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National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Center for Jewish Ethics for Groundbreaking, Project on Race, Racism and American Judaism


The Center for Jewish Ethics

The Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has received a transformative grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund cross-disciplinary research into race, racism and the American Jewish experience. The center’s aims have an impact far beyond the academy by developing educational materials and programs for youth, individual adult learners, and communities. 

The one-year, $199,850 grant will enable the Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics to establish and run a new initiative tentatively called “Race, Religion and American Judaism: Cross-Disciplinary Research, Public Scholarship and Curriculum Development.” 

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced the grant on Oct. 4 as part of $87.8 million in American Rescue Plan funding to nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions in all 50 states, the District of Colombia, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. According to the NEH, the funding will enable pivotal institutions to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, retain and rehire workers, reopen sites and launch, or continue programs. 

“This funding represents a great vote of confidence in us organizationally, in the Center for Jewish Ethics and in Reconstructionist Rabbinical College,” said Rabbi Mira Wasserman, Ph.D., who directs the center and serves as assistant professor of rabbinic literature at the college. “The grant is also a demonstration of how scholarship makes a relevant difference in contemporary society.” 

The Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College pursues research and public scholarship that draws on Jewish literature and history to help people and communities address the ethical challenges of contemporary life. The Reconstructionist movement has made an explicit commitment to centering the voices and experiences of Jews who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color and to combatting racism in its many manifestations. As the movement’s center for ethical inquiry, the Center for Jewish Ethics focuses on moral challenges of public concern like the pursuit of vibrant civil discourse, the cultivation of safe and equitable communal institutions, and institutional racism. 

Like many nonprofit organizations, the Center for Jewish Ethics had its activities severely curtailed by the pandemic. The center was forced to cancel its central project for 2019-20: an in-person Ethics beit midrash dedicated to the cultivation of respectful discourse across political and religious differences. Instead, the center pivoted and partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to offer a public online lecture series called “Jews, Race, and Religion.”  That series generated an overwhelmingly positive response, with participants asking for more scholarship and for scholars to pursue pressing ethical questions in dialogue with one another and the public. 

The NEH grant enables the ethics center to do just that. The funding enables the center to hire a project coordinator; the search is underway. The coordinator will recruit a mutli-disciplinary team of 10 scholars who will identify new research questions surrounding race, racism and Jewish life. Scholars will meet in teams to develop research papers and lectures focusing on Jewish identity and theories of race and religion; race and the American Jewish experience (including the history of immigration, discrimination, and activism); racial and cultural diversity in American Jewish life today and a Jewish ethical response to racism.  

Scholars will record lectures and collaborate with other educators in the development of curricula on each of the four focus areas. This will result in self-directed online courses featuring the recorded lectures; curricula with discussion guides for community-based adult learning; and curricula with activity guides for youth in summer camps, schools and afterschool programs. 

“With our cross-disciplinary approach, we will have the benefit of having historians talk to scholars of religion and critical race theory,” said Wasserman. “We will be thinking from the beginning about how our research can impact how we teach about Judaism and race to children and adults.” 

Click here to read the Jewish Exponent’s coverage. 

Assistant Director of Media and Development Communications, Reconstructing Judaism

Jewish Organizational Letter on U.S. Special Envoy


Reconstructing Judaism and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association logos

We, the undersigned 21 national Jewish organizations, including the four streams of American Judaism, write to urge you to swiftly fill the position of U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism by considering the current nominee. Filling this position is a high priority for our organizations and of utmost importance in fighting growing antisemitism and hate worldwide.

As Jewish organizations dedicated to protecting the rights and security of the Jewish people, we believe that the U.S. Special Envoy position is crucial to addressing the global rise in antisemitic violence, harassment, vandalism, attitudes, and incitement. In 2020, due to the global threat of increasing antisemitism, Congress updated the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, elevating the role of the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to the rank of Ambassador and granting authority to coordinate efforts across the entire federal government to combat antisemitism abroad. Congress has also highlighted the need for an expanded U.S. role on this issue, stating that “since the Global Antisemitism Review Act of 2004 was enacted, in many foreign countries acts of anti-Semitism have been frequent and wide in scope, the perpetrators and variety of threats to Jewish communities and their institutions have proliferated, and in some countries antisemitic attacks have increased in frequency, scope, violence, and deadliness.”

Every day that we delay filling this critical position, we are endangering people’s lives. We cannot let antisemitism become a wedge issue in today’s polarized politics. To this end, we strongly urge you to prioritize filling this position, which is not only the right thing to do, but also sends a powerful signal to governments around the world that the U.S. takes combating antisemitism seriously and calls on them to do the same.

American Jewish Congress
Anti-Defamation League
B’nai B’rith International
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America
J Street
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
Jewish War Veterans of the USA
Jewish Women International
National Council of Jewish Women
ORT America
Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructing Judaism
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
The Jewish Federations of North America
Union for Reform Judaism
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism - WLCJ
World Jewish Congress

Responding to antisemitism by growing community, deepening commitments and building coalitions


This article was originally published in the eJewish Philanthropy by Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president and CEO of Reconstructing Judaism. It was adapted from a longer, forthcoming essay.


On Sunday Oct. 28, 2018 — one day after the deadliest day in American Jewish history — I mourned with members of Congregation Dor Hadash. The Pittsburgh Reconstructionist congregation met in the Tree of Life building and had lost one of its own, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz (z”l). Another member, Dan Leger, clung to life. Virtually every member of the congregation had gathered in solidarity. People were understandably raw, numb and devastated. Yet, in their commitment to mutual support, I was reminded of the awesome power of Jewish community to cultivate resilience in the face of pain and threat, including violent antisemitism.

In these polarized times, discourse over how best to confront antisemitism has often been visceral and sometimes taken on hyperbolic tones. At Reconstructing Judaism, we believe there are several steps toward a vigorous and constructive fight against rising antisemitism.

Effective coalition-building and public representation. The fight against antisemitism is not a fight that Jews can win on our own. We must build effective coalitions, both within and beyond the Jewish community. Internally, we must work on the broadest coalitions that presume that all Jews vehemently oppose antisemitism and seek conditions for Jews to flourish, and that do not draw red lines legitimating particular expressions of Jewish peoplehood. Externally, we must see and act on the concerns of allies and potential allies so that we can ask them to see and act on our concerns as well. From a pragmatic minimum, we must show up for others. From an ethical maximum, these relationships must not be transactional: they should be expressions of shared commitments and real relationships. Only then can we call allies out if and when they do not show up for us.

Dismantling systemic racism—in the Jewish community and in the broader society. Pursuing racial justice work is critically important in fighting antisemitism. It enables white Jews to untangle the ways in which we have been aided by white privilege and structural racism so that we can undo its harm to Black people and people of color — Jewish and non-Jewish — and to ourselves. Doing this work can enable us to stop ignoring or injuring Jews of color in our communities and instead to see them more clearly, to embrace them as family, to be led by them. 

Bolstering democratic institutions. Fundamentally, we believe the best possible path to combat antisemitism and foster the flourishing of Jews and Jewish community is robust democracy, where pluralism is celebrated and minorities protected. We call on all individuals to defend democratic institutions, from protecting and using the franchise to supporting a free press and beyond, and to reinvigorate pluralism, seeking out and learning about individuals and communities who are different from us and building community together.

Analyzing criticism of Israel with careful scrutiny. There will always be disagreements within the Jewish community about when criticisms of Israel cross the line into antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism helpfully suggests this line: “Denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.” When there are obvious cases, including but not limited to the depiction of Jews as greedy, demonic or world-manipulating; calling for Israel’s destruction; or refusing to participate in social justice coalitions with Zionist organizations, we and our allies must name and condemn these expressions as antisemitic. However, criticism of Israel that does not include plainly antisemitic tropes yet gives us discomfort deserves our scrutiny and careful thought. Any response must be thoughtful, honest and assertive rather than an expression of our initial visceral reactions. This is difficult yet critical work. If we fail, we run the risk of allowing distorted and reactive all-or-nothing rhetoric to sabotage important work that needs to be done. 

Deepening Jewish identity. Our mission is the same in pacific periods and in times full of challenge. The bulk of Reconstructing Judaism’s resources focus on expanding entryways into Jewish life and deepening identity and connection without watering down our conception of what it means to be Jewish. This is especially important regarding the next generation. We must invest in creating robust Jewish identities for our children, biological or otherwise. The more they hold knowledge, skills and experiences about what it means to be boldly and deeply Jewish, the more capacity and confidence they will have, in general and if they unfortunately encounter antisemitism.

Toward Generativity

Let us commit ourselves once again to building a Jewish civilization that offers multiple pathways. Let us assert that being Jewish in the 21st century is about preserving and celebrating Jewish distinctiveness and about opening ourselves to transformation. We engage with traditional Jewish sources and also actively generate new ones.

Judaism should not be about affirming what we already know; Judaism should be about opening ourselves up to new ways of being—to being the best possible Jews and the best possible human beings. We may no longer believe in a supernatural God who revealed the Torah at Sinai, but we do believe that being Jewish obligates us to behave in ways that are moral and ethical, as individuals and on a collective level. We must articulate those obligations in ongoing conversations across a diverse community, and we must be willing to follow them. In this way, we can create covenantal community.

In the past three years, the members of Dor Hadash has shown us all how to respond to hate. By rebuilding their community stronger than ever. By intensifying commitments to Jewish life and ritual. By deepening ties outside the Jewish community. By raising their collective voice on critical issues ranging from gun control to capital punishment, and by grounding their activism in Jewish values. 

Out of our Reconstructionist commitments, with our awareness that every generation has the obligation to reconstruct Judaism, we have an opportunity to model a path toward connection and hope in spite of those who hate us. Indeed, living fully and beautifully and in a deeply interconnected fashion is the richest possible repudiation. The Jewish people lives. The Jewish civilization lives and evolves. How are we, together, going to shape our future? 

President and CEO, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Jewish Rohingya Justice Network Applauds Introduction of The Bipartisan, Bicameral Burma Act


The Jewish Rohingya Justice Network applauds House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), House Foreign Affairs Asia-Pacific Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) for their leadership in introducing the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2021 or the BURMA Act. This legislation comes at a critical moment for all of the people of Burma, including the Rohingya people, and we call on every member of Congress to support this bill’s passage without delay.

It has been over seven months since the Burmese military overthrew the democratically elected government in Burma, and four years since the state-coordinated campaign against the Rohingya people that escalated to a full-scale genocide. While we have collectively welcomed the Biden Administration’s actions to hold the perpetrators of the coup responsible, we know that more can and must be done. Today’s introduction of the BURMA Act is that step, but it cannot be the last.

Congress must act now to hold the Burmese military accountable for the atrocities they have committed, both past and present, help the Burmese people in their fight for their democracy, and help to finally bring real accountability to the Rohingya people and other marginalized communities in Burma who have suffered so much at the hands of the Burmese military.

Since the Burmese military launched a massive genocidal campaign against the Rohingya people in August 2017, nearly a million Rohingya people were forced to flee their home to escape horrific violence—simply because of their ethnicity and religion. To date, many largely remain stuck in limbo in Bangladesh in refugee camps, with their human rights and future at risk. For them – and the people fighting for their democracy in Burma – more action from the U.S. Government and international community cannot come soon enough.

The U.S. Congress should send a clear message to the Burmese military and the global community that the United States will not stay silent in the face of genocide, attacks on democracy, and violations of human rights. We urge every Member of Congress to cosponsor and support passage of the BURMA Act.

Creating Radically Welcoming Communities


On June 30, 2021, Rabbi Sandra Lawson (she/her) led a racial justice workshop called Creating Radically Welcoming Communities. This workshop was part of a series of racial justice workshops called Looking within for Communical Change, organized and produced by Philadelphia’s Center City Kehillah. Reconstructing Judaism proudly co-sponsored Rabbi Lawson’s workshop with the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia and the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia. Rabbi Lawson is director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion at Reconstructing Judaism.

In this workshop, Rabbi Lawson addresses the question, “What do our Jewish texts and values say about welcoming others into our communities?” In the workshop, Rabbi Lawson refers to a source sheet, which you can find here

Please click the photo of Rabbi Lawson below to watch the Workshop. 

Rabbi Lawson works with senior staff, lay leaders, clergy, rabbinical students, and Reconstructionist communities to help Reconstructing Judaism realize its deeply held aspiration of becoming an anti-racist organization and movement. In her role, Lawson is developing a series of anti-racist policies and trainings for the organization and its affiliate members. She also serves as a mentor to rabbinical students.

The 2018 Reconstructionist Rabbinical College graduate is one of the first African American, queer, female rabbis. The thought-leader has consciously sought to alter the perception of what a rabbi — and the rabbinate — looks like. In 2020, the Forward named Lawson to its “Forward 50” proclaiming her a “truth teller.” She is also the founder of Kol Hapanim – All Faces – an inclusive, Jewish community that is relevant, accessible, and rooted in tradition, where all who come are welcomed and diversity is embraced.

Statement on the No Fear Rally


Although Reconstructing Judaism has not been asked to participate in the No Fear rally, and has therefore had no opportunity to participate in its messaging or planning, we endorse it in principle because we are firmly opposed to antisemitism and, in our efforts to foster engaged and substantive Jewish life and in our tikkun olam and public square work, we act continuously to counter it.  We believe that antisemitism is a scourge that must be forcefully denounced. We also understand clearly the importance of forming coalitions to fight against hatred and for other causes, and that coalition work can mean standing and working side by side with individuals and organizations with whom we disagree, sometimes vehemently.

However, we are not signing on as a formal co-sponsor because of many factors, including the rally’s deeply partisan origins; a non-transparent process around organization and speakers; the short time frame that worked against collaboration around the rally’s content and meaningful coalition building; the way some sponsors frame antisemitism; the implication that non-Zionists cannot have a voice in decrying antisemitism; a resistance to linking Jewish oppression with other equally unacceptable forms of hatred; and an unclear path for action. On the eve of the rally, we strongly urge the statement of inclusion that has been published on the rally’s web site be respected and enforced, since it provides a mechanism for the kind of broad unity that the main organizers profess to desire. Reconstructing Judaism will continue to offer our understandings of antisemitism in a manner that invites complexity, nuance and deliberation and that hopefully inspires transformative action and achieves meaningful impact. Most importantly, we will double down on our commitment to strengthening America’s democratic institutions, since a robust democracy that protects minority rights and promotes pluralism is the strongest protection against antisemitism and other forms of hate.

Reconstructing Judaism Adopts Commitments on Racial Justice


The Reconstructionist movement’s Jews of Color and Allies Advisory Group recently made a set of recommendations about how to racially diversify and advance anti-racism in the Reconstructionist movement, including at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Camp Havaya, and how to center and celebrate the voices and experiences of BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) in the Reconstructionist movement. These recommendations were overwhelmingly approved by our board of governors at their June 13, 2021 meeting. Click here to read the commitments.

National Jewish Organizational Letter to Congress in Support of AAPI Communities



Reconstructing Judaism joined a wide-ranging group of Jewish communal organizations in sending a letter to Congressional leadership urging support of and solidarity with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Statement Condemning Atlanta Attack


Reconstructing Judaism and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association logos

Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association mourn the devastating loss of life Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia. Our hearts are filled with sorrow as we learn of the targeting of Asian American women. We stand with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) members of our Jewish community and with the broader AAPI community in grief and solidarity for those lost: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, and Paul Andre Michels, along with the slain whose names have not yet been released. We send wishes of refu’ah shlaymah — full and complete healing — to the families of the victims, to all affected by these attacks and to our world.

There has been a staggering increase of hate crimes against Asian Americans since last March, with more than 3,800 cases reported, most of them against women. This has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation across AAPI communities. We recognize that anti-Asian racism is nothing new in this country. We condemn hate of this kind in no uncertain terms, and look forward to a day when all people, of any background, with any color skin, can work, live and pursue meaningful lives in safety and security, and with self-determination.

We raise our voices in prayer and condolence for the victims of this latest mass-shooting: there have been 3,885 shooting deaths in 2021. We also raise them to call for significant investment in examining and dismantling social structures that lead to racialized and gender-based violence. We must push ourselves to address this terrible scourge in ways that would prevent such tragedies. 

As our hearts are broken again and again by the images and stories of unjustifiable loss of innocent life, the words of the psalmist ring bitterly familiar: “ad matai - how long will this go on?! … How long will you feed your people tears as their daily bread, making them drink great measures of tears?” (Psalm 80:4-5).  May all who have died be held in God’s love. May all who mourn be held in God’s infinite compassion and healing light. May all who are wounded be blessed with a speedy healing. And may the One who created us all lead us to be better than this. 

Please take a moment to consider taking some of these action steps from our friends at @NotFreeToDesist: 

  • Reach out to your AAPI friends and family to let them know you love them.
  • Visit NextShark.com for AAPI related news and follow @nextshark @aapiwomenlead and @goldhouseco on social media.
  • Visit racismiscontagious.com for resources to address anti-Asian violence.
  • Follow the hashtags #StopAsianHate and #HateIsAVirus on social media to keep informed
  • Donate to Stop AAPI Hate stopaapihate.org or contribute to some of the many other organizations that work to support, empower, and protect Asian American communities.
  • Sign up for bystander intervention training. Visit the Asian American Federation website for resources created in collaboration with the Center for Anti-Violence that offers methods to safely exit a threatening situation and strategies for individuals to intervene if they see someone targeted at aafederation.org/aaf-safety-resources/

Letter Opposing Confirmation of Anthony Tata



Reconstructing Judaism joined a coalition of civil rights groups to sign a letter opposing the Senate confirmation of Anthony Tata to a central Pentagon post due to his history of bigoted statements and actions. 


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