Facing our Truths: We act with one heart to become an antiracist congregation

Jan 14, 2021 / 1 Shevat, 5781

In her 2019 Shabbat Yitro sermon, Temple Director of Libraries and Archives Anjelica Ruiz touched on her experience as a Jew of color and leader within the Temple community. She had recently been admitted to the URJ JewV’nation Fellowship for visionary Jewish leaders and shared her candid thoughts with the congregation.

Observations shared by Anjelica included that – although she applied and was selected for the fellowship – she was at first skeptical. Most of her previous experience had included a world where Jewish leadership was devoid of color. A teacher at Temple since 2014 and member of the ADL board, Anjelica in 2019 still found it hard to feel like a part of the community – even as she called Temple her second home.

Fast forward to the late spring and early summer of 2020. In the midst of rising pandemic tensions and worldwide strife, our country witnessed on a grand scale, once again, intolerable acts of overt racism. These acts have too often been a part of this country’s history and had not gone away, but the lens was perhaps magnified as an already nearly paralyzed nation took in what was happening.

As so often has happened in our history, the Temple congregation was compelled to act.

In her Kol Nidre sermon, Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen called upon us to act with one heart to become an antiracist congregation. To that end Temple Emanu-El is committed to eliminating racism and promoting awareness and education throughout our congregation, our city and our world.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are eager to share updates on two major initiatives under way; we will continue to share as the work continues.

As a first step, Temple members were encouraged to join a Facing Our Truths small group for conversations on race. Twenty groups have formed, representing 165 congregants whom – in December – began a six-month deep dive. Each group is led by a trained facilitator to help guide conversations to explore our own beliefs and raise awareness of systemic oppression, bias and implicit and explicit racism.

Sh’ma Groups may choose this curriculum for their work over the next six months. New groups will be forming in the summer. Please contact Alexandra Horn with questions.

Soon Temple’s Facing Our Truths small groups will delve into a starter pack of resources to enhance our understanding of racism in our society. We will be sharing them on our website.

Along with the small-group effort, Temple convened a task force, Within Our Walls and Beyond, chaired by Ariana Cook, to explore and make recommendations about becoming an anti-racist congregation. Ariana, Chair of Temple’s Jews of Color Cohort, delivered a powerful message about Juneteenth, which you can watch here.

This task force promotes awareness and education through regular features in The Window. These stories share terms being studied by Facing Our Truths small groups, and frame questions for the topics. Implicit bias is an example of one term recently featured.

These are some of the ways that Temple now speaks about and acts upon antiracism. This work is how we are working toward becoming an antiracist congregation – by staying true to our roots and leading our community through some uncomfortable change.

This 1963 Archives photo shows Rabbi Levi A. Olan, second from left, H. Rhett James, J.A. Stanfield and MLK Jr. In early January of that year, MLK was invited to speak by James, who headed the NAACP and organized peaceful protests against segregation. That day, pro-segregationists protested outside during the rally.