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Reconstructing Judaism Commitments to Racial Justice

The following commitments were drafted by the Jews of Color and Allies Advisory Group and approved by the Board of Governors of Reconstructing Judaism on June 13, 2021

During the last year, the United States has grappled with the racism that has plagued this nation for centuries and caused unimaginable suffering to Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (“BIPOC people”). The legacy of American slavery, Jim Crow and other racist laws and policies can still be seen and felt today. Racism corrupts practically all aspects of our society, including education, access to jobs and health care, housing, voting and economic advancement.

We have witnessed the horror, through phone video and other undeniable evidence, of the police and other state actors as well as ordinary citizens cravenly murdering, beating, harassing and abusing BIPOC people without many, if any, consequences. We have seen the hyper-surveillance and the double-standard constantly suffered by BIPOC people. We have also reflected upon the systemic and institutional racism that operates insidiously, without video or other evidence of clear bias, to exclude BIPOC people and other racially marginalized people.

Reconstructing Judaism wants to be part of the repair, dialogue, fellowship and relationship with BIPOC Jews and communities of color that are essential to a more just future. As Jews, we have the obligation to stand against injustice and also to reflect upon our own relationship to American racism.

Fighting against racism, within and without our communities, is a priority for Reconstructing Judaism and is a natural extension of our Jewish values. The Torah’s very first and most central description of human beings is that we are created b’tzelem Elohim – equally and uniquely in the image of Gd. This theology was radical in its time and remains radical today, despite the profound truth and simplicity of this claim. Black Lives Matter. The lives of our BIPOC neighbors and fellow Jews of Color matter.  It is our obligation to do the holy work of racial justice so that the full humanity of all people within the influence of our communities may flourish and be fully honored.

Jewish communities are not exempt from having benefited from systemic racism or from racial bias. We have the obligation to build the Jewish communities that we want to live in. As Jews and Reconstructionists, we cannot act in a manner that creates barriers to inclusion, and if we have done so out of ignorance or malice or even indifference we have a moral and religious obligation not just to remove those barriers, but to build pathways that lead to inclusion, empowerment and leadership of BIPOC Jews within the Reconstructionist Movement and for BIPOC people within our society at large.

In looking at ourselves critically, we want to both acknowledge the presence and contributions of Jews of Color over time and to begin to remedy their relative omission from our histories, rituals, cultural expressions and concerns. BIPOC Jews should be part of our leadership and our board, our staff, our rabbis and rabbinical students, our lay leaders and congregants. They should be welcomed and supported within Reconstructing Judaism and every one of  our Reconstructionist communities. The peoplehood and civilization that we, as Reconstructionists, so value has never been and is not now homogenous. We want to acknowledge and embrace the full, beautiful expanse of the Jewish people. We understand that for real inclusion and evolution to happen it is not sufficient that we engage in symbolic action.

In that regard, we have made the following commitments to be accomplished within the course of the next five years:

  1. Racially diversifying the Reconstructionist movement
    • Prioritizing representation of Jews of Color and other BIPOC people in staff and leadership.
    • Following the lead of Jews of Color and other BIPOC people in our racial justice work by deliberately seeking out the opinions of a range of voices of people directly impacted by racism.
    • Continuing to support the Director of Racial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as an integral an essential part of Reconstructing Judaism.
    • Requiring anti-racism training of all our employees, volunteers and governors, and encouraging our Reconstructionist communities to also educate rabbis and congregants to build awareness of the presence of BIPOC Jews within our communities and unconscious, systemic and institutional racism and other forms of discrimination within and without the Jewish community.
    • Ensuring that all our staff, board governors, members of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and other projects of Reconstructing Judaism know the policies for addressing racism and other forms of discrimination, including for reporting violations of our non-discrimination policies.
    • Facilitating the participation and leadership of BIPOC people at all levels of Reconstructing Judaism and our communities. We will communicate to all supervisors and others in leadership through documents such as this one the imperative need to support and further the development of BIPOC employees and other BIPOC members of Reconstructing Judaism and its communities.
    • Examining salary structures so that we provide fair compensation to all employees, including BIPOC employees.
       
  2. Diversifying the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
    • Finding approaches to support our BIPOC students, including through financial aid as may be needed.
    • Supporting BIPOC students in the course of their studies as well as in their searches for internships and employment, which can be of particular challenge to BIPOC rabbis and rabbinical students. We will continue to work in partnership with BIPOC students to determine other forms of support and advocacy that they need, beyond financial aid, including increased resources for emotional support.
    • Reconstructing Judaism will use alternatives to policing before voluntarily involving police in any matter at 1299 Church Road.1
    • Because we will sometimes need to work with the police, we will continue to work with the Cheltenham police department so that any necessary police presence at our facility does not result in unfair exclusion or aggression toward BIPOC people.
    • We will make time and space for substantive, values-based conversations with an anti-racism lens amongst students, faculty and staff about safety and policing at 1299 Church Road. We expect more specific policy and practices for our building and its occupants to come out of this robust learning and dialogue.
    • We will evaluate and enact measures to address harassment or other incidents of hostility involving BIPOC people (through anti-bias trainings, refraining from using police whenever possible, and other measures).
    • We will continue to seek racial diversity in our student body, our rabbinical college leadership and our rabbis.
    • Make racial diversity a priority in the hiring of new faculty and staff. Whenever we make a hire, we will work to attract a pool of racially diverse candidates and work with additional consultants as needed at the discretion of the Director for Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
    • Educate our student population and teaching staff and leadership about racism, both interpersonal and systemic.
    • Devote the necessary resources to expand the canon of courses and source materials that reflect the racial diversity within our Jewish community.
       
  3. Developing improved platforms for communicating and working together, including with affiliates, in anti-racist efforts
    • Continuing to expand our communication platforms in order to be better able to communicate internally and with our Reconstructionist communities, as well as to present to the external community a more cohesive and easy-to-use presentation of our resources.  Better internet and communication platforms will expand the reach of our anti-racist efforts as well as improve the ability of different congregations, individuals and other institutions within the Reconstructionist Movement to communicate with each other about anti-racist projects and initiatives.
    • Reserving time at major meetings of the Reconstructionist Movement to discuss issues relating to racial equity and to BIPOC Jews. We will also encourage our affiliates to raise consciousness of racial oppression/injustice and devote resources to anti-racist work.
       
  4. Through Ritualwell, continuing to incorporate liturgy and other learning that reflects the full diversity of the Jewish people
    • Fostering an expanded textual canon and liturgy that is representative of the racial diversity of the Jewish community, including BIPOC Jews, Latino Jews, and Mizrahi Jews. 
    •  As possible, publishing translations of prayers and liturgy in Spanish and other languages, such as Ladino.
    • Reaching out to JOC organizations to learn about their needs and discuss possible collaborations to encourage JOC to submit content to Ritualwell, to teach for Ritualwell, and to participate in our community. 
       
  5. Through Evolve, continuing to include race as a vital issue for the movement and continuing to seek to humanize and contextualize racial justice issues within the Jewish community through articles and on-air conversations that reflect the history and experiences of Jews of Color or racially marginalized Jews
     
  6. Primarily through Havaya Summer Programs, continuing to work to address the needs and experiences of Jews of Color or racially marginalized Jewish children
     
  7. Seeking funding and providing ongoing resources for anti-racist initiatives, including: community building; programming; research and academic scholarship; financial support for Jews of Color or racially marginalized rabbinical students and other efforts
    • Making a priority of actively seeking funding for all aspects of anti-racist work.
    • Continuing to seek scholarship money that can support the education and placement of rabbinical students of color.
    • Continuing to seek funding to create written materials in both English and Spanish that can be distributed to Reconstructionist communities and their congregants for Spanish-speaking members of our communities.
       
  8. Seeking greater cooperation among Reconstructionist communities in anti-racist efforts and in improving awareness about BIPOC Jews and their traditions and concerns
    • Striving to make study materials available to Reconstructionists and our communities about Jewish religion and history that can start to fill in the gaps in our understanding of the Jewish people in all their diversity.
    • Providing educational materials and training for rabbis regarding the issues affecting BIPOC Jews.
       
  9. Preparing a survey of our members and participants so that we can learn who comprises our communities and better understand their needs as well as to develop strategies and plans relating to racial justice in our communities
     
  10. Reviewing our policies in order to clarify, adapt and change policies that could have a disparate adverse impact on BIPOC Jews or perpetuate systemic racism
    • Re-examining our policies in the light of the need for inclusion, with the recognition that they were drafted to be race-neutral and to reflect our values.
    • Examining key policies to address change and precision in those that may have an unintended impact of BIPOC Jews.
    • Reviewing our policies on various aspects of religious belonging and life in order to change and adapt those that give rise to systemic and institutional racism or have disparate impacts on BIPOC Jews as compared to similarly situated white Jews.
       
  11. Submitting to an annual review and audit by the Jews Of Color And Allies Advisory Group and providing all necessary resources and support for such an audit to occur
  • 1. The building that houses Reconstructing Judaism staff, RRC students and faculty, and Camp Havaya staff.

The Reconstructionist Network