Oct. 22 update: This article has been updated to correct multiple errors. This includes that the event with Ilana Kaufman took place at Bolton Street Synagogue and that Andrew Miller’s interest in racial justice was inspired by the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Andrew Miller also has no authority to make decisions or speak on behalf of Chizuk Amuno, including the synagogue’s decision to put up a Black Lives Matter banner.
In a new series, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and a variety of community members will put on informational and engaging events to explore the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish identity in “Jews of Color, Jewish Institutions, and Jewish Community in the Age of Black Lives Matter.”
The multiprogram series consists of virtual events, from Oct. 18 to Feb. 28, on a variety of topics such as population studies, Latino Jewish heritage and the tensions at play between Black Lives Matter and opinions of some within the Jewish community. While each of the events has an expansive theme to review, the organizers hope that by peeking into these issues they can broaden the community’s concept of Jewish identity. A comprehensive preview and registration information is available on JewishMuseumMd.org.
The organizers, Tracie Guy-Decker, deputy director of JMM; psychologist Harriette Wimms; and Chizuk Amuno members Andrew Miller and Abram Kronsberg, shared their goals for the program.
Kronsberg first suggested that Chizuk Amuno offer an extended series. “Other programs have been done, but nothing particularly in-depth like this. This is an issue that will be here, and has been here, long term, and so we have to [explore it] long term,” he said. Because he sits on JMM’s board, Kronsberg reached out to Guy-Decker for JMM to join the program.
Guy-Decker explained that the series aligns with JMM’s mission.
“I use this quote regularly, that museums are not community centers, but they can be the center of community,” she said. JMM integrates diversity into its exhibit naturally. “We included a kippah from a nonbinary person in a collection of kippahs, and in a wedding exhibit, we integrated same-sex couples. We are not the arbiters of who is Jewish. We are a museum of everyday Judaism. There are Ashkenazi Jews and also Black Jews. We would not be doing our job if we did not tell everyone’s story.”
Andrew Miller chairs the social justice advocacy committee at Chizuk Amuno. His passion for racial justice was inspired by the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. He saw an attack on people engaged in Bible study and offering hospitality as an affront on every community of faith.
He recalled an event where Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, came to speak at Bolton Street Synagogue, and a lot of Jews of color attended. At that event, Wimms stood up and expressed her determination to find a way to bring them together.
Wimms, who is Black, completed bat mitzvah training with Rabbi Deborah Wechsler in 2016 as a member of the women’s adult bat mitzvah class at Chizuk Amuno. She recalls an occasion when she was entering the building to attend a class and saw a white woman enter the building unquestioned, but security decided to stop and question Wimms. “Every one of us has that story,” Wimms saud. Her motivation for working on this series draws on both her love for Judaism and her pain at knowing how far there still is to go in recognizing that Jews of color are rightful members of the community whose Judaism should not be questioned.
For Kronsberg, his motivation is also personal. He has a grandchild with partly Korean heritage. As time goes on, more Jewish families will be mixed, which will make recognizing the diversity in the Jewish community even more important.
“We as Jews are always afraid we’re losing people and decreasing in population,” he said. “Well, there are many people who want to join, who we need to welcome. We also have Jews in distress.”
While several recent events, such as the Baltimore Jewish Council’s “18 Days Exploring Racial Justice” and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s concert on Black and Jewish music, have explored issues around race and inclusion in the Jewish community, each event offers new options for growth.
“This isn’t a laundry detergent where you have to pick the best brand,” Guy-Decker said. “The truth of the matter is this is not new, and it’s not simple. Just like an exercise, you should practice as many [programs] as you have time for. What’s great about being an anti-racist is that you don’t have to pretend you aren’t racist. We’re all swimming in a soup of racism.”