How to Build Connections and Leadership in the Jewish Community

Inside Leadership

How to Build Connections and Leadership in the Jewish Community

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As I look back on my journey to my role as the vice president of audacious hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), I see many places where my experience mirrors that of other Jews. I found a home in a synagogue with my family, my parents and Jewish community advocated only for the best for me, fully encouraging my questions, my activism, and my involvement. When I stood on the bimah for my bat mitzvah, I brought my heritage as a Jew and as a Black, multi-racial woman to my interpretation of Torah, and I continue to do so today.

But I’ve also discovered that my experience as a Jew of color is somewhat of an anomaly. Not everyone who looks like me found a home in a synagogue, or a seat at the table in Jewish communal life. I found encouragement and community at temple, in NFTY, at camp (shout out to URJ Camp Newman!), and today, I am compelled to help pave the way for the Jews of color behind me, paying forward what a few visionary leaders did for me. After all, Jews of color account for 10-20% of the Jewish community, and that’s a lot of talent we should be tapping!

That’s where the URJ’s JewV’Nation Fellowship comes in.

A leadership development program for visionary Jews across North America, the current 2017 cohort of fellows has reached more than 1,000 individuals – and the number continues to grow – through innovative projects, designed to inspire Jews from interfaith families who aren’t affiliated or engaged within the Jewish community. The fellows are leveraging the fullness of their identities and talents, helping people connect to Jewish life, and, as a result, enriching us all. Their energy and success prompted us to think big for 2018: Whose leadership can we highlight in our next cohort?

The 2018 JewV’Nation Jews of Color Leadership Cohort is a nine-month fellowship that will support up to 16 Jewish leaders of color through professional development, networking opportunities, and collaborating on one or more cohort-directed projects that build the field for Jewish leaders of color in the Reform Movement and beyond.

This ambitious program that focuses on Jews of color is part of a decade-long continuum that began in 2008, when Jewish community programming led by and including Jews of color was noticeably lacking. I was working full-time and preparing to move, so my time and financial resources were limited, but I knew, even back then, that I wanted to sustain the energy of Jews of color who were looking for connections and leadership in the Jewish community.

I launched Jews of Color United, a social networking group on Facebook, and appointed a few Jews of color with extensive leadership experience as group officers. Among them was Chava Shervington, who became my close partner in the project. We hosted successful events in New York City and Washington, D.C., not only engaging Jews of color, but also reigniting among them a feeling of connection, community, and empowerment. Through this initiative, we also dispelled the common sentiment that New York’s Jewish community was “over-saturated.”

Oversaturated for whom? It certainly hadn’t been so for Jews of color – and it still is not, for thousands of Jews who don’t feel any meaningful connection to Jewish communal life. We quickly learned that there was a clear need for our forum – and with financial and institutional support, we could have reached thousands.

The JewV’Nation Fellowship is an extension of that work and that dream, providing both financial and institutional support for projects that creatively address unmet or underserved needs. It is fully supported by the URJ  in partnership with the Leichtag Foundation, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, and a generous donor through the Jewish Funders Network.

Together, the newest cohort of JewV’Nation fellows, guided by experienced mentors and community leaders, will incubate innovative Jewish community-building projects, strengthening and enriching the field for Jewish leaders of color – within the Reform Movement and beyond, today and into the future.

As Audacious Hospitality continues to develop and expand, we will honor, celebrate, and value the full diversity, lifestyles, stories, and perspectives of all Jewish individuals and families – particularly those that are consistently underrepresented – to create a stronger, more vibrant community for all.

Visit urj.org/jewvnation to learn more about the JewV’Nation Fellowship, nominate an inspiring leader, or apply to join the 2018 cohort. The application deadline is January 5, 2018.

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April Baskin, a longtime advocate for Jewish diversity and inclusion, is a graduate of Tufts University, a member of the Selah Leadership Network, and an alumna of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation's Insight Fellowship and Jews United for Justice's Jeremiah Fellowship in Washington, D.C. She most recently served as the vice president of Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism. In addition, she previously served as the national director of resources and training at InterfaithFamily.com and president of the Jewish Multiracial Network.

 

April Baskin
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