired by your organization should excel at developing online-based learning curricula.
Once you have a sense of what needs to change, and frameworks for learning how to change them, it is time to craft goals and tactics that put these changes into action. These goals should begin to permeate through structures already in place. Inclusion may seem like a soft goal, but it can be tracked. When leadership makes inclusion a strategic value, it can have a significant impact on the whole organization. A leadership model isn’t complete until it is intersectional and centers the voices of those most impacted by the initiatives. The importance of equity should be articulated by leadership and rearticulated as progress is made. At Avodah, we looked into understanding how our systems could incorporate a DEI and JOC focus, and then determined how we would best strengthen our internal practices.
This work has been guided by staff and board members who have worked as part of a Racial Justice Task Force, a group that has met regularly since the initial task force in 2016. Even as we work to implement these changes, we acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. While some of our changes were quicker to implement, some areas, such as recruiting more Jews of Color to be part of our staff and board, and working on adapting our curriculum have taken longer than we initially anticipated. We commit to continuing to prioritize our racial justice work while recognizing our missteps and areas for growth, and welcoming accountability from our community and partners in our process.
Resources and recommendations:
As you build out your plan, think about the following components:
Use recruitment and hiring best practices
Build a leadership team and board that takes DEI into account
Racial diversity in leadership can play a significant role in the overall inclusivity of an organization. In social justice and DEI conversations, the subject matter experts – those with lived experience – are often not at the table during the decision-making process. Lack of inclusion in high-level leadership can lead to solutions that either do not serve the groups intended or come across as ignorant of the real issues at hand.
Consider how you support your staff who are JOCs or POCs
Read about best practices on racial justice in management
Create a formal DEI policy statement
Keep up communication
Share the good, the bad, and the ugly through newsletters, social media, and blog posts. Be sure to include:
Be part of coalition-building
Connect with a diverse group of organizations in your field, particularly those that focus on inclusivity and include JOCs in leadership. Additionally, build relationships with JOC-led organizations to help them build their networks and feedback loops.
Create a continued platform for discussion
It is important to keep this work going! Consider informal meetings, working groups, a book club, and/or a task force. Here are some resources to keep learning:
Evaluate and keep track of your initiatives
Inclusion is what you do with diversity. Promote a more inclusive organizational environment that honors the entirety of our Jewish community and the variety of experiences at your workplace.
Inclusion is an active process in which individuals, groups, organizations, and societies—rather than seeking to foster homogeneity—view and approach diversity as a valued resource. In an inclusive system, we value ourselves and others because of and not despite our differences (or similarities); everyone—across multiple types of differences—should be empowered as a full participant and contributor who feels and is connected to the larger collective without having to give up individual uniqueness, cherished identities, or vital qualities.
– Bernardo Ferdman “Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion” (2014)
Tokenization and How to Avoid It
Tokenism involves the symbolic involvement of a person in an organization due only to a specified or salient characteristic (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, disability, age). It refers to a policy or practice of limited inclusion of members of a minority, underrepresented, or disadvantaged group.
“Tokenization is, simply, covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain their privilege by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color (POC). Tokenism achieves the same while giving those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use POC as racialized props.”
– Helen Kim Ho, 8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits
Tokenization occurs in situations where the intended outcome is meant to improve diversity within an organization, however the focus is on optics instead of authentic inclusion. It is important to avoid tokenization because of the harm that it causesthe person being tokenized, the community they are made to single-handedly represent, and the credibility of your organization within communities of color.
Specifically in Jewish spaces, avoiding tokenizing Jews of Color must be at the forefront of all DEI strategies. The best way to avoid tokenizing situations is to recognize when and why you are engaging with JOCs. Understanding that having just one JOC in the room, on staff, or on the board of directors, is a starting point – not the end goal.
Questions to ask:
Implicit bias is a bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs. This may be related to beliefs around race, gender, religion, economic status, or other cultural identity markers, and is informed by larger systems that socialize us.
Implicit bias plays a role in every person’s decision-making process regardless of identity; however, it is the awareness of personal implicit biases that make the difference when it comes to organizational decisions. Having an honest discussion with yourself and your organizational leadership is the first step toward overcoming the ways that implicit biases negatively impact your organization.
Our programs, grantmaking, and organizations will be strengthened if all stakeholders are at the table. In the JOC community there is a saying “not about us, without us.” Consider who is at your table and who is missing as you move this work forward. The work to end antisemitism and racism will be easier if we build the strongest Jewish communal sector possible, which includes acknowledging all the ways white supremacy has impacted, and continues to impact the white Jewish community and those in the community who face both antisemitism and racism. We hope these resources will bring us all a little closer to accomplishing this vision. Please be in touch and let us know how it goes!
Email: [email protected]
Ally – Someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege (based on gender, class, race, sexual identity, etc.) and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice. Allies understand that it is in their own interest to end all forms of oppression, even those from which they may benefit in concrete ways.
Anti-Blackness – A two-part formation that both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues. The first form of anti-Blackness is overt racism. Beneath this anti-Black racism is the covert structural and systemic racism which categorically predetermines the socioeconomic status of Blacks in this country. The structure is held in place by anti-Black policies, institutions, and ideologies. The second form of anti-Blackness is the unethical disregard for anti-Black institutions and policies. This disregard is the product of class, race, and/or gender privilege certain individuals experience due to anti-Black institutions and policies. This form of anti-Blackness is protected by the first form of overt racism.
Anti-Racism – is the active, on-going process of dismantling systems of racial inequity and creating new systems of racial equity. Anti-racism demands that this work be done at the individual, organizational/ institutional, and cultural levels in order to effectively address systemic racism. Anti-racism is an approach, not an end-point, and thus provides a useful frame for an organizational change process.
Ashkenormativity – Assuming that Jewish life and culture is limited primarily to the experiences and customs of Ashkenazi Jews.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) – Refers to the three-tiered framework for cultivating an anti-white supremacist, anti-racist, and anti-biased cultures and institutional systems.
Equality – Evenly distributed access to resources and opportunity necessary for a safe and healthy life; uniform distribution of access that may or may not result in equitable outcomes.
Equity – Is the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist equality in the provision of effective opportunities to all groups.
Implicit Bias – Implicit bias is a bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs. This may be related to beliefs around race, gender, religion, economic status or other cultural identity markers.
Inclusion – Involvement and empowerment where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive organization promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of all of its members.
Intersectionality – A theory developed in 1989 by the professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
JOC – Jew of Color – Community members who are racially and ethnically diverse, including African, African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Sephardi, Mizrahi and mixed-race Jews. Note: A significant portion of Separdic and Mizrahi Jews do not identify as Jews of Color. Consider how they are included and yet still account for ways that they also uphold anti-blackness and other tropes of white supremacy.
JOC Tokenism – The assumption that one JOC speaks for the experiences of all JOCs and that engaging with one JOC eliminates the need for seeking out the perspectives of other JOCs. This tactic falls in the trap of limiting the voices of a few to represent a whole, for example, checking with one JOC does not mean buy-in from the JOC community as a whole. Additionally, this refers to the assumption that if one JOC is present, the community is automatically anti-racist.
Microaggression – The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
Mizrahi – is a socio-political term describing Jews from Arab and/or Muslim lands, including Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of the Caucasus. The Ashkenazic establishment in Israel coined the term in the 1950s in response to the large wave of immigrants from Arab countries at that time. The immigrants soon began to use the term to describe themselves as well. “Mizrahi” is distinct from, but often overlaps with, the term, “Sephardi,” and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Organizational Racism – Refers to the way normal, seemingly neutral or objective organizational policies and systems (e.g., the way we hire people, recruit board members, develop programming, etc.) can create disparities in access and outcomes for racialized and Indigenous individuals and communities. If not addressed, these policies and systems can increase disparities in power. It refers to organizational practices, which are related to but different from the racist behavior and unconscious bias of individuals.
Race – a social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance, ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the political needs of a society at a given period of time.
Sephardi – member or descendant of the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal from at least the later centuries of the Roman Empire until their persecution and mass expulsion from those countries in the last decades of the 15th century.
Tokenism – Tokenism involves the symbolic involvement of a person in an organization due only to a specified or salient characteristic (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, disability, age). It refers to a policy or practice of limited inclusion of members of a minority, underrepresented, or disadvantaged group.
White Supremacy – The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.
Perspectives on Race and Covid-19
Centering Racial Justice and Jews of Color During the COVID-19 Pandemic
How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Impacting Jews of Color
Pandemic relief fund for Jews of color now open
Why Racial Justice Matters In Covid-19 Responses
NAACP’s Ten Equity Implications of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak in the United States
Articles and Resources on Racial Justice in the Jewish Community
Articles and Resources for Learning More About Race and Racism in America
Jews of Color Voices
This guide was compiled with input by Nate Looney, Kira Manso Brown, Sasha Raskin-Yin, Rachel Glicksman, Dani Levine, Chava Shervington, Jared Jackson, Sarra Alpert, Cheryl Cook, Emily Becker, and Leila Bilick. Huge thanks as well to Suzanne Feinspan, who worked with us on our initial racial justice plan, and to the many organizations and leaders who have created tools and learning that have inspired our work and that we have incorporated into this guide. We are especially grateful to the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative and Ilana Kaufman and her team for their support of this guide.