-Mary Kohav and Stacey Aviva Flint
As organizations working on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) prepare their initiatives for 2023, many in the Jewish world are asking a tough question: Does DEI do more harm than good, especially for Jews?
For us, the answer is clear: As a multiethnic and multicultural people, Jews can neither afford to opt out of DEI, nor allow its practitioners to exclude us. DEI must include the Jewish experience in order to address rising workplace trends in antisemitism and enhance broader DEI outcomes, bringing about justice and equity for all groups.
First, the need for DEI work is only growing. The global market for DEI was estimated at US$9.3 billion in the year 2022, and is projected to reach a revised size of US$15.4 billion by 2026.
Second, global Jewry itself is inherently diverse in national origins, ethnicity, and race. Living Jewishly is not a monolithic experience; our identities are fluid, intersectional, and ever-evolving. 17% of American Jews identify as Black, Asian, another minority race or multiracial, Hispanic, Mizrahi,Sephardic, or of other nationalities. Jews hold widely differing political views, engage Jewishly in a variety of ways, and deem working for justice and equality for all to be an essential part of being Jewish.
Third, FBI reports of antisemitism are at all-time highs. From tragic attacks at Tree of Life Synagogue and the Unite the Right Rally, to online hate and harassment, perpetrators cite hatred of Jews, Blacks, and other minorities as motivating factors. As this hatred permeates the workplace, Jewish employees are concerned for their physical and emotional safety and are often targeted or scapegoated by those fearful of diversity.
Leading DEI initiatives in our respective institutions, we have seen first hand the obstacles faced by Jewish employees who seek to have their experiences honored in workplace DEI in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors:
- “Jewish” is more than a religion; it is also a secular identity/culture/peoplehood. Yet it only gets categorized as a religion, and then sidelined by DEI initiatives that shy away from religious groupings.
- Concern about politicization as part of the Jewish experience is oftentimes enough to steer DEI leaders away from addressing needs of Jewish staff, substituting Jewish humanity for political proxies.
- Jewish employees’ concerns fall to the wayside as affinity group and Employee Resource Group (ERG) assets are limited. DEI officers are stretched thin and struggle to prioritize what might be seen as competing interests from various marginalized groups.
- By choosing not to address antisemitism, or Jew hatred, and its prevalence in American society, nor elevate the experiences and diversity stories of Jewish employees, Jews with intersecting identities such as Jewish and Black or Jewish and Asian are further marginalized.
When DEI is done right, it is a win-win for the collective endeavors, not a zero-sum game. As Audre Lourde says, “there is no hierarchy of oppression.” Systems of oppression are interconnected, and antisemitism and other “-isms” are built from the same structural frameworks, miseducation, and outright hatred. Instead of falling prey to “oppression olympics,” we should unpack antisemitism and how it functions as a system of oppression, which benefits DEI outcomes for all marginalized identities, and creates flourishing organizational cultures.
DEI leaders hold a moral and ethical responsibility to honor the complexity of the Jewish experience through impactful and constructive approaches. Jewish employees and DEI officers need champions and experts to n help them incorporate their full experience:
- Jewish Federations, the Anti-Defamation League, Holocaust museums and educators, and numerous other institutions have curricula, programs, speakers and additional resources that teach about antisemitism, diverse Jewish heritage and holidays, and Jewish values.
- May is Jewish American Heritage Month and offers DEI leaders celebratory ways to recognize the contributions Jewish Americans have made to American civic life, often in the face of adversity, including their fight for advancing civil rights, gender equality, sciences, law, the arts, and more.
- Jewish employees should be supported in cultivating meaningful friendships and allyships with their non-Jewish colleagues as part of overall DEI goals and outcomes. Including Jews in DEI builds buy-in, fostering inter-group understanding and connection. Plus, learners who have had antisemitism education show more and openness to differing viewpoints and identities, are more likely to stand up to intolerant behavior and stereotyping, and to offer help to a victim of bullying.
Jewish institutions have our work cut out for us as well. We must remain steadfast in our efforts to train Jewish DEI experts and ensure our leadership and talent pipelines are representative of our own Jewish diversity, from Jews of color, neurodiverse, LGBTQ+, and other identities.
Tikkun Olam (fixing our broken world) can’t be done without an acknowledgement of broken systems from which racism and antisemitism are rooted within U.S. culture and the workplace. The pervasiveness of antisemitism along with the demonization of diversity – i.e. DEI – is undeniably straining the fabric of American civil discourse and democracy. Only our collective energies to ensure Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion endures will result in freedom for us all.
Mary Kohav leads Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) and Community Engagement Programs at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She has worked to foster change across civic, business, and nonprofit organizations in Southern California for more than 25 years bringing equitable, inclusive and integrated solutions.
Stacey Aviva Flint, Director of JEDI Education and Community Engagement at Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) leads education around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion throughout the Jewish ecosystem. Stacey Aviva spent over a decade specializing in urban economic development. For over 15 years she has designed engagement strategies for synagogues, and Jewish educational and civic institutions.