JCRC Director's Note

Racial Equity: What I Learned as a Grownup

Max Patashnik Headshot

December 16, 2021

Earlier this afternoon, we announced that the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle adopted our first consensus statement—on Racial Equity and the Jewish Community! It was completed after a months-long process of council members learning, sharing, deliberating, and building bridges of understanding on one of the most important issues affecting our community and the broader society.

The statement is a milestone achievement—a foundation for action to create a more welcoming community for Jews of all backgrounds and partnering with local communities of Color to address root causes of racism. Those are not separate actions to be worked on in parallel, but mutually reinforcing imperatives to build a more inclusive community and equitable world.

How the outcome of this work lands with community members will vary greatly, depending on their background, upbringing, and experiences. For some, it might even be a forehead-slapping revelation, leading to new insights about the meaning of Jewish peoplehood, and let me share why I know that to be so. I am the youngest of three girls. My two older sisters were both adopted as infants from South Korea. When we were kids growing up, color didn’t matter. We ate the same casseroles and steamed broccoli our Mom lovingly prepared. We went on the same family road and camping trips (albeit with different levels of enjoyment!). We all played soccer and joined Girl Scouts. We went to the same schools in Redmond and Sammamish. We each had a Bat Mitzvah, went to synagogue and together, traveled to Israel on Birthright. We were and always will be family.

As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize something sad and disturbing. Although we were all treated equally at home, we were not treated the same out in the world, including in the Jewish community. From blindspots, to biases, to bigotry, both my sisters endured racism. 

At a local Jewish overnight camp, my sister Jordan was told, “You don’t belong. You’re Asian—and Asians aren’t Jewish.” While attending a friend’s Bar Mitzvah, “You can’t be Jewish. You don’t look like it. You’re a Jewish wanna-be.” They were met with well-meaning but insulting questions about their “Jewish background.” At the Kiddush luncheon for Jordan’s Bat Mitzvah, someone approached my other sister and said “Mazel tov!” on Jordan’s amazing accomplishment. 

My sisters were made to feel “othered,” despite most people’s best intentions. Were it not for these experiences, would they both be Jewish communal professionals like me? Probably not. However, I know at least in part because of these hurtful experiences, they have both grown apart from our Jewish community and their Jewish identity. It’s painful. And my family’s story is just one of many. 

We can do better—as individuals, as a community, as a society. The Racial Equity and the Jewish Community statement, the fruit of over a year of hard work, is an opportunity for us to lead in creating a more vibrant, thriving, and inclusive Jewish community, and a more just and equitable world.

Thank you for all you do to support the JCRC’s critical work. I wish you and your loved ones a happy and healthy 2022!

Kul tov,

Max Patashnik
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs