Every Jew should feel at home in the Jewish community. It’s a simple enough concept, but April N. Baskin knows first-hand that not every Jew is treated equally. In fact, not every Jew is welcoming of others, unintentionally or not. The issues within the Jewish community are, in many ways, a microcosm of the racial injustice and inclusion intolerance that plays out in the greater society. Baskin, vice president of audacious hospitality for the Union for Reform Judaism, hopes to change all that by starting from within.
“It takes a collective effort to dismantle large challenges like racism and exclusion and our community is not immune to it,” said Baskin in a phone interview with TC Jewfolk. “A lot of people in the Twin Cities are earnestly willing to take this on and I am glad to be in dialogue with them. Hopefully during my visit I can learn some insight to help the Minneapolis-St. Paul Jewish community develop collective strategies to enhance the work going forward.”
Baskin is coming to Minnesota the weekend of February 10-12. She will hold discussions and learning sessions on inclusion and social justice at Temple Israel in Minneapolis and Mt. Zion in St. Paul, among other opportunities hosted by Jewish Community Action with participation from members of the Jews of Color Minnesota organization, which operates under the auspices of JCA.
“For 10 years April has been doing this work across the United States and, as a Jew of Color, she has a very strong interest in efforts to promote racial justice,” said JCA Executive Director Vic Rosenthal, who will be shadowing her throughout the weekend. “Jewish Community Action is working with Reform congregations in the Twin Cities and April to focus on the specific challenges confronting Jews of Color in Minnesota, and beyond, to develop strategies for inclusion, education and advocacy.”
Friday, February 10, during Erev Shabbat services at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, following a 5 p.m. oneg reception, Baskin will speak from the bimah in a session titled “Racial Justice and Inclusion: The National Landscape.” After a 7:30 p.m. post-service reception, she and two community members from the Jews of Color Minnesota (Alejandra Estrin Dashe and Michelle Kuhl) will hold a panel discussion on “National and Local Perspectives on the Experiences of Jews of Color.”
Saturday, February 11, Baskin, who prior to joining URJ in 2015 served as the national Director of Resources and Training at InterfaithFamily, returns to Temple Israel for a 9 a.m. Torah Study.
Sunday, February 12, at 10 a.m., she will be at Mount Zion Temple. She will participate in a panel discussion “Reform Congregations and Inclusion — Impact on Jews of Color.” Baskin will be joined by Sheree Curry and Rafi Lev, two additional members of the Jews of Color Minnesota organization.
“Minneapolis strikes me as an atypically connected and powerful community and that there was a particular high level of interest in me coming in and engaging about racial justice,” said Baskin, the immediate past president of the Jewish Multiracial Network.
“These panel discussions where Jews of Color share their stories is a way to try to move the predominantly White Jewish community to let them know that the Jewish community is not one color,” added Rosenthal. “Friday night and Sunday morning are chances for White Jews to hear Jews of Color talk from a local perspective and a national perspective and discuss what kinds of things Jewish communities need to do to change the way things have been done.”
The panel discussions are a continuation of the work JCA and the Jews of Color Minnesota started last year with panels at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka and Temple of Aaron in St. Paul.
The weekend with Baskin also includes an 8 p.m. Saturday viewing of the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production “The Whipping Man,” by Matthew Lopez. It is a play about a young Jewish Confederate soldier and his family’s former slave, Simon, a convert to Judaism. There will be a post-performance panel discussion with Baskin, Temple Israel’s Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, and actor, Warren C. Bowles (who plays Simon, the former slave). The discussion will be moderated by Jessi Kingston, who is a member of the Jews of Color Minnesota group.
“This is important work for our community to understand the growing diversity of the Jewish community and to better understand the role of the Jewish community in promoting racial justice both internally, by being more welcoming to all parts of our community, and to being engaged in serving as allies against discrimination in the broader community,” Rosenthal added.
For more information on Baskin’s visit, please visit JCA: www.jewishcommunityaction.org/events
For more information on the Jews of Color of Minnesota, visit their Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/JewsOfColorMN