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Rabbi Sandra Lawson Named to Prestigious Fellowship Focusing on Leadership Development

Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Reconstructing Judaism’s inaugural director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion, has been selected to the Schusterman Fellowship. That’s a prestigious, 18-month program run by Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. 

According to its website, the Schusterman Fellowship “is a holistic leadership development program for exceptional Jewish leaders committed to driving change in their organizations, the Jewish world and beyond.” Since 2015, the program has supported and trained more than 160 Fellows connected with American Jewish nonprofit organizations and Israeli civil society.  

Among the first African American, queer rabbis, Lawson is dedicated to promoting anti-racism within Jewish communities and championing Jewish leaders of color. With her robust presence on social media and the media more broadly, Lawson is building awareness about Jewish diversity and further raising the profile of Reconstruing Judaism, the central organization of the Reconstructionist movement. The founder of Kol Hapanim, Hebrew for all faces, an inclusive Jewish community, Lawson recently co-hosted a Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat that garnered substantial media coverage and drew close to 500 participants, in-person and online.  

Rabbi Sandra Lawson playing guitar and singing at Juneteenth Shabbat wearing a rainbow colored tallit.
Rabbi Sandra Lawson playing her guitar and singing during the Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat. Photo Credit: EmoryRose Photography

Lawson, who previously completed a fellowship with the Center for Rabbinic Innovation, is joining the Schusterman Fellowship’s most diverse cohort ever, in terms of racial identity, occupational experience and expression of Jewish identity, according to Colleen Cruikshank, director of the Schusterman Fellowship.

“Rabbi Sandra’s participation in the program matters to folks who care about Reconstructing Judaism because the Schusterman Fellowship has proven impact on Fellows’ organizations,” said Cruikshank. “Teams and communities served by Reconstructing Judaism will be able to feel the impact on Rabbi Sandra’s leadership at a personal and institutional level.”

Teams and communities served by Reconstructing Judaism will be able to feel the impact on Rabbi Sandra’s leadership at a personal and institutional level.

According to a survey of program alumni,  98 percent of fellows report taking what they learned in the Fellowship back to their organizations and 92 percent report dealing more effectively with leadership challenges.  

Lawson sounded a note of gratitude that Schusterman Family Philanthropies, one of the largest and most impactful private Jewish philanthropies, had chosen to invest time and resources into her development. Lawson expects to spend some of the time learning more about fundraising and management.

“This really sends a message that they are investing in leaders of color,” said Lawson” The future of the Jewish community is less white and more brown. The Jewish people need a lot of leaders who can think outside of the box.”

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