Advocating for Change: Be’chol Lashon
September 20, 2017
Posted by: Adi Alouf, Intern
This post is the first in a series on “Racial Justice: Advocating for Change” in support of the JCRC Consensus Policy Statement on Racial Justice. We will be highlighting different organizations doing phenomenal work in racial justice and the ways that the community can support their efforts.
The Jewish people are a geographically, culturally, ethnically and racially diverse people, yet white and Ashkenazi narratives and traditions dominate Jewish spaces in both the United States and Israel. Jews of color have been marginalized – their identities and narratives erased or made invisible by the larger Jewish community and Jewish communal institutions. As written on the Jews of Color National Convening site, “Recent events have moved the struggle for racial justice and inclusion in America to the forefront of public consciousness. Jews of Color occupy a unique space within that struggle, living at the intersection of multiple communities and identities.”
Based in San Francisco but with programs and partners all over the world, Be’chol Lashon was formed to advocate for Jewish inclusivity and celebrate Jewish diversity by centering and empowering people and narratives often ignored. The Hebrew, “Be’chol Lashon” translates to “In Every Tongue,” perfectly representing the organization’s commitment to embracing the patchwork quilt, rather than melting pot, that is the Jewish global community.
“One of our primary findings showed that, of the 20% of the American Jewish population that is racially and ethnically diverse – and that includes African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, Sephardim, Mizrahim and biracial Jews – the majority feels a deep sense of isolation from the rest of the community. We are working to change that,” says Diane Tobin, executive director and founder of Be’chol Lashon, the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund grantee profile of the organization.
Be’chol Lashon was born of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research as both a research and a community-building initiative. Through investigation, in the form of personal interviews, surveys, focus groups and ongoing evaluations of programming, it collects data on the evolving programmatic needs of the ethnically and racially diverse global Jewish population, and then creates programing, networks and other resources to respond to these needs. Recognizing the failure of existing programs and institutions to meet the varying needs of Jews from all backgrounds, this localized research facilitates the creation of more targeted and successful programs.
No two Jewish communities are exactly alike and Be’chol Lashon believes all Jewish institutions and programs must be as diverse as the Jewish people themselves. Operating on this vision, it has created replicable models of dynamic community building. Be’chol Lashon fosters global Jewish networks, supporting and partnering with Jewish leaders to help define and achieve their communities’ goals through consultations, workshops and conferences, as well as the creation of model programs, thus strengthening Jewish communities of color around the world.
The organization also provides education about the ethnic, racial, cultural and geographic diversity of the Jewish people, offering a variety of academic tools to teach about the culture and customs of Jewish communities worldwide. It provides fellowships to train rabbis, scholars and community leaders. And, through its interdisciplinary educational initiatives, Be’chol Lashon facilitates community conversations about race, ethnicity and Judaism.
Jews of color come together through Be’chol Lashon’s community-wide holiday celebrations, which attract hundreds of participants. The Bay Area program has also included an annual Shabbaton, with opportunities to learn about, celebrate and practice Judaism communally. Camp Be’chol Lashon draws campers from all over the United States for a multicultural Jewish overnight camp in San Francisco that teaches and celebrates global Jewish diversity.
Bechol Lashon empowers all types of Judaisms, Jews and Jewish communities to thrive.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Be'chol Lashon