One of JCUA’s new and steadily growing initiatives is the White Racial Justice Working Group (WRJWG), which I co-founded in 2019 as a space for JCUA’s white Jewish members to work together to dismantle white supremacy.
Our working group calls upon the idea of an affinity space, an intentionally separate space for people with a certain identity — in this case white Jews — to gather and learn in ways not possible in multiracial spaces. Affinity spaces are tools that have been used across social movements to raise political consciousness and examine each of our unique roles in dismantling white supremacy.
We know that as Jews and as white people committed to racial justice, we have a very specific role to play. While many of us hold experiences of oppression quite close to our hearts and personal narratives, we also know that our ability to move through the world as white people has eased our path greatly. We know our whiteness has allowed us to build wealth in this country, pursue educational and professional opportunities, and access safe and secure housing for our families. We also know there are specific moments in history where white Jews have separated ourselves from other marginalized groups in order to gain access to certain benefits, at the expense of people of color. This history gives us a unique responsibility.
In 2018, following JCUA’s first racial justice training, a fellow JCUA member Aaron Wolfson and I founded the White Racial Justice Working Group. The training had emphasized that the pursuit of racial justice requires ongoing effort and accountability. But we wanted something more. This work is essential, and it is also difficult and uncomfortable. We needed to create a framework for pushing ourselves forward — a structure for processing our emotions, learning and unlearning, retraining our behaviors, and taking action to shift power. And we needed to recruit a team of allies to share this work with us, so that we would know we weren’t alone, and so that we could multiply our efforts.
As white folks gathering in an affinity space, there’s no need to recreate the wheel. The path is clear. People of color have told us very specifically what to do and where to go. It is simply our job to follow. We take cues from organizers and teachers around the country, organizers in Chicago, and our beloved members of JCUA’s Kol Or Caucus for Jews of Color every step of the way.
What started as one cohort of ten members and two facilitators has grown into two cohorts of 25 members and four facilitators. The cohorts are intergenerational and include participants from the teen and college organizing fellowships along with members from each of JCUA’s organizing committees. Through eight structured monthly sessions, built-in havruta (discussion partner) pairings, and a narrative arc for learning and accountability, we are able to stay purposeful in our working groups.