Progress is being made to increase diversity and inclusion efforts for Jews of color at the New Synagogue Project, a congregation in Washington, D.C., focused on providing inclusive spaces for people of different backgrounds and identities through funding it received last month.
NSP received the $10,000 grant as part of the Jews of Color Initiative. In announcing the grant, JoCI noted that NSP would use the funds to create anti-racism and inclusion goals alongside the hiring of a Jews of color coordinator who could engage with that community and build further relationships.
One month after the grants were announced, NSP is following through on its stated plans and recently hired a Jews of color coordinator who has been working within the community to determine what they can improve upon to further their efforts to foster a welcoming environment for Jews of color.
“We received a $10,000 grant for our Jews of color space, and part of that is really to get about six months of a needs assessment done. So, in my role as the Jews of color coordinator, I am conducting some one-on-ones with different people, both members and non-members in the broader D.C. area, to see what draws them to NSP, what barriers they might face and what they’re looking for,” said Jews of Color Coordinator Elizabeth Narvaez.
Narvaez moved into the role at about the same time as the grant came through, and although the role was not a direct effect from the grant and will continue after the funds are spent, it’s allowed NSP to effectively communicate with the community and gather a great deal of information on how to best provide resources.
“In addition to that [surveying the community], I’m also doing some JoC programming which we’ve had before, but now it’s tailored more to the feedback we’re getting through the needs assessment and also having a higher volume [of programming],” Narvaez said.
That programming comes in the form of providing what Narvaez described as an affinity space, where people can be around those similar to them, and they’ve had multiple examples of these activities recently.
Notably, they had around 100 people attend a JoC Rosh Hashanah dinner and followed that up with a JoC multiracial families’ picnic. These events and more were some of the pre-grant items that NSP was able to provide and are now looking to add to and improve upon.
The other half of NSP’s stated initiatives were to provide anti-racism and inclusion goals, and that’s something Narvaez has been involved with since she began her new role.
“The anti-racism working group that we have meets regularly to kind of get a pulse of the community and make sure that our communitywide events really have a goal of de-centering whiteness and making sure that there’s more inclusion,” Narvaez said.
And these are goals that will be expanded upon the completion of the needs assessment, which Narvaez hopes to complete in May, allowing her to present her findings to NSP and JoCI. From there, the groups will be able to break down the findings and improve their programs.
Narvaez gave several examples of what NSP already does to look at similar styled events or programs, or make changes to current ones that could follow her report.
“Our JoC space is and has always been a space for indigenous, Sephardi, Mizrahi and people of color, whether Jewish or not. And something I’ve learned through these one-on-ones so far is that a lot of people who do identify as Sephardi or as Mizrahi are still [thinking], oh, it’s a Jews of color space, so if I identify as white, I shouldn’t come,” Narvaez said. “One thing we’re looking at right now, and starting in a couple of weeks, [is] a series of conversations, specifically with the Sephardi and Mizrahi contingent in our community, to see what an affinity space looks like for them.”
The synagogue is also looking at what type of cultural education they can potentially provide to communities, especially for people who may not be fully in tune with their heritage and are looking to become closer to it.
And even though the needs assessment and initiative implementation are far away, there’s already been noticeable excitement around the changes and positive feedback from members of the congregation.
Narvaez added that they’ve seen an increase in attendance at JoC events in recent weeks and that she believes having a better feel for the needs of the community is a big factor in creating the environment people are excited about.
“We’ve had a ton of positive feedback. People are really excited for everything we’ve been doing. They’re glad that we’re paying attention to how the arrange of events for kids and for adults, and for families and for single people. They feel like they’re having a space to come to and some recognition and really finding it as a meaningful way to meet other people,” Narvaez said.