Judaism and social justice are inseparable. The pursuit of justice is not an elective we can shrug off as optional; the Torah literally tells us, “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20).
A major component of this is ensuring that all our Jewish communal spaces are affirming and just for all Jews and their loved ones, which we – both as the Reform Jewish community and as broader Jewish community – have not yet achieved. We can further advance toward this vision by learning and implementing three core principles/practices: diversity, inclusion, and equity.
You may have heard these terms before, but what do they actually mean? And how can we apply them to our Jewish spaces?
One core component of effective diversity, inclusion, and equity work is developing a shared understanding through which we can successfully work together, particularly through fostering shared language and conceptual framework. In that spirit, here are three definitions:
Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. Pro-diversity policies and attitudes recognize everyone and every group as valuable and valid. The word diversity addresses, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, age, national origin, religion, ability/disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. (Paraphrased from Mildred Griggs, 1995, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
When you think of a “diverse” Jewish space, what comes to mind? Do you see individuals of multiple races? Do you see individuals of varying gender and sexual identities? Do you see interfaith couples and people across the age, ability, and socioeconomic spectrums? Do you hear multiple languages or communication styles? What about styles of dress, mannerisms, and social norms?
The reality is that Jews exist in all these categories and more, and they are far more likely to involve themselves in Jewish communities that make concerted efforts to welcome them and see their full identities.
Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people. (Paraphrased from UC Berkeley Strategic Plan for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, 2009)
Ensuring that Jewish spaces are welcoming and open to people of varying identities is crucial – but if the focus is solely on meeting a certain quota for member demographics, then we miss the full picture of what audacious hospitality looks like.
It’s important to ensure that members are not only well-represented, but also actively included in all aspects of communal life and leadership.
Equity is the practice is giving everyone what they need to be successful. More specifically, it is the creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented populations to have equal access to resources and full participation in opportunities, especially those that advance historically marginalized groups by helping to close the demographic disparities in all spheres of institutional and communal functioning. This is based in the understanding that people do not all have the same needs, nor the same experiences and opportunities, so they should receive the appropriate resources to enable participation and success. (Partially quoted and paraphrased from AACU)
Equity is often mistaken as being synonymous with equality. Equality is about giving everyone the same thing, while equity acknowledges diversity and is thus about giving people what they need.
(Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)
In our work, our goal is to apply these concepts at all four levels of change: individual/internalized (ourselves), interpersonal (how we treat and interact with each other), institutional (how congregations, camps, and organizations operate via policies and programs), and ideological (core belief systems, our interpersonal blind spots, and inaccurate racial & socioeconomic ideas about other Jews).
Thoroughly understanding and implementing these ideals is not always easy. Like any learning process, mistakes happen, and that’s OK – given we compassionately hold ourselves accountable and course correct as necessary. As Jewish activist and anti-oppression practitioner Yavilah McCoy often says, “We have not arrived; we have only agreed to go [on this journey].”
It takes humble commitment and discipline to override conscious and unconscious biases and to learn to work more effectively and powerfully across lines of difference. This requires consistent focus, innovative strategies, regular self-assessment, and doing the hard work of updating our institutions’ existing policies and programs to ensure inclusivity and equitability in today’s Jewish community.
We need to thoughtfully review and act on all four levels of change to better meet the collective needs of our communities.
Judaism has never followed a path of least resistance. We know that the work is necessary for our collective well-being and liberation. It is up to us, the current leaders of the Jewish community, to decide that our communities will no longer leave segments of our community behind – and that it is worth our effort to ensure that everyone within our beautiful and complex religious community has the opportunity to thrive.