Rabbi Rothstein is the rabbinic scholar and public affairs advisor at the Jewish Federations of North America.

Four Paths to Progress on Jewish Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

In thinking about Jewish equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in our communal ecosystem, we need multiple perspectives and approaches to create a culture of belonging. Schools in particular harbor tremendous potential to carry out social change. The school setting is a microcosm of the larger context within which it is situated, and the power of a school reaches far beyond the walls of the building. The school is a vibrant and impactful center of Jewish communal life, which can set a standard for how we discuss and learn with one another in our broader community.

In order to ensure that we are supporting and cultivating a sense of belonging for all members, here are four JEDI recommendations to keep in mind.

  1. Think with a strengths-based perspective. Remember that even though the work ahead is vast and there is so much to do when it comes to culture change, ultimately each and every organization has the ability to do meaningful work. A strengths-based perspective means looking back at what has been done over the years. What is your institution’s narrative around JEDI? Which challenges have arisen and how have you addressed them? What are your institutional values? What strengths does your team bring to this work? Perhaps your school’s mission includes serving the needs of each individual; that is a clear strength in this area. Recognizing and acknowledging the strengths that each school brings is essential to the long-term sustainable approach to this work.
  2. Pursue alignment. It is important for the professional and lay leadership of a school to commit to the long-term journey toward alignment around JEDI. Just as there is alignment around a school’s curricular sequence in teaching holidays, Hebrew and STEAM from grade to grade, and alignment around aspects central to a school’s character, so too a school community should be in alignment around how Jewish equity, diversity and inclusion are defined and embodied in our context. Come to a shared understanding of what this means, what it looks like and what it feels like when we’ve created that culture of belonging. As you pursue alignment of all stakeholders, keep in mind that this is an ongoing journey.
  3. Build internal capacities. By hiring individuals and/or cultivating leaders from within your school to develop JEDI training and expertise, a school grows capacity in this area. These individuals are then charged with leading the way to develop the school’s competence and strength over time. The work doesn’t remain solely with them, however. They can be charged with the creation of working groups for students, faculty/staff, board members and parents to explore Jewish equity, diversity and inclusion—both together and in parallel. Whenever possible, leadership for these groups should fall to the students, empowering them to work with the adults of their communities in building collaborative projects and programs. The members of the school’s internal capacity team assess school culture in a holistic way, considering the aspects of the work which deserve focus over time.
  4. Create the plan for year one. Articulating goals, including assessment of the needs, policies and procedures of your organization, is a critical step in the work of culture change. Consider how conducive these are in creating a socially and racially diverse community. Be sure to include a review of marketing, recruitment, programming, HR policies and communication in that process. Generate recommendations and empower your working groups to effectuate change over a yearlong journey. Throughout the unfolding process, subsequent work comes to light and is identified for future years. Don’t hesitate to build moments of celebration and reflection into your plan, as these are a nourishing and joyous aspect of building cultures of belonging.