Task Force on Race & Racism In Kolot and Our Neighborhoods
When we as American Jews think about Passover and its celebration of our ancestors' freedom from slavery, it is hard not to spend some time reflecting on the much more recent history of slavery and freedom in this country. And as we progressive Jews build our community, we got to a point this year, for many reasons, when we needed to address issues of race and racism within Kolot and in our neighborhoods, city and country. After two open conversations, we took the advice of some participants and created a task force to carry those conversations forward and help Kolot take internal and external action. What follows is a letter from one member of the task force, Imani Romney-Rosa, introducing the task force and how it feels to be a member. --Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
Rabbi Lippmann & Ernst Mohammed's 5773 Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon, "Race, Racism and Kolot Chayeinu"
Imani Romeny-Rosa's letter:
February 26, 2012, was the first meeting of the new Kolot task force on race and racism: a small group of Kolot members gathered together to discuss the impact of racial diversity within our community. Over the months to come, we hope to explore our own hearts and invite others to engage in conversations and actions that will continue to reflect the values of justice and equality in our shul and beyond.
To tell the truth, I have never much liked the word diversity. We use "diversity" when talking about an established group where others (outsides) are present. We use it as code for describing a population that is mostly "other" (i.e. "We have a lot of diversity here.") Sometimes we use the word where concerns for diversity include only racial or ethnic diversity and not other types, such as gender, age, cognitive, or spiritual diversity.
One of the pitfalls of using diversity as a lens is that the mere presence of others does not speak to their experience in the dominant group. Are those that represent "diversity" tolerated, included or welcomed? Are they given positions of authority, power and influence? Are they supported and celebrated by fellow members? Are they challenged? Are they referred to during times other than when the community wants to market itself as a group open to diversity? Are they the only people involved when discussions about inclusion are convened? Are they the only ones relied on to teach their culture to the majority? Are they seen as a monolithic group or is variability within that group acknowledged?
How joyous was I, then, to be welcomed into Barbara Gross' home in February, along with Shawn Harris, Rabbi Lippmann, Ana Bermudez, Bobbie Samet, Bernardo Velez, and Ernst Mohamed to participate in this task force about race at Kolot?! We each entered the conversation with our own perspective, history, questions and ideas. We came to honor Amina Rachman (z"l). We came to bring the conversation from other people's communities to our own, where we live and grow. We came to move from talk to action. We came because Kolot is a home for us and we want it to be a place where our families learn love and are loved.
My hopefulness proved warranted as this was my first time ever engaged in a dialogue about diversity (of any kind) where the conversants seemed to come without shields and with open palms facing up waiting to give, to receive, to hold and to question. There was a sense that the wisdom was in the group, not the individual, and that within each person was excitement, doubt, gratitude, concern, and questions that represented the whole of our congregation, not simply those assembled.
As this month marks the 99th year since the death of Harriet Tubman and as we look forward to the season of our own liberation as Jews, I reflect on the startling truth that appears in the stories that Blacks and Jews share about our desire to return to our masters despite the degradation of slavery because the longed for freedom and comfort seem so far off, the journey perilous and the work unending. Despite how far we have yet to go, I marvel at how far we have come, at the people that stand beside us and those on whose shoulders we stand. I am invigorated anew by this, knowing the benefits we will all reap as a result of not settling for diversity when we can press on to equality and justice.
Talking Honestly About Jews and Racism by Erika Davis (from The Forward, June 13, 2012)
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