Most Americans are certainly not sorry to bid farewell to 2020.
The pandemic has claimed more than 350,000 American lives so far, thrown the economy into a recession, left millions of adults unemployed and millions of schoolchildren without in-person education.
In addition, 2020 is the year when the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other African-Americans by police officers around the country brought millions of Americans of all ages, races and faiths into the streets to protest police brutality against people of color. The uprising was a hopeful sign that the United States is finally prepared to confront its history of slavery, discrimination and systemic racism.
In Baltimore’s Jewish community, the protests led to a series of programmatic interventions that called on white community members to look inward, examine their own biases and misconceptions, take responsibility for their mistakes and do the hard work of communal healing. They were helped by Jews of color who came forward to share their often painful experiences with racism in the Jewish community.
Here are just some of the institutions and programs that explored racial justice issues in 2020, as well as a guide to anti-racism programming in 2021.
Jewish Museum of Maryland
- “Current Voices”
Beginning last spring, the JMM presented the two-part series “Current Voices” in partnership with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History & Culture in Baltimore. The series looked back on the 2015 Baltimore protests and featured local artists, journalists and activists in conversation about the uprising and its underlying causes.
- “Connecting Generations: Difficult Conversations About Race”
During the summer, the JMM presented a three-part series prompted by the death of George Floyd that encouraged people to share their thoughts and feelings about racial issues. The program was co-sponsored with the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the JMM
This fall, the JMM partnered with Chizuk Amuno to present “Jews of Color, Jewish Institutions and Jewish Community in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter,” a series of programs to spark conversation and raise awareness about diversity in the Jewish community. Many of the programs in the series have already taken place, but all were recorded and can be viewed on the JMM’s website (jewishmuseummd.org). Several programs in the series are still to come.
- Jan. 14: “Expanding Frameworks: Black Lives Matter, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Racism,” a talk with author and historian Dr. Marc Dollinger and Tracie Guy-Decker, former deputy director of the JMM and founder of bmoreincremental.com, about tensions between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Jewish community, the forces of structural and systemic racism, and the connection between white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism.
- Jan. 31: “Beyond Books: Raising an Anti-racist child
Consultant and leadership coach Imani Romney-Rosa Chapman and Rabbi Jessy Dressin, executive director of Repair the World: Baltimore, discuss how to teach anti-racism to kids.
- Feb. 21: “Texts: A Class with Rabbi Deborah Wechsler.” Participants in this course taught by Chizuk Amuno’s Rabbi Wechsler will study Jewish texts to learn what Judaism has to say about issues such as identity, otherness, privilege and inclusivity.
- Feb. 28: “Making Commitments: The Path Forward
A conversation between Dr. Andrew Miller, Chizuk Amuno’s past president and chair of the congregation’s Social Justice Advocacy Committee and Jews United for Justice’s Synagogue Roundtable, and Lindsey Newman, director of community engagement for the organization Be’chol Lashon, about “Not Free to Desist,” an open letter published in 2020 calling the American Jewish community to “not sit idly by when we see injustice before us.”
- May 11: Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, will speak at Chizuk Amuno, 8100 Stevenson Rd. in Pikesville. (For information, visit https://www.chizukamuno.org/)
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
Earlier this year, the JCC presented its “Amplifying Voices” program. A collaboration between the JCC of Baltimore and the JCC in Tucson, Ariz., virtual events included a talk by Dr. Marc Dollinger, author of “Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance of the 1960s”; a discussion with Tamar Manasseh, an African-American rabbinical student leading the fight against violence on Chicago’s South Side; a lunch-and-learn with Ilana Kaufman; and a panel discussion with April Baskin and Gamal Palmer moderated by Candace Manriquez Wrenn, director and associate producer for the Marketplace Morning Report.
Upcoming programs include:
- Jan. 31: “Learning the Land: A Virtual Civil Rights Tour”
An interactive discussion with Alabama-based activist T. Marie King, with an emphasis on the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, and moderated by Samantha Dubrinsky, executive director of the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham.
- Feb. 21: “Ritual Intersections in the Music Studio”
A musical “Freedom Seder” celebrating what unites the Jewish, Black and Jewish-Black communities through music by the band Afro-Semitic Experience, co-founded by African-American jazz pianist Warren Byrd and Jewish-American jazz bassist David Chevan in 1998. (For information, visit jcc.org.)
Baltimore Jewish Council
During the High Holidays, the BJC launched the “18 Day Exploration of Racial Justice.” The program conceived by BJC Deputy Director Sarah Mersky Miicke and Tracie Guy-Decker (and facilitated by Guy-Decker and local educator Yosef Webb Cohen) engaged participants in a journey of learning and reflection about racial justice, with an emphasis on the experiences of Jews of color. Participants received daily emails featuring articles, videos and/or reflection questions dealing with an aspect or experience of race, racism, anti-Semitism, power or privilege.
Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl
Led by Rabbi Ariana Katz, Hinenu was formed in 2018 as an unaffiliated Jewish “community rooted in joy, pursuit of justice, and radical kinship.” Hinenu will sponsor the National Jews of Color Shabbaton May 14-16. The Shabbaton, conceived by Dr. Harriette Wimms, a Baltimore-based psychologist and Jew of color, will include workshops and special events geared toward Jews of color and their families. Beginning in January there will be six workshops in preparation for the Shabbaton including “Black Jewish Fatherhood,” “Counting the Omer,” “Finding Resilience in Jews of Color,”’ “Harnessing Queer Jews of Color Power,” “The Sabbath and its Meaning for the Modern Jew of Color” and more.
Still in the planning stages, more information about the spring Shabbaton will be available soon. (Visit https://www.hinenubaltimore.org/)
District Community Playback Theatre
Co-sponsored by Hinenu, Chizuk Amuno, Beth Am Synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Beth El Congregation, Beth Tfiloh Congregation, Bolton Street Synagogue, Repair the World; Columbia Jewish Congregation and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, District Community Playback Theatre’s Nov. 14 performance “This is What Jews of Color Need You to Know” taught participants about what it’s like for people of color attempting to find homes in Jewish institutions.
In preparation for the National Jews of Color Shabbaton, Playback Theatre will present another performance on May 9.
Baltimore Hebrew Congregation
In recent years, BHC has sponsored book groups on racial inequality led by congregant Tracie Guy-Decker; “Circles of Voices,” a facilitated discussion with Jews, Black Christians and Muslims; annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. events; and more.
Upcoming on Jan. 17 will be “Baltimore’s Strange Fruit: A Story of Food Apartheid and the Struggle for Sovereignty.” In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, BHC will screen “Baltimore’s Strange Fruit,” a documentary film produced by the Black Yield Institute, directed by Eric Jackson and Maddie Hardy. The film explores the intersections of food, land, and race and class politics through personal narratives and social commentary.
Co-sponsors include BHC Justice, Repair the World, Beth Am, Chizuk Amuno’s Social Justice Advocacy Committee, the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, Hinenu and Jews United for Justice. (For information, visit https://www.baltimorehebrew.org/.)
Jews United for Justice
On Jan. 21, JUFJ will partner with Repair the World and One Table for “Turn the Tables: Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat.” Virtual participants will learn, celebrate and remember MLK Jr. and engage in breakout sessions on topics such as “Honoring the Legacy of Coretta Scott King,” “The Real, the Radical MLK,” “Jews, Allyship & Civil Rights,” “The Future of Racial Reckoning,” and “Essential Renters’ Rights.” Following the discussions, attend Bolton Street Synagogue’s virtual Shabbat services and hear guest Sean Johnson share his experience of growing up Black in the United States.