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4 Insights for Building Joyful and Inclusive Jewish Communities

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The events of 2021 have left many across U.S. Jewish communities feeling eager for a return to in-person communal offerings while also fearful for their safety following a surge in reports of antisemitism. Like many communities, we have continued with virtual programs and holiday celebrations as the COVID-19 pandemic persists as a threat to public health.

These events have taught us that we must continue to live out the Jewish values of pursuing justice (tzedek), repairing the world (tikkun olam) and treating all people with dignity and respect (derekh eretz) as we strive to make the world a better place. To this end, grantees in our Jewish Community portfolio are ensuring that Jews have opportunities to live out these values by creating more joyful, inclusive Jewish experiences, expanding opportunities to engage with and learn about Israel, and supporting talented Jewish leaders.

As part of these efforts, our grantees are engaging young Jews in acts of service to provide direct, actionable aid where it is needed most. They are spearheading conversations across lines of difference to promote allyship in a time of fear and division. They are strengthening LGBTQ inclusion amid increasingly hostile homophobia and transphobia. And, they are supporting survivors of domestic abuse in the Jewish community, changing the norms that perpetuate gender-based violence.

All of us can learn how to expand this critical work across U.S. Jewish life. Below, we invite you to read four lessons gleaned from the insights these partners shared on the Schusterman blog so we can do just that in the coming weeks, months and years to come.  

1. Service is central to Jewish values, and a thriving Jewish service movement can make real change.


(Photo: Courtesy of Repair the World)

The pandemic left—and continues to leave—massive suffering and unemployment in its wake. Many communities—especially in low and middle-income countries—are also facing a dearth of much-needed medical and social services, such as access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. But Jewish communities have not stood idly by, with thousands of professionals and young volunteers stepping up to help those most in need.  

OLAM is supporting a network of more than 60 Jewish and Israeli NGOs committed to social justice on a global level, all of whom are responding to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in real-time. OLAM partners are doing everything from providing emergency food, hygiene and medical supplies to dispelling misinformation about COVID and addressing the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic in developing countries. OLAM’s CEO Dyonna Ginsburg shares more about how OLAM’s global network has mobilized thousands of professionals and volunteers in pandemic response efforts.

Research shows that young Jews are especially motivated to live out these values through volunteering, and Jewish organizations and leaders are tapping into their valuable potential. Serve the Moment—an initiative from Repair the World—mobilized thousands of Jewish young adults and college students through virtual volunteering, in-person service opportunities and national service campaigns to address growing community needs as the pandemic drew on. Repair also launched the Vaccine Appointment Network to engage tech-savvy volunteers in helping community members navigate complex online systems to schedule vaccine appointments. These are just to name a few of the incredible initiatives mobilizing young Jews in service. Learn about more in this piece from National Volunteer Week by our Co-President, Lisa Eisen, and Senior Director of U.S. Jewish Grantmaking, David Rittberg.

2. The rise of antisemitism globally and the prevalence of racism in Jewish life demand that we lean into allyship, not division.

 


Moishe House residents in Los Angeles attending the 2019 Venice Pride Parade.

In addition to a continued reckoning with the institutionalized racism in the U.S., 2021 saw a surge in antisemitic attacks toward Jewish communities across the globe, and Jews are still the target of the majority of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Many of our grantees are doing work to combat antisemitism through programs like LiveSecure, an initiative from Jewish Federations of North America to expand security for Jewish communities. With antisemitism particularly prevalent across college campuses, the Academic Engagement Network, a coalition of U.S. college faculty, is countering antisemitism through efforts such as hosting campus events and collaborating with student leaders. Likewise, Hillel International launched the Campus Climate Initiative, which provides training to college administrators on how to address antisemitism.

But Jewish communities are also not immune to intolerant attitudes. A recent study from the Jews of Color Initiative confirmed that Jews of color face bigotry in settings where white Jews predominate. Antisemitism is inextricably linked to other forms of hate and bigotry, and it is crucial that we both act as allies in the fight for racial justice and address racism within our own community.

Tiffany Harris, a REALITY alum and ROI Community member, admits that it can feel daunting for Jewish institutions to approach racial justice as a long-term goal. However, as Chief Program Officer of Moishe House, which builds meaningful and welcoming spaces for Jewish young adults worldwide, she believes that committing to an internal culture that values diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) is not just a business imperative, but a moral one. For Tiffany, DEI is an essential ingredient for Jewish communities to become effective allies in the fight for racial justice. Read more from Tiffany about how she is helping Moishe House make DEI goals into timely, digestible, definable tactics.

In addition to shaping antiracist policies and conversations, building equitable Jewish communities requires embodying equity in everyday Jewish practice. For the Mitsui Collective, this looks like expanding Jewish learning and practices—such as movement, breathwork, music, song, prayer, nature connection, food, art and ritual—that help strengthen connection to place, community, personal identity, ancestry and lineage for Jews of all racial backgrounds. As Yoshi Silverstein, Founder and Executive Director of Mitsui Collective and a Schusterman Fellow, shares, “the need for spaces and practices that enable people to experience healing and wholeness in both body and soul has never been greater.” Check out Yoshi’s full reflection on how embodied Jewish practice can help transform Jewish communities.  

3. LGBTQ inclusion is key to building a stronger, values-based Jewish community.



(Photo: Courtesy of Keshet)

Many LGBTQ Jews face homophobic and transphobic attitudes in Jewish communities, as well as increasing threats to their safety posed by the rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in many countries worldwide. Our community is strengthened when we prioritize the mental and emotional safety of LGBTQ Jews, and many of our partners are doing this valuable work worldwide.

In the U.S., Keshet advances the full equality for LGBTQ Jews and their families in Jewish life by developing a pipeline of young, confident LGBTQ Jewish leaders. The rationale: cultivating LGBTQ leaders is key to changing the cultural norms that perpetuate discrimination. Here, Keshet’s Director of Youth Programs Jaimie Krass explains how the organization builds affirming spaces for young LGBTQ Jews while working together to figure out how they can be agents of change.

In Israel, Israel Gay Youth (IGY) works to foster meaningful and empowering social spaces for LGBTQ youth, particularly those outside urban areas like Tel Aviv. These initiatives include a unique pre-military academy that challenges these institutions’ conservative norms and professional certifications for transgender youth. Learn more about IGY’s work in this interview with Liana Meirom-Asif, IGY’s Vice President of Resource Development and External Relations.

In the United Kingdom, KeshetUK is the only organization that provides education and training for Jewish communities on LGBTQ inclusion. Their method? Creating open spaces where participants can reflect and learn—no matter what questions they ask or what language they use. “Ultimately, we believe that by calling people in rather than calling people out and by creating non-judgmental spaces for learning and listening, we will create the inclusive communities we want to see,” shares Dalia Fleming, Executive Director of KeshetUK and an ROI Community member. Read more from Dalia about the impact of Keshet UK’s unique approach to LGBTQ inclusion.

4. We need to build safe, respectful and equitable Jewish spaces.



Members of JWI’s Young Women's Impact Network meeting with Congressman Jamie Raskin. (Photo: Courtesy of JWI)

Pre-pandemic intimate partner violence affected 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S., and domestic violence incidents in the U.S. increased by more than 8% following COVID lockdowns. Sadly, Jewish communities are not immune.

For decades, Jewish Women International (JWI) has pioneered efforts to raise awareness of and address domestic violence in Jewish communities. According to JWI, stigma is one of the main reasons that domestic violence continues to prevail. “What happens all too often is that Jewish communities prioritize the ‘macher,’ the more powerful family member, at the expense of the survivor,” shares Deborah Rosenbloom, Chief Program Officer at JWI. “We need to work to shift this culture.” Be a part of the solution and explore JWI’s six recommendations for combatting domestic violence in Jewish communities long-term.

Want to learn more about efforts to build joyful and inclusive U.S. Jewish communities? Explore our Jewish Community portfolio.