In recent months, the country has erupted with marches, rallies, and social media outcry around the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many other innocent Black men, women, and children. Following the uproar, like so many other faith communities, the Jewish community committed anew to making antiracism a priority. But Jewish allies needed guidance—in the form of diversity training—to learn how to actively engage in conversations about race, ethnicity, and identity, and so much more.
Enter Be’chol Lashon, an organization that has been engaged in racial justice work within the Jewish community for two decades. Committed to tackling difficult conversations about race and justice both within and outside of the Jewish community, Be’chol Lashon’s platform has understandably been elevated in recent months.
Following the death of George Floyd, the organization released a statement acknowledging both the pain of America’s broader Black community as well as the specific pain of Black Jews. The Be’chol Lashon team was particularly concerned about making sure that Black people within the Jewish community were seen and heard and supported.
“We have to make it clear and make it a priority to celebrate all of the identities that exist within the Jewish community as well as recognize when parts of our community are in pain,” said Lindsey Newman, the Director of Community Engagement for the organization and herself a Jew of color.
“When parts of our community need love and support—and in this moment, Black people and Black Jews need both—we see that as very central to our mission,” Newman said. “The Black community is not separate from the Jewish community, but rather, it is intertwined through the intersections of all Black, Jewish identities.”
As Jewish teens of color, we can speak to issues of identity. Throughout our lives, mainstream Jewish spaces often made us feel like exceptions to an “all Jews are white” rule instead of including us in the definition of who is a Jew and what that person looks like. Jewish American spaces must be inclusive of Jews of color. This means abolishing phrases like “well you’re Jewish, you’re not really Asian,” a sentiment that so often follows a racist comment.
Both Newman and Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, the Educator Director and Rabbi-in-Residence at Be’chol Lashon, speak frequently about how essential it is that the Jewish community celebrate and recognize diversity not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is integral to the Jewish people and our survival.
We have heard phrases like “so…were you adopted?” too many times. We have been quizzed by our doubting peers to “name one Jewish holiday.” We are consistently asked to prove our Judaism—as if our color disproves it.
With this lack of awareness in mind, Be’chol Lashon created a program called “Passport to Peoplehood,” a curriculum-based initiative that aims to further their mission to celebrate Jewish diversity in all Jewish spaces, by helping Jewish organizations understand, include, and celebrate diversity through the lens of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. The organization received a Covenant Foundation Signature Grant to fund the program in 2018.
“We need to approach this kind of learning as a long-term problem, not as a ‘one and done,’” said Abusch-Magder. “Racism will not change by hosting one program. It requires a shifting of culture and society.”
Part of that shifting requires that, as a community, we accept that the task of transformation is not up to Jews of color alone. This can be difficult to contemplate but, as Newman attests, “Often there’s a learning curve of being comfortable with discomfort.”
For those of us who care deeply about our Jewishness, it is confusing and frustrating to frequently feel excluded and apart from our Jewish communities. These are places where we should always feel comfortable and supported and whole. Being Jewish is only one slice of our identities, and it is important that the Jewish community celebrates the many other identities that make us the people we are today.
We cannot exclude the marginalized groups that are not reflected in our mirrors. We must include everyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We need to fight for each other because in our nuanced world, we know that every identity has a place in the global Jewish community. Supporting Jews means supporting all of us.
By Naomi Kitchen and Makeda Zabot-Hall, for The Covenant Foundation
Naomi Kitchen is a high school senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two years ago, she attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel for two months. She attended Jewish day school until eighth grade and then attended an intercity public high school. A hockey player and participant in many school organizations, she also attends Hebrew and Judaism classes each week. She is passionate about her local community, traveling and exploring different cultures, Israel, and fighting human and sex trafficking.
Makeda Zabot-Hall is a freshman at Brandeis University. In past summers, she traveled to Israel and Jamaica where she had the opportunity to experience both sides of her roots. These experiences helped her understand more about her family and background, and connected her more with Judaism and her Jamaican roots. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with my family, traveling, and writing poetry and nonfiction.
“Education holds the key to changing the world and making it better. For education to achieve all that it can, we must have teachers who believe in the moral, ethical, Jewish ideas we teach and who are committed to inspiring their students”
—Rabbi David Eliach, A Covenant of Dreams: Realizing the Promise of Jewish Education, 2009
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project