Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Moishe Kavod House - Marjorie Corbman

Moving into a Moishe House was not my first time living in an intentional community, but it was
the first time I had lived in a Jewish community. Moishe Kavod House in Boston is particularly
devoted to its social justice work, and I was very excited about exploring the connections between
social justice, community, and my practice of Judaism.

One of the interesting aspects of this overlap has been the ways in which I now think of social
justice work in terms of our community’s Jewish identity. Moishe House has been very important
for me in terms of learning to ask the question of not only what work I want to do, but what would
be best and most powerful for a community of young Jews in Boston to take on.

The most exciting project I have been able to be a part of in my four months so far living in this
community has been in helping to begin a conversation in our community about racial justice and
our Jewish identities. The effort to create this conversation began after a member of our community
brought in a speaker in late October who encouraged us to think about the ways in which white
supremacy, defined by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger as “an historically based, institutionally
perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by
white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining
and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege” manifests itself in our own work for social

We are a largely white-dominant Jewish community, with the power and privilege which come with
that identity, and the justice “issues” around which we organize often disproportionately affect
people of color. This brings up a number of questions for us as we confront systemic racism in our
community. How can those (like myself) of white, Ashkenazi Jewish background work towards
making our community a safer space for Jews of color? How can a white-dominant community
(as it is now) begin to think about being allies in struggles led by people of color? There are other,
specific questions which confront us as Jews: what does “whiteness” mean to Ashkenazi Jews when,
a hundred years ago, European Jews were not always considered “white”? How do the ways we
often talk about Jewish immigration to the US from Europe as being part of the “American dream”
marginalize Jews of non-European descent, or ignore the fact that the land many of our ancestors
immigrated to was forcibly taken from indigenous peoples who are still fighting for their rights to it?
What is the historical relationship of anti-Semitism to racism and Islamophobia today? What would
it mean for us to approach Jewish history and Jewish texts through an anti-racist lens?

We will be addressing these and many other questions through a series of discussions and trainings
at our house throughout the coming year, and, we hope, beyond that. I am most excited about
the ways in which we can bring this conversation into all of the other work that we do—so that
we would not as a community be able to have an event about housing justice, or food equity, or
environmental sustainability, or a parsha study or Jewish holiday, without at some point discussing
how racial justice and anti-racism relate to the topic.

This is just one example of how living in a community which is both dedicated to its Jewish identity
and to social justice has helped me to think about ways in which our particular communal and

religious identities relate to larger issues of justice and equity. I am very excited to have these
conversations to continue and to help foster more of the Jewish community I want to see in the