Say hello to Stacey Aviva Flint, the new Executive Director at Congregation Bonai Shalom. She moved to Boulder from the Chicago area in September, and is settling in to her new work life during the unsettling chapter of the Pandemic. Stacey is excited by the opportunities and challenges that these unprecedented times offer Bonai shalom and the larger Jewish community. As a Jew of Color and a longtime nonprofit and Jewish professional, Stacey began her career as the Policy Director for Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA). Her work involved advocating for housing reform, criminal justice, and Jewish/African-American dialogue. Stacey is passionate about Jewish African American relationship building and writes nationally on Antisemitism and Jews of Color.
Welcome to Boulder Stacey. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to Bonai Shalom, and why it feels like the right fit professionally and personally?
Well I think it began when I decided to add Jewish Studies 29 years ago to my undergraduate degree. What began as an academic and spiritual quest lead to my first job being in Jewish professional world post graduate school. From there, I have been a nonprofit/Jewish professional and leader for 21 years. Bonai and Colorado fit my goals of continuing to be a Jewish professional, living an active lifestyle and being near my college freshman who chose Naropa. I got to know the Bonai community long distance and it provided deep connection and spiritual strength during these current times and it was clear it was the best place for me.
How do you see your role as Executive Director of Bonai Shalom, and what are some ways you plan on diving in?
I see it as not just an administrative position but truly a partnership in supporting Sacred Community. I want to defy the Pandemic induced separation and build relationships with community members, the Rabbi and staff getting to know their hopes, lives, and how we can make “doing” Jewish together accessible and meaningful.
Let’s start with some data about diversity in the Jewish community. Can you share some statistics and context?
Sure. Studies from Pew, Brandis and Bechol Lashon report up to 11-20% of US Jews consider themselves People of Color. That’s 20%! Think about it, 1 in 5.
Jews have always blended their heritage with the unique lands and peoples where we have interacted, and today I proudly do the same. Being Jewish and a descendent of African American slaves, one of the most healing aspect of Judaism to me is remembering pain and then transforming that into a commitment to heal myself, help heal others, and stand up for injustice so that our world can be better.
Why is it a fundamental aspect and directive of the Jewish tradition to celebrate our diversity?
Let’s start by looking at the Torah. In Genesis 48:4, it says, “I will make you fertile and numerous, making you a community of nations.” “Kahal Amim.” Kahal means community and Amim means nations or people. It could have said, “I will make you a community (kahal) or just an Am (Nation) singular. But taken together, Kahal Amim holds a secret. In Rav Hirst’s commentary on Gen 48:8 he says the following about the meaning of Kahal Amim, that the secret to the strength of the Jewish people lies in our diversity. Our tradition teaches Kahal Amim has a prophetic mission, and that mission is REDEMPTION. The healing of brokenness and division, like gathering fragments of a mosaic, no one piece completing the picture alone, but it’s unique shape and shade, brought together with all the others, making a vibrant, complete picture. Martin Buber, in his book, “The Way of Man and 10 Rungs,” says “an individual cannot find Redemption until one sees the flaws in one’s soul, likewise a people cannot be redeemed until it sees the flaws and works to eliminate them.”
If Kahal Amim, Community of People, is our prophetic mission, how do you think we are doing in that endeavor?
I dare say the Jewish community is in lock step with the existing culture of racial disharmony around us.
What’s a stake if Jews doesn’t do a better job embracing the diversity within their own community?
Our position as a credible, Jewish moral voice in today’s divided world is at stake. That voice that was key in the Civil Rights Movement of which we should be proud. It is a new day, but many of the same issues exist, it is time to build a new so why not begin inside our own community, acknowledging and education ourselves on our diversity and being a model of harmony in diversity.
What role can Jews of Color play in today’s changing religious landscape?
Jews of Color are in a unique position to be bridge builders, helping to repair and build relationships between the Jewish community and other ethnic communities. But when alienated from our own Jewish community, this vital opportunity is lost.
So where do you suggest we start, as a Jewish community, to embrace diversity in some tangible ways?
Not everyone has experience getting to know people different themselves and may not experience diversity until adulthood. We are often taught how to ask the four questions at a seder table but not taught to begin conversations with diverse Jews. So awkward conversations happen. From my own experience for instance, the kiddish line is for food not for interrogation. Once I was at an Israeli diplomats home about to nosh on a yummy treat when the women next to me asks “How are you Jewish?” so I replied back “How are you Jewish?”
You can see, some of us are weary of awkward conversations, but I truly believe we can get through this because Kol Yisrael are Vim Meh Bazar — All of Israel is Responsible for One Anther.
For starters, if you have minimal experience with Jews of Color here is what you can do. Start by educating yourself…this isn’t the first time…we have done it before with the Russian Jews and Ethiopian Jews. Second, if you volunteer or have a leadership role and you see a person of color at a Jewish service, offer them an Aliyah, they might be at services because they re Jewish. And, finally, Shabbat is a great way to get to know people. Keep your table (virtual and actual when possible) open and diverse and invite a Jew Of Color over. NEVER be embarrassed to let them know you don’t have much experience. You can tell them you are trying to get to know all your Jewish family.
Speaking specifically to Jewish of Color, what do you want them to know?
Be prepared to use your talents for the community. We need Jews Of Color to become educators, Executive Directors, Jewish professionals, Cantors and Rabbis so our leadership reflects our diversity.
Thank you so much Stacey for sharing your insights about Jewish diversity, and opening up a conversation about what the Boulder Jewish community can do to move in a healing and unifying direction. Congregation Bonai Shalom will be hosting a conversation about the book “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram Kendi on Sunday, November 8, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. on Zoom. The program is open to all. Register here.