Building the Field for Jews of Color
February 6th, 2018
Against the backdrop of a nation strained by senseless race-based police killings and the most serious wave of racial injustice seen in fifty years, more and more Jewish community leaders have been awakened – moved to both wonder about their role in advancing racial justice, and to deeply reflect about how daily and institutional expressions of racism affect Jews, specifically Jews of Color who navigate the world in brown and black skin.
Out loud, leaders have begun to wonder about our lives – are we, Jews of Color safe? Do we feel welcome? Are we treated with fairness? Are we able to move though our Jewish community without obstacle – with comfort and ease? Do we feel valued? Are we seen? Are we heard? And beyond the immediate they wonder about our community network. How do we connect and plug-in to the community infrastructures in ways that are purposeful and powerful? Do we feel like this is our Jewish community, too?
To answer these questions, in September 2016, the Leichtag Foundation in partnership with other funders and organizational leaders convened 12 Jewish, African American community leaders for a two-day, bring your whole self, let’s get into proximity, then relationship, then problem-solving partnership for serious think tanking, strategic conversing, teaching, learning and ultimately activating!
The think-tank was not without its awkward and intensely uncomfortable moments. We barely made it through developing ground rules for the convening as “assume good will” fell flat when a Black colleague very gently explained that Black people in the United States have no reason to assume good will of White people given the institutionalized racism that is endured on a daily and pervasive basis – Jewish community most definitely included. And I think we were all uncertain if we’d make it to the end of the two days when, the funders were challenged to respond to questions about how racism plays out in Jewish funding efforts and decisions. However, what could have been a difficult and fruitless gathering did not go bust. Everyone involved met the awkwardness and discomfort with warmth, humor, an inquiry posture, (cautious) openness and optimism and collaboration. In fact, when the entire collective decided our experience together needed to be more like graduate school than a retreat, we developed mini-courses in real time on African American History, Jewish History, and the History of Jewish Philanthropy taught by the leaders in the room. We also had seminar-style discussions on topics like, What’s in the Way of Jewish Funders Funding Jews of Color? You can imagine the conversation was robust.
In retrospect, the gathering was such a gutsy thing for funders to initiate and for Jewish leaders of Color to say yes to. And it proved to be a watershed collaboration moment for both the Jews of Color and the Jewish Philanthropic leaders resulting in the nation’s first ever philanthropic fund and grant activity expressly dedicated to responding to racial injustice through helping further establish, fortify and build-out the Field for Jews of Color.
In Winter 2017, infused with pooled-resources from the Think-Tank anchors – the Leichtag Foundation, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, and the Jim Joseph Foundation – the Fund for Jews of Color Field Building released an initial request for proposals. Six grants were awarded, and today the Fund for Jews of Color Field Building is excited to support:
We are half-way through the current grant round, and it’s stunning to hear back from the grantees about their work and experience so far with the resources provided by the nascent Fund for Jews of Color Field Building. As a result of the six grants made, right this very moment there are three separate cohorts of Jews of Color Leaders being developed. By the fall, more than 100 Jews of Color connected to the Jewish organizational ecosystem will have gained new leadership skills and their organizations will have additional capacities developed. By the close of the grant round, vital organizations led by Jews of Color and their leaders will be stronger, and better positioned to continue and to amplify their already excellent work.
And this work really matters. By 2042 the United States will be at least half people of color. And 71% of non-Orthodox Jews marry non-Jews. And that’s within a context in which we know that way back in 2003 the US-based Jewish community was somewhere between 13%-20% Jews of Color. The next generation of baby Jews is going hued.
Racial diversity is all around us. And US-based Jewish racial diversity is not a dilemma or a challenge to be solved. It’s simply a fact. The challenge to be solved is how to successfully build the bridges, pathways and highways needed to more meaningfully, purposefully and effectively connect together the diversity of our community. The Fund for Jews of Color Field Building is taking on some of that challenge. Inspired by a team of racially diverse Jewish community leaders, and anchored by the voices and experience of Jews of Color, The Fund is one example of partnership-based, equity and reality-informed philanthropic activity that is strengthening our Jewish community for today, and building and reinforcing our community for tomorrow.
Ilana Kaufman is a Berkeley-based community relations professional. She is a Schusterman Fellow, public speaker, occasional author, strategic designer, planner and problem solver. Ilana works with Jewish organizations and philanthropic entities navigating the intersection of Jewish community, Jewish identity and racial justice.