Rabbi Sandra Lawson (she/her), a trailblazing leader, will join Reconstructing Judaism as its inaugural Director of Racial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Working with senior staff, lay leaders, clergy, rabbinical students and Reconstructionist communities, Lawson will help Reconstructing Judaism realize its deeply held aspiration of becoming an anti-racist organization and movement. Lawson is a 2018 Reconstructionist Rabbinical College graduate.
“The Reconstructionist movement is my home,” said Lawson. “I believe in our movement. I believe in our values. We have a huge impact on the Jewish world. By coming back to Reconstructing Judaism, there is an inherent level of trust which will help me to start moving on this urgent work within the organization and our congregations. I really want us to live up to our values and do better. Putting people in positions like this sends a message that it’s time to start doing better.”
This position is made possible by a grant from the Jews of Color Initiative as part of a series of allocations to a number of pilot programs and early-stage efforts to develop and support Jews of Color as leaders in Jewish institutions and communities. In 2019, the Jews of Color Initiative released a study showing Jews of Color comprise at least 12 to 15 percent of American Jewry, demonstrating the urgent need for more diverse communal leadership.
Ilana Kaufman, Executive Director of the Jews of Color Initiative, said that “the work Rabbi Sandra has been doing to make Judaism more accessible, particularly for unaffiliated Jews and Jews of diverse backgrounds, is so important. We are thrilled to see that Reconstructing Judaism has recognized Rabbi Sandra as a vital leader and that they have created this position to ensure that diversity and equity work is a central component of their movement. We are proud to be part of this process and can’t wait to watch Rabbi Sandra soar in her new role.”
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president of Reconstructing Judaism, said “Reckoning with racism — both systemic and personal — is one of the moral demands of our time. Sandra has the substance, the experience, the passion and the compassion to help lead our movement in this challenging and necessary work. I am thrilled to work with and to learn from her.”
Lawson’s hiring brings a prominent figure, teacher of Torah, activist and thought leader to Reconstructing Judaism, the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement. As one of the first African American, queer, female rabbis, she has consciously sought to alter the perception of what a rabbi — and the rabbinate — looks like. Lawson is known for tackling difficult questions surrounding Jews and race in podcasts, essays, media appearances and speeches. A social media pioneer, Lawson models what it means to teach Torah in the digital space. She has built a following of more than 50,000 people on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok. Just last month, the Forward named Lawson to its “Forward 50” proclaiming her a “truth teller”.
Since 2018, Lawson has served as associate chaplain for Jewish life and Hillel Jewish educator at Elon University in North Carolina.
Lawson is coming aboard as Reconstructing Judaism and other Jewish organizations are focusing on systemic racism and uplifting the voices of Jews of Color. For its part so far, Reconstructing Judaism’s Tikkun Olam Commission has adopted racial justice as its primary focus. In addition, Reconstructing Judaism has formed a Jews of Color and Allies Advisory Group, made a commitment to hire and promote people of color in its staff and promote a higher level of representation and inclusion in the rabbinate and Reconstructionist communities.
Among Lawson’s responsibilities will be:
- Work with senior staff and lay leaders on the recently formed Jews of Color and Allies Group, Tikkun Olam Commission and Board of Governors to set priorities and strategies related to diversity and inclusion;
- Ensure that Jews of Color studying to be Reconstructionist rabbis thrive through mentorship, retreats and developing new courses and curricula;
- Work with Reconstructionist affiliate communities on anti-bias training, racial equity in hiring and cultivating welcoming and inclusive environments.
Lawson will begin her role in March 2021.
Jewish organization welcomes Black queer director, Philadelphia Gay News, Jan. 26, 2021
Reconstructing Judaism Creates New Position, Hires Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Jewish Exponent, Jan. 28, 2021
Wyncote rabbinical seminary names new director of racial diversity, The Philadelphia Tribune, Jan. 29, 2021
Gay, black Elon rabbi to take job that seeks diversity within Jewish faith, The Times News, Burlington, N.C., Feb. 11, 2021
American Jews are taking a hard look at racism in their midst, Religon News Service, Feb. 12, 2021
Rabbi Sandra Lawson leaves a legacy of learning and love, Today at Elon, Feb. 17, 2021
Making Reconstructing Judaism work for all, Washington Blade, Feb. 18, 2021
A queer, Black, female Rabbi’s fight for racial equity in Judaism, ABC Houston, Feb. 24, 2021