Race and Us
BJ strives to be an inclusive community where people from all walks of Jewish life can find a spiritual home; over the years, we have intentionally asked how we can be a place of even greater warmth and embrace for those who often sit at the margins of the Jewish community. Race and Us is a year-long initiative that asks these questions with a specific focus on race and racial identity.
Black Lives Matter
The vicious murder of George Floyd—a veritable lynching—is the latest of a long chain of murders of Black people at the hands of the police. We will continue to commit to undoing racism day in and day out in our community, and in partnership with other communities.
A Look Back and the Road Ahead
Going forward, there will be more opportunities to engage with the topic of race, and there will be opportunities to deepen and expand our relationships with other BJ members. Both of these are necessary for us to become a beloved community that can affect change both within BJ and out in the world. We acknowledge the ways in which we have contributed to the suffering of others, and commit to new behaviors in the year ahead.
We Will Do and We Will Listen
Four hundred and one years ago, 20 enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of the English colony of Virginia, laying a foundation of slavery that would shape America to this day. Rabbi Morris Jacob Raphall, a rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun from 1849-1866, was an outspoken defender of slavery; this is a history B’nai Jeshurun has never fully reckoned with, despite our ongoing journey to be an inclusive community and spiritual home to all who come through our doors, and to embody the values of love, justice, and dignity for all. Several years ago, we began to intentionally understand the history and impact of race and racism in America and how it is embodied in our own community. This past year, we dived deeper into these issues through our Race and Us initiative.
While the Race and Us initiative is over, the work of undoing racism and building an inclusive community and country is neverending. Today, with America in the throes of a national reckoning on race, the call for justice rings even louder in our ears. Moreover, Jews of Color are calling for Jewish institutions to take responsibility for undoing racism. We are answering these calls by articulating our commitments in Na’ase V’nishma, BJ’s public statement of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Race and Us
According to a recent study presented at UJA-Federation of New York, Jews of color—including Black, Latinx, Asian, and biracial Jews—now account for at least 12% of the Jewish population in the United States; however, most American Jewish institutions, including B’nai Jeshurun, do not reflect this degree of diversity. To a large extent, we know why: We have heard too many stories of marginalization felt by Jews of color who are BJ members, here in our own community.
A primary goal of the initiative is to understand the barriers to belonging that are uniquely felt by Jews of color. What assumptions do we make on the basis of skin color about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the Jewish community? How are those assumptions expressed, and what is the impact of those words and actions?
Because it is not possible to investigate these questions without examining the larger context of American society in which we live, a second goal is to study how the history and role of race in America has shaped us and our institutions. We will look at the places where racism, both explicit and implicit, has created enduring inequity. And we will confront the realities of racism that America has never adequately grappled with, so that we can fulfill our moral and religious obligation to take part in the soul searching our country deeply needs.
Race and Us will educate us: on the historical and present-day realities of race in the Jewish community and in this country, and on what we can do to address the interconnected dangers of antisemitism and racism.
It will inspire us: to honor the growing diversity at BJ and in the wider Jewish community, and to celebrate the richness that such diversity brings to our collective Jewish lives.
And it will challenge us: to do the internal work that will allow us to build a true culture of belonging at BJ, and take seriously our responsibility to join the widening national conversation about race in America.
The Race and Us Steering Committee
View Previous Programs
A primary goal of this initiative is to understand the barriers to belonging that are uniquely felt by Jews of color.
Racial Equity Resource List
Explore this racial equity resource list, originally compiled by Eliana Slurzberg with input from our Race and Us Steering Committee.