We want to bring you up to speed on the work we’ve been doing in the realm of race, diversity, equity and inclusion, over the past few years. We’ve been thinking about these issues at Mishkan from the beginning, but in the last year and a half we have begun focusing more time, resources, lay and staff energy here, and especially in light of recent events we have redoubled our energy and focus here, and taken a number of steps toward creating a more anti-racist organization.
Early last year, we brought in Be’chol Lashon, an organization that raises awareness about the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish people, to work with Mishkan on diversity, equity and inclusion. As a follow-up, in May about 20 Mishkanites participated in Jewish Council on Urban Affairs’ racial justice training, the first in an ongoing opportunity for our community to critically consider the role race plays in our experience of the world and how we may or may not wield power. Then the murder of George Floyd, the national reckoning around race, and the cheshbon nefesh, soul accounting, of the Jewish community, super-charged our efforts and demanded we step it up.
Two open letters, Not Free to Desist: An open letter from Black Jews, Non-Black Jews of Color, and our allies to Jewish Federations, Foundations, Organizations, and Initiatives and 500+ Jewish Organizations and Synagogues say: Black Lives Matter generously led the way. We added our name to both as a commitment to material change with the understanding that our signature only means as much as our actions.
With the asks of each letter in mind, we began with language. We adjusted our Mission + Values to include anti-racism as a “non-negotiable,” and our Community Norms now acknowledge systemic racism and a commitment to undoing White supremacy. Accordingly, we’ve begun sustained staff education around racism, Whiteness, and systemic injustices using internal and external resources and consultation. We’ve also incorporated anti-racism into our programs, curriculum, and communications. Thanks to the 150+ Mishkanites who voiced an interest in community learning, we launched Anti-Racist Book Clubs featuring four different books: How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed Race Jewish Girl by Marra Gad, So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. We incorporated anti-racist curriculum into Mensch Camp, explored justice in Shabbat services, a podcast, and blog posts. And we added “Do One Thing Today” to our newsletter — a section providing tips on how to stay involved in the work.
But, we also know our community may fall short on any ideal of inclusion, solidarity, and respect. With that in mind, we’ve established a Safety Equity Respect Team and formalized a Reporting Policy. If you ever feel intimidated, harassed, or unsafe, we are now prepared to respond with a team and policy developed in conjunction with Sacred Spaces and Jewish Child and Family Services.
As hard as it may be, we can’t resist this moment. We can’t take a shortcut or close our eyes until it’s over — we have to fight our way forward to the other side. And we must do it together — transparently, intentionally and actively.