Amplifying Voices: A Series on the Intersection of Black and Jewish Identities


2020 has been a year of change. One of the results of 2020 that has reverberated across the country is the need and desire for inclusivity to be encouraged, diversity to be embraced and for voices to be heard.

That is where Amplifying Voices steps in. A self-titled “A Series on the Intersection of Black and Jewish Identities” hosted by The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Amplifying Voices marries internal T’shuvah (repentance) – personal pattern breaking, growth and reckoning – in a series of virtual programs with artists, authors and thought leaders both inside and outside the Jewish community. The discussions and topics covered have ranged from race, religion and identity.

It all started, as most things do, with a conversation.

“We had invited the CEO of the Jews of Color-Field Building Initiative, Ilana Kaufman, to Baltimore to do a staff enrichment program,” explains Sara Shalva, chief arts officer at the JCC. “Ilana inspired our staff to awaken to the diversity of the Jewish community and ask ourselves hard questions about whether we are really a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging.”

This led to a series of planning sessions with other JCCs to create programming, as the series describes, at the intersection of arts and Jews of Color. Shalva further explains that Tuscon JCC was a partner early on in the process and together they helped sculpt the program that started in October of 2020.

“The Jewish community, and more broadly some communities across America, are understanding the impact of systemic racism,” says Shalva. “More and more Jews are understanding that we need to tune in to the hurt and pain of Jews of Color, that we need to redefine who we think of as Jewish and we need to tread more carefully through the world, with a deeper sense of compassion.”

And while the series has only had a few months’ worth of programming under its belt, it has been well received by the community at large.

Joseph DeMattos of Pikesville says that “The Amplifying Voices Series through the Gordon Center was a powerful undertaking bringing together a broad cross-section of diverse people and experiences. These events offered a tangible reminder that we live in an age where listening, empathy and taking right action with shared interest and unity is a must, and not a should.”

Eileen, another community member who attended the series said she was thrilled to have had the experience.

“I have three grandsons who are biracial. The boys have been raised Christian but, of course, have been involved in, respectful of, and interested in all of my traditions and holidays. I look forward to sharing this experience with them.”

At the time of writing this article, there is one session left of the series – Ritual Intersections in the Music Studio – where community members will be able to tune in to a musical Freedom Seder on Sunday, February 21t. The most recent session, Learning the Land: A Virtual Civil Rights Tour, held on January 31, provided guests a virtual tour and interactive discussion looking at the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama and their importance in the Civil Rights movement.

Looking to the future, Shalva reassures us that Amplifying Voices isn’t going anywhere, and there are plans for the series to return in the future. In the short-term, the JCC and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts will be a platform for the National Shabbaton for Jews of Color on May 14 thru 16th, an event that was spearheaded by a community member after meeting with Ilana Kaufman earlier in 2020. The JCC is also planning a Queer Jewish Arts Festival for the first two weeks in June, which will be a celebration of intersectional identity, creativity and community. “We see art as a place where people can grow in their understanding of themselves and of the world around them,” Shalva concluded. “The Amplifying Voices series is an example of the way we can fuse arts and social justice, raising awareness and increasing the volume of the voices of the unheard.”

Interested in more events? See what the JCC and The Gordon Center have coming up:

Wednesday, April 7, 11:00 a.m. | Seth Kibel — The Jews of American Jazz


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