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Stories from the Field: How Jewish Communities are Giving through the Lens of Racial Justice

June 24, 2020

Giving together offers our communities the opportunity to grow, learn, and take action together, while grounding their giving in Jewish values and wisdom.

We’ve been hearing from the field that current events, including the recent uprising against racism and police brutality and the COVID-19 pandemic, have inspired a wave of increased giving to organizations, and mutual aid funds that support the movement for Black lives and support people of color. To inspire even more giving for racial justice, we’re uplifting stories of people in Jewish communities giving to racial justice causes, paired with lessons their giving can teach us.

If you’d like to learn more about grounding your racial justice giving in Jewish wisdom, join us for In Support of Black Communities: Grounding Our Giving in Jewish Wisdom, a community conversation on June 29th at 1:00 pm EST, led by Kendell Pinkney, Jewish educator and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Here are some stories and lessons learned the field:

Give to organizations led by and supporting Jews of color:

Jews of Color Initiative

The Jews of Color Initiative’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for Individuals was launched to assist People of Color in the Jewish community who are in need as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, since people of color, including Jews of color have been disproportionately impacted by the virus itself and by the resulting economic recession. Funds are between $250-2,500 per individual. If you are or know a Jew of color in need, you can read the FAQ and apply here. You can support this life-sustaining work by donating to the fund here.

Additional organizations you can support include: Be’chol Lashon, Dimensions, Edot: The Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative, Jewish Multiracial Network, Jews in All Hues, and Jews of Color Caucus.

Give to Black-led, grassroots organizations:

Tribe 12

On June 11th, Tribe 12 ran a pop-up giving circle, facilitated by Riki Robinson of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative and Davinica Nemtzow, Tribe 12's LGBTQIA+ Community Coordinator. 9 participants attended and, with a $10 suggested donation, they raised $300 in one night for Black and Brown Workers Co-Op, which pushes for the social and economic liberation of the Black and Brown worker. Tribe 12’s CEO Ross Berkowitz, felt that the size of 9 people was just right for having deep conversations and learning as a group.

Don’t be afraid to change your plans and disregard “business as usual”:

Righteous Crowd

Typically, Righteous Crowd uses a relevant Jewish holiday or Torah portion to determine their weekly recipient organizations. While the week of June 4th’s portion was Nasso, they were inspired by the line from Parshat Kedoshim: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed,” as well as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s quote: “There is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.” In that spirit, they pivoted and decided to give $2,000 to an organization that is working to fight racial injustice: Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project (YSRP). YSRP works to keep children out of adult jails and to bring home people who were sentenced as children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Get others involved, outside of the giving circle members:

Lab/Shul’s Raising the Bar program

When Lab/Shul’s Raising the Bar program’s 8 teens met in early March for the first time, they had no idea they’d be meeting virtually for the rest of the sessions due to COVID-19. Together, they determined collective Jewish values, and they honed in on environmentalism and climate change as their issue area. By the final meeting, they found themselves in the midst of the anti-racist uprising, and the teens wanted to respond, so they chose Lead to Life as their grant recipient. Led by Black and queer healers, artists and ecologists, Lead to Life’s mission not only centers its work around the Jewish values shared by the teens; their work intentionally and profoundly bridges racial justice and environmental activism. With over $900 raised by the teens, they presented the organization to Rabbi Amichai Lau Levie, who was so inspired that he decided to open up donations to the whole community. In the end, the Lab/Shul donated $2,487.50 to Lead to Life.

Continue funding racial justice causes, even after the initial media attention dies down:

The Anti-Racist Giving Collective

Jewish community organizers Alona Weimer, Aliza Lifshitz, and Molly Meisels, all in their 20s, found themselves chatting on the phone around the time of Shavuot about how much wealth there is in their communities and in their extended networks. They expressed that they felt irritated about something they’ve noticed over their years of organizing: flashpoint moments of attention on racism that later disappear. So, they decided to create a sustained, communal practice. They made a list of various organizations, started a Facebook group, and, just a couple weeks later, they have 35 people giving a total of around $200 each day to various Black-led organizations. They’re holding each other accountable for redistributing their wealth to Black folks, rather than trying to stay consistent on their own. They diversify the grant recipients so that they fall into various categories, such as bail funds, community-based non-profits, and more intersectionality-focused groups.

Integrate Jewish tradition into how you give:

BASE Harlem

BASE Harlem educators and hosts Erica Frankel & Dimitry Ekshtut invited their community to a virtual Racial Justice Pop-Up Giving Circle on June 18th. They chose June 18th because, in Jewish tradition, 18 represents chai, or life. It is thus auspicious to give money in multiples of $18, and they wanted their community’s gift to affirm life, because Black Lives Matter. It was also the day before Juneteenth: the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. By the end of the night, 25 people contributed, 18 people attended, and they gave $1,180, split between Barbershop Books and East Harlem Tutorial Program. Afterwards, 3 participants asked Erica for help with hosting racial justice pop-ups for their friends!

If you’d like to learn more about practicing anti-racist giving, check out these resources:

If you’d like to host a pop-up giving circle or other collective giving experience with your community, email us at[email protected].