As part of a program beginning Oct. 14, the Baltimore Jewish Council invites community members to join them and pledge 18 days focusing on racial justice.
BJC will send participants a daily email for the 18 days with an article, video or podcast and reflection questions about racism, anti-Semitism, power and privilege. The journey is meant to be cohesive, rather than random events to pick and choose from.
Organizers collected at least 40 different Jewish sources with which to engage participants. Some include clips from MTV Decoded and Ted Talks. Each idea will build on the previous one.
“In math, you start with one plus one, until you can do long division,” organizer Yosef Webb-Cohen said, explaining how the themes build on each other.
The first email will include a self-assessment. The program will have an official virtual kick-off Oct. 14. The kickoff, as well as the program’s other three sessions (two check-ins and a conclusion), will have spaces for those who identify as white and for those who identify as of color, but the program is largely self-guided.
Review of the materials can take less than 30 minutes. Organizer Tracie Guy-Decker, deputy director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, noted that participants can dedicate less time if they need to, or save the sources for later if they don’t have time to digest it all in the time period. “And people don’t have to share reflections unless they want to,” Webb-Cohen said.
Guy-Decker added that, for those who choose to share ideas, the program is judgment-free.
At least 20 local organizations have already pledged to participate, including The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Bolton Street Synagogue, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Northwest Neighbors Village, Jewish Volunteer Connection and Pearlstone.
Sarah Mersky Miicke, deputy director of BJC, explained that it’s important for the BJC, as an organization that represents people of diverse backgrounds in the Baltimore Jewish community, to have this program.
“Internally, we are thinking about our racial biases within the Jewish community and how our community can be better,” she said.
Mersky Miicke said that this is a continuation of BJC’s efforts to increase conversations around race.
“The Baltimore Jewish Council and JMM, from June to September, had a three-part Difficult Conversations Series about racism in the Jewish community,” she said. “We realized we needed to launch something more. We were inspired by the 28-day challenge from a book about white supremacy.”
Webb-Cohen noted that it’s also important to have this program in Baltimore as it is a highly segregated city. He hopes the program will provide information and enable the community to analyze its own worldviews.
Guy-Decker agreed. “I’m hoping people will work toward being more inclusive and having equitable interactions, especially in the Jewish community,” she said.
Webb-Cohen noted that 20% of Jews nationally identify as African American, Latino or Hispanic, Asian, mixed race, Sephardic, or Mizrahi, according to a 2001 study by Be’Chol Lashon. Mersky Miicke hopes that this will be an opportunity to change the Ashkenormative narrative around the Jewish community and its identity.
“I want people to walk away with an understanding that it is a multiethnic community. Just because we’ve faced anti-Semitism doesn’t mean we can’t be racist. I want people to reflect and not continue actions as they relate to keeping people out,” she said. “I think some reasons we don’t see Jews of color in the organized Jewish community is because they have been subjected to things like being asked if you’re janitorial staff or in a costume. It’s made them feel uncomfortable [in a place that] someone like myself as a white Jew considers a safe space.”