When Judith Krumbein moved from Israel to the U.S. after living there with her husband for seven years, she missed how ingrained she felt in the country’s Jewish culture.
It was this longing that led her to apply for a job at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, where she now serves as the assistant director of member and guest services.
“I do miss the language. I miss the culture obviously, and spiritually as well,” said Krumbein, 59. “So I think [working at the JCC] is a nice segue. It’s a bit of America and a little bit of Israel.”
Krumbein was not raised Jewish when she grew up in Washington, D.C., as a second-generation Washingtonian. After graduating from George Washington University, she converted to Orthodox Judaism as an adult because she was interested in the religion and found it welcoming.
“I love the religion,” Krumbein said, laughing. “I think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.”
She first made aliyah to Israel because the company her husband worked at was bought out by an Israeli company. During her seven years there, she traveled back and forth between Israel and the U.S. depending on what her job as a business manager for Bright Horizons required. When she moved back, she started working at the JCC, where she has been planning programming and working with JCC members for three-and-a-half years. She now lives in the Glen neighborhood in Baltimore with her husband and works to serve the area’s Jewish community.
Out of everything she does as part of the JCC, Krumbein said her favorite part of her job is working with people who are part of the JCC to create fun and interesting new programs.
She is most proud of her work on Kindness Week, a series of organized activities meant to espouse kindness in the community. Krumbein proposed and planned the event for the first time last year, and she plans for it to be a yearly event.
“I view kindness as being a central tenet [of Judaism],” she said.
Outside of her work at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, Krumbein also serves as the treasurer for Kamochah, an organization dedicated to bringing together and uplifting Black Orthodox Jews. Founded in the wake of the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, the group’s name is Hebrew for “as yourself” as a reference to the commandment to “love thy neighbor as yourself,” according to the Kamochah website. Kamochah holds events during the holidays and aims to provide a sense of belonging to underserved members of the Orthodox community.
“African Americans who are also Jews tend to go through more hoops in the acceptance process,” Krumbein said of her experience since converting to Orthodox Judaism. “We experience the same microaggressions and biases that our counterparts experience in the rest of the world.”
According to Kamochah’s website, the Orthodox population has grown more diverse in recent years, but there is still a lack of proper representation for Black Orthodox Jews, and they are often othered by their white counterparts. It can be discouraging to Black Orthodox Jews and make them feel excluded in their own community. Kamochah aims to remedy that and to educate others about the Black Orthodox experience.
It’s this education that excites Krumbein the most about her work for the organization. She’s interested in how Kamochah provides resources for children and adults to like to learn about their community, and she is already looking toward the future of ways to educate.
Krumbein sees Kamochah doing more local programming in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. area, and she wants to do more education and awareness programs, helping teachers and creating anti-bias curricula. More than anything, she wants Black Orthodox Jews to feel secure in their identity.
“I’m viewed as very different,” she said, “but sometimes I just want to be Jewish.”