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April 24, 2018 by

The Second National Jews of Color Convening: Building a JOC Leadership Corps

Once upon a time—maybe when many of us were growing up—Jewish leadership was overwhelmingly male. And almost entirely white. Well, the times they have a’ changed, at least somewhat. Increasingly women, all the while battling issues of pay equity, sexual harassment and more, have come into their own as communal leaders, taking their places as rabbis, authors, politicians, non-profit directors, business executives and more. Women have changed not only the face, but also the heart of the Jewish community for the better. When it comes to gender balance, there has been progress even as parity remains elusive.

Then there is that troubling matter of racial representation. Despite the growing recognition of the presence of African American, Asian, Latino, Mizrachi, and other Jews of Color (JOC), and the increasing visibility of a handful of Jewish leaders of color (mostly women), the leadership ranks of Jewish institutions do not reflect the diversity of the community.

Yes, there are some stand-out exceptions. The #ShareHerStory Purim campaign, a collaboration between Repair the World, Jewish Women’s Archive and Jewish Multiracial Network, brought national attention to the contributions of nine extraordinary Women of Color who are leaders in the Jewish community. But where are the rest of us? How much talent is being underdeveloped, disregarded, or lost as our sisters and brothers decide that there is no place for Jews of Color in Jewish communities and so they disengage?

The Jewish Multiracial Network (JMN) is actively combating that deficit, that attrition, by hosting the 2nd Jews of Color Convening: Building a JOC Leadership Corps (JOCC), generously sponsored by the Jews of Color Field Building Grant.

jocc imageThe 2nd JOCC emerged as the logical outcome of the 1st JOCC, which was held in May 2016 in New York City. There, JMN and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) teamed up to create an ingathering of Jews of Color. The expectation was that Jews of Color on the East Coast would meet, and we anticipated a modest crowd of about 40-50. The attendance tripled that estimate. Participants came from all across the United States: Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee and New Orleans in addition to the entire eastern seaboard. A few hailed from Montreal and one person diverted her travels from Australia to attend.

Over a span of three days, the group of mostly strangers felt more like family. And like any good family, laughter and tears were punctuated by discussions, debates and dreams for of the future. That future included:

1) More opportunities for JOC to experience community, and
2) Ways to have our experiences as JOC reflected in the broader Jewish community as a whole.

Two years later, the need for the type of community building provided by the JOCC is more urgent than ever. The election of Donald Trump, following a campaign built on religious resentment, race baiting and immigrant bashing, has created a toxic political climate. In addition to an administration which seems, at best, unconcerned about ethnic discrimination and emboldened white nationalist groups, a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes and outbursts of anti-Semitism on both the political right and the left have sent shudders of anxiety coursing through much of the Jewish community. Minorities of all backgrounds feel especially vulnerable.

Many Jews are facing hard questions:

  • How does the Jewish community play a meaningful role in achieving racial, gender and economic justice?
  • How do we address both gender bias and racial cleavages in the broader society as well as inequities within our own community?
  • How do we best respond to anti-Jewish prejudice when it comes from would-be-foe or would-be-friend?
  • And how can a more inclusive Jewish community, fully empowering Jewish women and men of color, better embody timeless Jewish values and timely Jewish action?

The 2nd JOCC means to wrestle with those questions. This convening, which will take place from June 17-20, 2018 at the Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camps in Upstate New York (Copake), is the first of its kind to gather Jews of Color from across the United States specifically to provide workshop intensives that assist:

  1. JOCs who want to start businesses (profit or non-profit) addressing a need in the Jewish community,
  2. JOCs who wish to strategize for successful careers in Jewish non-profits, and
  3. JOCs who wish to make a lasting JOC mark on Jewish communal ritual practices.

JMN has ceased to simply dream of a future where all Jews, regardless of race, gender or background, are fully represented in the leadership of K’lal Israel. Instead, we continue to take decisive action to make that dream a reality. The 2nd JOCC is an opportunity for Jews of Color to take our rightful place among the next generation of American Jewish leaders.

If you are a Jew of Color, or a parent or spouse of a Jew of Color, JMN warmly invites you to attend the 2nd JOCC. Registration is open. For further information, contact JMN on Facebook @2ndNatJOCC or email 2ndNatJOCC@JewishMultiracialNetwork.org.


Tamara Fish is the president of the Jewish Multiracial Network. Eric Greene is a board member.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.