Tag : diversity

October 23, 2020 by

Can Good Things Possibly Emerge from 2020?

In real life, I’m not a Pollyanna personality. My eye goes to what needs to be fixed rather than seeing first what’s already shiny and bright. A misplaced modifier or coffee mug calls me quickly into critique mode.

But these past eight months, soon rounding into a year, have not felt like real life. And so, out of character, I find myself meta-phorically squinting to discern what few good things seem to be emerging from behind the dark clouds of this pandemic, with its grim losses and its miseries.

A few potentially positive developments are surfacing from our generally unwelcome experiences, and I note them while also recognizing my privileged perspective as a woman with health insurance, an adequate pantry, and fairly reliable internet with which to do my work and connect, gratefully, with family and friends.

The first change that struck me was that The New York Times, that daily arbiter of our reality, is reviewing unprecedented numbers of books and art by people of color, especially women of color. Perhaps the impetus is to right a wrong, correct an oversight. With so little to review in the performing arts––no live concerts, no Broadway––there’s room to open the arts coverage lens wider than usual.

Of course there’s more. Horrific hunger is becoming more widespread, even in lands of plenty. And everywhere, an acknowledgement of scarcity—both of funds and of access––from fridge- foraging posts on social media to shortages of canned goods. One consequence is that during the pandemic the upscale restaurants likely to have warranted publicity are now off-limits, and even the august New Yorker magazine has had to pivot its spotlight from indoor fancy dining to small-scale take-out joints, frozen foods you can make at home and local places feeding their neighbors that might have escaped notice in a more conventional time.

These may seem like small shifts relative to the vast problem of global hunger, but they suggest that a certain democratization is at work. Perhaps this small seed will grow into greater awareness of what’s really important, with empathy shaping food policy.

Another unintended, unexpected outcome from the pandemic’s necessities is less quantifiable, but this one holds lessons too: we have been forced to reimagine not only our mourning rituals (Zoom shivas, recorded funerals and eulogies) but also our simchas, those celebrations of life’s happy landmarks. People are finding ways to seize joy by all available handholds. The bat and bar mitzvah ceremony for a family’s twins, originally planned as a multi-generational tour of Israel, instead evolved as a masked outdoor service, the 13-year-olds prepared by their grandfather, in a service led by a great-uncle, with the few close relatives,

socially distanced, smiling together in a sunny backyard. The direct
involvement of the older generations, this family reports, brought
an unexpected resonance that would have been missing in a more standard-issue event. Or the decision made by an engaged couple to advance their elaborate wedding, scheduled a year from now, replacing it with a small outdoor chuppah ceremony this fall. Judging from the jubilant photos, no one’s happiness was diminished (except perhaps the caterer’s). The bride and groom could share their joy in the present rather than waiting a year through who-knows-what-uncertainties of health and fortune.

Look, these are not universally cheering panaceas, or anodynes for painful, significant losses—of loved ones, of jobs, of the chance to be with people we care about. But these glimmers of good news are reminders that we have points of connection available to us still, and that simplicity, born of necessity, brings its own pleasures and poignancy. They also remind us of the enduring ability to adapt to adversity.

For me, the enforced isolations bring both gain and pain. As an editor working remotely, with concentrated time to write and to process a complete, uninterrupted thought? A plus, mostly. But having to communicate via email or text when I’m accustomed

What good things can possibly emerge from our present circumstances?
to the pace of immediate, lively conversations in person? With people I’m accustomed to seeing in real life in Lilith’s office? Not very satisfying.

In a singular way, though, the pandemic has provided gradual easing into an anticipated change that would have been far more unsettling were it to have happened in Before Times: Naomi Danis, Lilith’s longtime managing editor, plans to retire at the end of 2020 to write more of her wonderful, perceptive children’s books. The pandemic’s work-from-home routine has become an accidental dress rehearsal for the separation when, after 30 years, Naomi will no longer appear under “staff ” on the masthead, although we look forward to keeping her close as a contributing editor. In addition to her tireless and creative work ensuring that Lilith’s humans and systems work smoothly, Naomi has modeled how to ask hard questions and how to smooth ruffled feathers. Rabbi Susan Schnur, Lilith former senior editor, once wrote that the women at Lilith operate “like teabags in a single pot,” steeped in one another’s quotidian lives. But beyond that steeping is Naomi’s own particular skill in honoring differing opinions while holding steady to the course of her own moral, Jewish, feminist, writerly compass.

I’m spurred to paraphrase Arlene Agus: May our dreams become our blessings in the year ahead.

Susan Weidman Schneider Editor in Chief susanws@lilith.org

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

July 27, 2020 by

White Allies Need to Step Up. Now.

YAVILAH MCCOY is the CEO of DIMENSIONS Inc. in Boston. She has spent the past 20 years working in multi-faith communities and partnering with the Jewish community to engage issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

When the pandemic hit and our national shut-down began, I lost my previously healthy mother to “undetermined” causes in a rural North Carolina hospital. In late March, I flew on an empty plane to arrange a Jewish burial for her within 24 hours. I arrived in an Orthodox Jewish community that was spinning with the impact of rising death tolls, all while being prohibited from observing the usual Jewish rituals for burial. I also arrived at a hospital in the Black southern community where my mother lived and encountered doctors and nurses working without protective gear, without the capacity for testing and without any expectation that resources would be coming soon.

My assistant, who lives in Boston, found herself traveling to Michigan, one of the hardest hit communities of color in the country, to be a health advocate for her sister. Her sister had to be flown to a secondary hospital outside of Detroit in order to receive treatment and be placed on a ventilator while she battled Covid-19.

One of our project directors, who lives in a majority Black community in Washington, D.C., relocated to her father’s home in Connecticut because she and her wife had just given birth to a newborn and found themselves living in a community where one thousand cases of Covid-19 were reported in their neighborhood alone. Another of our project directors, ended up sheltering in place with her college-aged daughter and elderly mother in Oakland, terrified of what might happen to her family if they became ill with the limited options they currently have for healthcare.

As the CEO of a majority Jewish women of color and people of color led organization, I continue to learn how essential our work to expand racial equity in the world around us is to our very survival.

Among the communities of Jews of Color and people of color that Dimensions offers direct-service to, we encountered hourly wage earners who have been or are worried about being laid off. We encountered leaders who work in education and healthcare and who have been deemed “essential” to the American economy, but have not received adequate protections or a living wage. As areas of the country began to open, we have all felt the impact of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the disparate reality that as people across the country are now venturing outdoors, many people of color cannot do so without fear of being killed. As protests spread across the country, our people are holding the overwhelming disparity and emotional labor of needing to care for and protect our health and bodies from a deadly virus while also needing to protect our health and bodies from policing systems and systemic racism in America that is just as deadly and killing us rapidly.

During this time, a veil has been lifted, revealing just how commoditized and expendable the bodies of women of color are in a racialized system.

From my White Jewish colleagues, I have been heartened to hear acknowledgement of the depth of loss and strain across our institutions, along with the privileges that many of us have benefitted from.

When we speak of systemic inequality, this is what we mean: Many have enjoyed the ability to leave urban cities and shelter in second homes, while others continued to live in packed urban dwellings, traveling on subways and buses to keep our jobs at Whole Foods, Home Depot and Target. Many of us had the access and resources to restock our fridges in single trips to the grocery store while others worried about whether our paychecks would stretch to the next time stores would carry basic supplies like milk, flour, canned goods and toilet paper.

Many of us have been harried, sequestered from our regular routines—while others worry that the disruption to our hard-earned stability might lead to homelessness. Many have been challenged by having to live in close quarters, for extended periods of time, with parents, children, partners and family while not considering that for many people of color, domestically and globally, sharing living space with parents, grandparents and children has been their only option.

Additionally, many of us did not have to worry about having family members in the mass incarceration system who are not only living in close quarters with others who are sick, but facing life and death conditions in our prisons.

Some have bemoaned having to provide services to ourselves like haircuts and home-cleaning, while others have to risk our health and safety daily by continuing to drive for Uber and Amazon, work in restaurants, and operate as tellers, cashiers, nannies because the alternative would be losing jobs that we cannot live without.

I find myself wondering how many of my White colleagues and neighbors are still paying the hourly workers, many of whom are people of color, that have regularly taken care of their children, homes and businesses while all are sheltering in place? I find myself wondering why mostly immigrant cashiers of color have replaced all the white cashiers at my local grocery store, and whether their employment will last once safety conditions improve.

I wonder who is calculating all the dollars that they have not spent on gas, transportation, coffees, haircuts, and pedicures while sheltering in place—and who has made a commitment to gift this saved amount to essential workers of color and those on the margins who have become economically insecure during this crisis?

As JOC staff at Dimensions, we are women of color who have been listening to discussions among our Jewish colleagues about the stress of managing boards and programs and keeping staff engaged under virtual conditions. We have been sounding boards for people’s fears about returning staff, retaining staff, saving JCC s and Jewish camps and getting back to “normal” post re-opening. What we have experienced less of are crucial discussions to our survival regarding how we as a Jewish institutional community are addressing and will continue to address glaring disparities in the impact of Covid-19 across race and class differences among Jews. As Jewish professionals within Dimensions, we are Jews, and we are women and we are also people in gender non-binary Black and Brown bodies who are triply targeted by persistent inequities within our systems that target us daily and threaten our existence. As our community continues to consider good shifts in practice that we can adopt in the wake of the pandemic, we at Dimensions are wondering who will join us in addressing the impacts of racial injustice and inequality on Jews of Color?

The good news is that Dimensions is already working with Jews of Color and allies to develop resourceful, empowering and resilience-based programs that have the power, through direct service, to support JOC in saving their own lives within a system that has consistently left them behind.

We hope that what will change as we navigate forward through the next stage of this pandemic will be the number of partners in Jewish spaces who see our liberation as their liberation and who will work with us to deepen opportunities for wellness and greater equity for all.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

January 10, 2019 by

Jews of Color Field Building Initiative •

“U.S.-based Jewish racial diversity is not a dilemma or a challenge to be solved. It’s simply a fact,” writes Ilana Kaufman, a community relations professional in Berkeley. “The challenge to be solved is how to successfully build the bridges, pathways and highways needed to…connect together the diversity of our community.”

The Fund for Jews of Color Field Building has already given grants to projects such as Bend the Arc, Dimensions, Jews in All Hues, The Jewish Multiracial Network and JewV’Nation Fellowship Jews of Color Cohort. Read more about the founding of this project in Ilana Kaufman’s blog. jimjosephfoundation.org/news-blogs/building-field-jews-color

Continue Reading

  • No Comments