You Should Know…. Suzanne Feinspan

Photo by George Altshuler

Suzanne Feinspan, 36, is a consultant who specializes in improving the way Jewish institutions address racial justice. She lives in Wheaton with her two children and her husband, Jacob Feinspan, who is the executive director of Jews United For Justice.

What do you like to do for fun?

That’s a complicated question when you have two small children.

How old are your kids?

I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 7 year old, so most of my free time that I’m not working is somehow related to them. So I guess spending time with family would be the way to describe what I do for fun. I’m also a big reader. And for my husband and I, our escapism is to watch trashy television. Not trashy like “The Bachelor” trashy, but trashy like crime drama type of things that are outside of our realm of reality.

Do you think there’s been an awakening around racial justice in the past few years in the Jewish community?

Yeah, I think for white people there’s been an awakening about it, but I think it’s something that communities of color have been aware of because it has been an issue in various forms since the country was founded. But for white people it’s sort of flown under the radar and it hasn’t been publicized.

I think organizations within the Jewish social justice field are thinking about how to include this in their work. Many of them have been including it but probably are now doing so in a more structured way or in a stronger way. And organizations outside of the social justice field like JCCs and synagogues, especially in the last year, have been starting to think about how to create a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere within their buildings and within their organizations. They have also been thinking about what role they have to play in what’s happening in the broader world.

Can you tell us about what motivated you to dedicate so much of your life to working toward racial justice?

There’s two difference pieces. I think growing up, part of my extended family was overtly racist, and I’d spend time with them, but as a kid I couldn’t really do anything about it. They’d say things and I’d sit there fuming, but not able to react because the sense was that it wasn’t going to do anything; it wasn’t going to change their minds, so getting into a fight with them about it wasn’t worth it. So I think that built-up sense of ‘I want to do something about this but I’m not allowed to’ has come out in the work that I do now.

I also think a lot of pieces of how I identify — I didn’t grow up Jewish; I grew up Catholic and converted, so I think that being a woman in a very patriarchal religion and identifying as queer within a very patriarchal religion — that all of those things, the idea of insider/outsider, is a consciousness that I’ve had from a very young age.

This has just become apparent to me in the last couple years — I think that because of the personal experiences I’ve had with inclusion and exclusion, my radar for that is more sensitive than other folks and I think that has led me to do work around issues of fairness and justice and inclusion and exclusion. n

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