The Jewish Community Relations Council approved a consensus statement on Racial Equity & the Jewish Community on December 15, 2021.
A consensus statement expresses a JCRC’s position on an issue and articulates our unique experience and perspective. Consensus statements are a JCRC’s foundation for action—allowing us to advocate, stand up, speak out, and build relationships on behalf of the organized Jewish community to the broader community. Throughout the consensus statement process, the JCRC provided educational opportunities to the whole Jewish community to help us learn and grow together in this work.
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is excited to announce the passage and release of its consensus statement, Racial Equity and the Jewish Community (see below). The JCRC adopted the statement with overwhelming support. Rooted in timeless Jewish values, it honors the American Jewish community’s historic and continued dedication to civil rights and empowers the JCRC to create a more inclusive Jewish community and build a more just and equitable society.
Eric LeVine, who represents Jewish Family Service of Seattle (JFS) on the JCRC, said, “JFS was proud to support the racial equity consensus statement. We had previously formed our own ‘Equity & Belonging’ task force to examine these critically important and challenging issues. We were happy to share our takeaways and perspective with the JCRC. As an agency, we agree this statement is an excellent step forward in engaging the Jewish and broader community around equity, which affects our clients, our staff, and the whole community.”
This consensus statement is integral to the JCRC’s mission and core goals and principles: to secure a vibrant Jewish future and champion a just, democratic, and pluralistic society; to convene, mobilize, educate, and advocate on issues of vital concern based on Jewish values through combating antisemitism, bigotry, and racism; and modeling a commitment to civil discourse.
The 57 JCRC members, including 33 Jewish institutions, reflect the broad diversity of our community. While they agreed on the importance of addressing racial equity, finding consensus on the specifics took time. This statement is the product of months of work during which the members of the newly formed JCRC Council learned, shared, deliberated, and grew in understanding.
On building this consensus statement, which expresses the organized Jewish community’s position, Elaine Kraft, who represents the Stroum Jewish Community Center, speaks of the way the JCRC Council conversations moved her. “Hearing from all sectors of the Jewish community, the different perspectives from all organizations, from diverse geography, affiliations, generations, and backgrounds was inspirational. The respect participants had for each other was apparent in everyone’s goal of coming together to create this statement. I learned something from each participant and every discussion.”
“JCRC members showed tremendous commitment and perseverance taking on this critical, yet challenging, issue, articulating a uniquely Jewish perspective,” says Bill Mowat, JCRC Chair. “One of the council’s accomplishments was a more complex understanding of who we are as Jews. As the statement puts it, ‘we are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial people, not a racial group, nor solely a religion.’ What vital and engaging work!”
“Some have asked why, when Jews are facing record levels of antisemitism, the JCRC’s statement is on racial equity, not antisemitism,” said Nancy Greer, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. “I would share a couple of thoughts. The Puget Sound Jewish community has a statement on antisemitism, adopted in September 2019, that was signed by dozens of Jewish organizations and elected officials, and articulates a strong communal perspective. In addition, this JCRC statement will help combat antisemitism by empowering the JCRC to build stronger connections and collaborations with communities of color. Nothing helps break down biases better than personal relationships. Antisemitism and racism are inextricably linked—by fighting one, we fight both.”
JCRC Director Max Patashnik comes from a multi-racial Jewish family. “I was unaware as a child that the experiences my sisters had in the Jewish community weren’t identical to mine. It makes me sad to know they were made to feel they didn’t belong—something I didn’t fully internalize until we started this process. This statement has the potential to build awareness of our internal blind spots and biases and to create a more vibrant, thriving Jewish community—one that recognizes and honors our diversity and would make my entire family, and so many families like mine, feel at home.”
This statement embodies Jewish tradition and values to not stand idly by, to act in righting wrongs and repairing our world. As the Torah commands: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” In 2022, the JCRC looks forward to beginning implementation of the statement and to continuing its service as a forum for building consensus on pressing issues facing the Jewish community, including the fight against antisemitism and working for a just society. Guided by Jewish values, together as the JCRC we will work to strengthen community, foster civil discourse, and find common ground for repairing our world.
Adopted by the Jewish Community Relations Council – December 15, 2021
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is committed to fighting racism, antisemitism, and other forms of bias and hate that deny justice and equity, undermine the core tenets of our democracy, and contradict the foundational Jewish belief in human dignity and equality—that all human beings are created in the image of G-d.
By enhancing our community’s understanding of race and racism locally and nationally, we can build a more inclusive Jewish community that honors our people’s diversity and strengthens our ability to work together to fight persistent racism in the broader society.
We acknowledge that this is just the beginning of our work. While it will not address all issues related to racial equity and equality, we offer it as a guide to our community’s necessary response to the demands of our time.
Many of our ancestors first came to the United States, which emerged out of Western European colonial expansion, fleeing anti-Jewish violence, forced conversion, discrimination, or poverty. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, waves of Jewish immigrants arrived from communities in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Like many immigrants, Jews who immigrated to the United States sought safety and better lives. But their pursuit of freedom was hindered by institutional discrimination in the form of quotas and exclusion from establishments, jobs, and neighborhoods. To secure survival and success, many Jews achieved mobility through education and employment—systems that discriminated against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in a more profound way than most American Jews have experienced.
How Jews understand our own place in America’s racial hierarchy has shifted over time as popular understandings of race have changed. The Jewish experience doesn’t map neatly onto current understandings of race. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial people, not a racial group, nor solely a religion. As a result, the American Jewish community’s relationship with race has grown increasingly complex. While many Jews in the United States are perceived to be White, Jews of Color are often undercounted and overlooked both within the American Jewish community and broader society. Recently, the Jewish community has begun to recognize the diversity of our people. This includes recognition that Jews of Color and non-Ashkenazi Jews, who often do not see their customs, traditions, or practices represented in summer camps, schools, and synagogues, can feel unwelcome or “othered” in Jewish spaces.
Today, Jews continue to be targeted as a marginalized people. We have faced a long history of persecution and hatred and are experiencing a 21st century surge in violent antisemitic attacks, regardless of our perceived race. While Jews are hated and threatened by some as non-White, many Jews are seen as White and may be able to access systems of power as such.
Jews played an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement—sitting in, marching, registering voters, and more. This engagement was motivated by the Jewish people’s history of persecution and shared experiences of discrimination and bigotry, an awareness in the Jewish community that to obtain full civil rights and true equal opportunity for one group required fighting for such rights for all, and an ongoing desire to help those facing harm and hardship.
Though many in the American Jewish community are justifiably proud of this historical pursuit of racial justice in the United States, critical work remains. The racism that sparked a monumental push for civil rights in the 1960s persists—often in more subtle but still destructive and sometimes deadly forms. Policies and practices across systems of housing, education, healthcare, criminal justice, and more continue to exacerbate widely disparate outcomes for many BIPOC, including Jews of Color. Today, the Jewish community must honor the dedication and work of previous generations to end racism by stepping up our current efforts to address racial inequity.
Our people are well positioned and motivated to work toward racial equity. Jewish tradition and experience teach that we have a communal obligation to build an inclusive, just, and equitable society. Pursuing racial justice is a means of repairing our society so that all are truly recognized as created B’Tselem Elokim, in the image of G-d. But this pursuit is not solely a matter of conscience or values—because of our own people’s racial diversity, we have a personal and communal stake in this work. While our consciousness is building about the diverse identities and experiences of our people, much of the work toward creating a community of genuine belonging lies ahead.
The JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle will work toward racial equity within and beyond the Jewish community. We will strive to ensure that all members of the community, no matter their ethnic, racial, religious, and/or cultural backgrounds, feel seen, welcomed, and valued. Therefore, the JCRC will lead efforts to:
 For more information, see the Puget Sound Jewish Community Statement on Antisemitism
 See resources such as The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity by Eric L. Goldstein
We have formed the Racial Equity Implementation Team to prioritize the action steps of the consensus statement, evaluate where the work fits in the JCRC, plan how this work will be addressed over time, and measure the impact of the JCRC’s racial equity work. First the team will create a work plan and then work to implement the plan over the coming years.