URJ Invests in Jews of Color Leadership Development

Union for Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation Fellowship Cultivates Jewish Leaders of Color


Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154

New York, NY; March 7, 2018 - To diversify and strengthen the leadership of Reform Jewish communities throughout North America, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is investing in 16 individuals as participants in the JewV’Nation (pronounced “juvenation”) Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. This program will increase opportunities for Reform Jewish communities to benefit from the leadership of Jews of Color.

The 2018 fellows will work to design, create, and implement impactful programs that are inclusive and intentional about Jewish diversity, and the richness and depth that Judaism offers. URJ resources, executive leaders, and support strategies will bring the best ideas to life. These programs will be created with congregations, communities, and groups in mind.

Eleven percent of Jews in the United States are Jews of Color, according to Brandeis University's Steinhardt Social Research Institute. That number increases to 20% when including all Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews. Furthermore, recent demographic studies, including the one recently conducted in San Francisco, tell us that Jewish multiracial households comprise 25% of the Jewish population in major metropolitan areas.

The fellows bring a deep and broad level of experience as congregational professionals, educators, board members, alumni of URJ camps and programs, and leaders across Jewish communal life.

The JewV'Nation Fellowship is led by April Baskin, URJ's Vice President of Audacious Hospitality, who was named a "Faith Leader to Watch" by the Center for American Progress.

Launched in 2017, the JewV'Nation Fellowship is a leadership development program and project incubator. In its first year, the fellowship's projects focused on creative interfaith outreach initiatives, engaging more than 1,200 people in the work of becoming a more broadly diverse and aware Jewish community.

"As the URJ nurtures the continued professional development of the JewV'Nation fellows, their leadership and vision will inspire the creation of communities that fully reflect the reality of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic Jewish community," said Baskin. "We are excited to see what projects this exceptional cohort develops. These exciting collaborations will help us work toward a fully inclusive Jewish future, as well as a world of wholeness, justice, and compassion."

Kicking off in March, the fellows will engage in nine months of cutting-edge seminars focusing on identity enrichment, professional and leadership development, Jewish learning, movement-building, mentorship, risk-taking, and project work.

The 2018 fellows were selected from a committed, passionate, highly-qualified applicant pool representing diversity in age, language, race, ethnicity, profession, location, and sexual orientation. There was a 50% increase in the number of applicants over the fellowship's first year.

By cultivating fellowship participants as emerging Reform Movement leaders, the URJ is developing another pipeline - like NFTY and the L'Taken Social Justice Seminars - for future HUC-JIR students and staff within the URJ's network of camps, communities, and congregations.

As part of URJ's 2020 Vision, Audacious Hospitality is a transformative spiritual practice rooted in the belief that we will be a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community when we fully welcome and incorporate the diversity that is the reality of modern Jewish life. The JewV'Nation Fellowship is grounded in the six Jewish values that represent Audacious Hospitality's guiding principles, including honor (kavod), watchfulness (zehirut), and open tent (ohel patuach).

The JewV'Nation Fellowship is supported in part by a Jewish Funders Network front from Avenues to Jewish Engagement for Intermarried Couples and their Families, in honor of Genesis Prize Laureate Michael Douglas. This specific cohort is also made possible by a generous grant through the Fund for Jews of Color Field Building.

The 2018 URJ JewV'Nation Fellows are:

Jordan Berg Powers Jordan Berg Powers is the Executive Director of Mass Alliance, where he previously served as Deputy Director of Mass Alliance. In his seven years there, he has helped elect new progressive leaders across the state, recruited progressive champions to run for political office, and trained hundreds of grassroots organizers. In 2015, Jordan was recognized for exceptional work in politics as an inaugural inductee into the 40 under 40 Poly Award. Using his expertise in talking to ordinary voters about progressive policy, Jordan is active in campaigns for saving public education, as well as promoting gender equality and a more progressive tax system for the Commonwealth. He conducts trainings across the state on campaign strategy and management, candidate recruitment, progressive messaging, and women in politics. Jordan's career in politics began when, as a 13-year-old, he was hired to knock on doors for a congressional campaign. Since then, he has worked on several congressional races, on Capitol Hill, and for a national polling firm. Jordan holds a master's degree in international politics from the London School of Oriental and African Studies and two bachelor's degrees, one in international development and one in economics, both from American University.
Alexandra Corwin Alexandra Corwin is a teacher, school leader, and community organizer who enjoys shaping Jewish education for children that overlaps with the arts, labor rights, anti-racism, feminism, and environmental stewardship at Chicago Workmen's Circle. As a Chicago YIVO board member, Alexandra is passionate about spreading the love and beauty of Yiddish to young adults. A graduate of DePaul University with a B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies and African Black Diaspora Studies and an alumna of Teach for America, she enjoys learning new recipes for vegan pies, writing poetry, and making dinosaur hair pins.
Gina Drangel Gina Drangel was raised in Queens, New York. She is a Senior Accountant/Assistant Payroll Manager for Empire State Development Corporation. She holds a master's degree in vocal music performance from The Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and has performed professionally throughout the New York City area. She is an active member of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in Forest Hills, NY, where she enjoys singing in the adult choir and is a member of the board of trustees. She is looking forward to becoming an adult Bat Mitzvah in April of 2018.
Christopher Harrison Christopher Harrison is a driven and passionate new convert to Judaism. A lifelong Midwesterner, Chris graduated from Miami University (Ohio) with a B.A. in creative writing. He has a passion for using written and verbal communication as a tool to enlighten, entertain, and inspire others. His interests include Jewish studies (of course), reviewing movies, pursuing social justice initiatives, practicing yoga, and cooking. Chris currently does administrative and communications work with ITC Holdings, and is an active member of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield, MI and Congregation T'Chiyah in Oak Park, MI, the two congregations he calls home.
Robin Harrison Robin Harrison was born in Compton, California, and is the father of two daughters, and husband to Mulu, his wife of 29 years. He graduated with a B.A. in theatre arts from CSU Dominguez Hills. Robin currently works as a schoolteacher and continues to seek ways to lead or influence future generations. He is active in his congregation, which he considers his second home.
Bryant Heinzelman Bryant Heinzelman is a veteran of the U.S. Army, a graduate of The Military Intelligence College NTTC Corry Station, near Pensacola, FL, and spent eight years as an intelligence analyst touring Europe, Florida, Washington, D.C., and the Middle East. While serving in Iraq, Bryant saw how lack of empathy and distrust of the "stranger" can have a devastating effect on a community. A bluegrass and country singer hobbyist from Tennessee with aspirations to attend rabbinical school, he believes wholeheartedly that to live as a Jew of Color is to live with the inherited memory of slavery, Jim Crow, and an endless fight toward freedom.
Everlyn A Hunter Everlyn A. Hunter was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and immigrated to the United States at age 14. She has lived on both coasts of the United States and on the west coast of Canada. Professionally, Everlyn has practiced as a psychologist in public education settings and as a writer and filmmaker. Her education includes undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees, as well as fellowships from major U.S. universities, and a stint in film school in Canada. Everlyn has held leadership positions on the board of directors of several national and local nonprofit organizations. She currently serves on the board of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, CA, the world's first and oldest LGBTQ synagogue.
Rebecca Jaye Rebecca Jaye is a first-year rabbinic student from Brooklyn, New York. She completed her B.A. in American studies and creative non-fiction writing at Yale College. After working as a Yale-China Association Teaching Fellow in Zhuhai, China, for two years, she continued her studies at Yale Divinity School, where she completed an M.A. in religion, focusing her studies on interfaith dialogue and Sephardic Jewry. Aside from her studies, Becky enjoys traveling to new places and listening to stories told by her grandparents, Lee and Barb.
Destiny Karash Givens Destiny Karash-Givens is from Houston, Texas, but currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, (aka the best city on the planet). She attended Loyola University New Orleans, where she led service projects and served as an orientation leader for two years. She received a B.S. in environmental biology and now teaches middle school science. Destiny is passionate about all aspects of education and believes every student has the right to a fair education. In her spare time, Destiny enjoys watching the sun set along the Mississippi River and eating her way through New Orleans.
Tani Prell Taneisha "Tani" Prell is the Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement at Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, IL, and a student at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning, where she is pursuing a master's degree in Jewish professional studies. She previously was an arts educator for a Chicago charter school, a Teach for America corps member, and a creative writing major at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. She believes that developing inclusive spaces for members of the Jewish community to learn and grow together is vital to ensuring that our future is filled with critical and compassionate thinkers. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, sci-fi, theater, and brunch; an ideal day would include a combination of all three.
Erica Riddick Erica Riddick lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a cerebral and creative ambi-brained residential designer by day, and lives life as a contact sport by night and weekends, as a competitive ballroom dancer and improv performer. A believer in the concept that it takes a village and that change happens one conversation at a time, Erica embraces play and learning as lifelong endeavors. She is a voracious reader who adores a good story, thinks language is important, and has a penchant for asking why. Erica appreciates an unplugged, simple life, allowing her to better focus on interpersonal relationships, which she feels are the entire point of life.
Anjelica N Ruiz Anjelica N. Ruiz was born in Dallas, Texas. She attended St. Edward's University in Austin, TX, where she completed an undergraduate degree in criminology before earning a master's degree in criminal justice from Texas State University, and a second one in library science from the University of North Texas. Anjelica has experience in program management and development, database management, and research. She works as the Youth Learning + Engagement admin assistant and registrar at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX, where she also teaches fourth-grade Judaica. She can usually be found in her classroom, somewhere at Temple, or at another writing workshop.
Amanda Ryan Amanda Ryan was born in Minden, Nebraska, and moved to Omaha to attend the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) to pursue a degree in religious studies. While obtaining her degree, she interned with a local interfaith nonprofit, Project Interfaith, which opened her up to exploring various religious beliefs and cultures, bringing her closer to Judaism, both personally and professionally. Amanda is currently in her last year of graduate school at UNO, where she is studying sociology. She also works for the Institute for Holocaust Education. In November 2016, Amanda was elected to the board of education of the Omaha Public Schools. She attends Temple Israel in Omaha, NE, and plans programming for Young Jewish Omaha.
Yolanda Savage Narva Yolanda Savage-Narva has devoted her life to promoting equity and social justice. Her work with Tribal communities, promoting pedestrian safety in low income communities, and advancing health equity are highlights of her career and were recently recognized by her alma mater, Tougaloo College, in Tougaloo, MS, when she was invited to speak at the 148th Founder's Day Convocation. Yolanda is currently the Executive Director of Operation Understanding DC in Washington, D.C. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family, bird-watching, and traveling.
Julia Tortorello Allen Julia Tortorello-Allen is a college student and Jewish educator from Westchester, New York. A recent graduate of Westchester Community College in Valhalla, NY, Julia teaches Hebrew and Torah to children at Temple Beth Am of Northern Westchester in Yorktown Heights, NY, and social justice at the Center for Social Responsibility at the JCC of Manhattan. She interned at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Ma'yan, and participated in JustCity Leadership Institute at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Julia is an outspoken and proud teen mother who is committed to creating a better world for her daughter, her students, and other young Jews of Color.
Kelly Whitehead Kelly Whitehead is a resident of Washington D.C., but never lets anyone forget she is a native New Yorker. In 2015, Kelly graduated from American University with a B.A. in history, and in partnership with URJ Camp Harlam, now works as the Youth Engagement Specialist at Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. In her free time, Kelly can be found at her hot yoga studio, learning the latest trends from her teens, and searching endlessly for a decent bagel in the D.C. area.




About the Union for Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.

Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 900 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.

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