Announcing the Launch of the JewV’Nation Fellowship

jewvnation2By April Baskin

The Jewish community is remarkable in so many ways – ways that inspire millions of people and help bring more justice and compassion to our world. And yet, we are not immune to blind spots.

Despite the best of intentions, we still leave people out – both occasionally and chronically. That’s where members of our community – especially those who have often existed within those blind spots – can lend their leadership and change our community for the better with their visions of a more inclusive future. These individuals, who have experienced both insider and outsider status, have the ability to identify our community’s chronic blind spots – and they often have a good sense of what a different, more inclusive community might look like.

That’s where the URJ’s new JewV’Nation Fellowship comes in.

JewV’Nation is a year-long fellowship in New York City that supports emerging and accomplished leaders to develop and incubate innovative Jewish outreach initiatives that serve to create community around interfaith and intersectional (“Jewish and…”) identities within the Jewish community. You can find details about the program, including the application (due November 13th), at urj.org/jewvnation – but for now, let’s talk a little bit about what inspired us to develop this ambitious program.

In 2008, Jewish community programming that was led by or included Jews of color was noticeably lacking. Back then, I was working full-time and preparing to move to Washington, D.C., so my time and financial resources were limited – but I knew I wanted to sustain the energy of Jews of color who were looking for connection to and leadership in the Jewish community.

I launched Jews of Color United, a social networking group on Facebook, and appointed a few Jews of color with extensive leadership experience as group officers. We hosted successful events in NYC and D.C. that engaged many Jews of color, but more importantly, we achieved the goal of reigniting and sustaining a feeling of connection, community, and empowerment among Jews of color across the country. We also contradicted the common sentiment that New York’s Jewish community was “over-saturated.” Oversaturated for whom? It hadn’t been for Jews of color – and it’s still not, for thousands of Jews who currently don’t feel inspired by or have a meaningful connection to Jewish communal life.

There was a clear and demonstrated need for our forum, and instead of engaging hundreds, we could have had the capacity to reach thousands – if only we had established financial and institutional support. The JewV’Nation Fellowship is an extension of that work and dream, providing both financial and institutional support for projects that creatively address unmet or underserved needs. It’s fully supported and funded by the Reform Movement in partnership with the Genesis Prize Foundation and a URJ donor at the Jewish Funders Network.

As the Reform Movement’s audacious hospitality efforts continue to develop and grow, we know that a stronger, sustainable Jewish community results when the many lifestyles, stories, and perspectives of Jewish individuals and families – particularly those whose stories are underrepresented – are heard and incorporated into American Jewish life. We also know that an essential part of that work must include programming co-created by the individuals who want and need it: those who are personally connected to the interests and needs of Jews on the margins of Jewish life. Within this community is a wealth of cultural resources and vibrancy, and these individuals want to be included in the broader Jewish community.

As such, JewV’Nation fellows will incubate innovative Jewish community-building projects, focusing on projects that meet the needs and spark the interest of often underrepresented or unaffiliated Jews and their partners and families. Truly, the ways we can integrate the most treasured and meaningful elements of our individual and collective experiences into the whole of Reform Judaism are endless.

The JewV’Nation Fellowship represents the belief that a healthy Jewish people is possible only when individual Jews and their loved ones are included – not in spite of their diverse backgrounds and interests, but because of them. By seizing this opportunity to reimagine Jewish life and purpose, we demonstrate that Judaism can be inclusive and open, and be a community in which there are a myriad of ways to be authentically Jewish.

Learn more, nominate inspiring leaders, and apply now for the JewV’Nation Fellowship at urj.org/jewvnation.

April Baskin is the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president of audacious hospitality. Dedicated to building a stronger, more inclusive Jewish community committed to social justice, April has spent 10 years advocating for Jewish diversity inclusion locally and nationally in a variety of ways, including facilitating LGBT educational trainings as a Keshet facilitator and writing a thesis about the experiences and identities of Jewish young adults of color in American Judaism.

Cross-posted on URJ.org