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Bridge building and advocacy

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In August 2016, Basya Gartenstein (Left) and Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin (Right) share a hug while serving as Muslim and Jewish staff members at the Muslim Jewish Conference in which they co-led a delegation of 150 Jews and Muslims from 50 countries around the world through Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. Amiirah and Basya then spoke with NDR journalists about the hope that their visit would be part of efforts to build a better future in which the hate Muslims and Jews face is combatted together, and the words “never again” come to life through our shared efforts.

By Basya Gartenstein, Director, Jewish Community Relations Committee, JCFR

Shalom, as of August 1, it has been my privilege to serve the Richmond Jewish community as your JCRC Director.

Basya Gartenstein

In this role, I am the community advocate and bridge builder between various constituencies in the Jewish community, local, state and federal representatives, and between local religious, cultural, and ethnic groups.

The role resonates deeply with me and represents a synthesis of the most essential elements of my career. Over the past 10 years, I have held a number of positions, both within the Jewish community and with inter-religious and peace-building organizations based in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

The common denominator of those roles has been working at the intersection of Jewish communal development and building the partnerships necessary to ensure the needs of a local Jewish population are met.

My approach to the work of the JCRC is a proactive one. We will not wait for struggles to emerge to establish relationships with partners we need. We will have connections at our fingertips due to bonds we have established.

Sadly, the Jewish people are not alone in facing religious and ethnic prejudice and discrimination. Racism and Islamophobia are on the rise locally and globally. This diversity of our partners needs can produce a cacophony or harmony. My goal is to provide our community with the tools to manage and work through the cacophony, while transforming it into harmony.

Fortunately, under the leadership of Daniel Staffenberg, CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond; Amy Melnick-Scharf, our JCRC chair; Don Glazer, our chair of inter-group and inter-religious outreach; Miriam Davidow, our chair of Education; and Ephraim Seidman our Israel chair; we have built partnerships with inter-religious and inter-racial organizations, Synagogues, Mosques, Churches, and governmental representatives.

Pictured in August 2014 is the memorial to the lives lost at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where Basya Gartenstein visited as a delegate of the Muslim Jewish Conference that brought 150 Muslims and Jews from 50 countries together for dialogue, education, and collation building.

It might be comforting and discomforting to know that we are not isolated in combating hatred toward our people as a minority religious and ethnic group. That is why inter-group relations will be at the center of our five-pronged “Outshining Hate Plan” for the coming years – a comprehensive and collaborative approach to combating anti-Judaism, anti-semitism, and anti-Israel.

My professional journey directly corresponds to the priorities of the CRC office this coming year: Laying the groundwork for our “Outshining Hate Plan” described briefly below, and making the JCRC a space that is representative of the vibrant diversity of those who inhabit Richmond. With that, I will highlight some of our key strategies: laying the groundwork for our

  • Outshining Hate

The strategic plan of the CRC will be released next month. The plan is our approach to facing persecution of the Jewish people in the forms of anti-Judaism, antisemitism, and anti-Israel activism.

While Jews make up barely 2% of the U.S. population, the FBI’s 2020 hate crime statistics showed that crimes targeting Jews comprised 54.9% of all religious bias crimes. These crimes consist of a mixture of antisemitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel. Each must be addressed in its own right and in the context of the overlaps and intersections between them.

These challenges will be addressed by –

  • Security – our partnership with Secure Community Network (SCN) to enhance the safety, security, and preparedness posture of the Jewish community in the face of threats.
  • Providing inter-religious and intra-religious education about Israel and Judaism for our inter-group partners and members of the Jewish and non-Jewish community as needed.
  • Inter-religious and inter-group dialogue, experience, and shared action, such as Black-Jewish round tables, Muslim-Jewish round tables, and visits to one another’s sacred spaces.
  • Advocating and supporting policies and legislation that support our community including countering delegitimization of the Israeli state and its citizens, the Jews of Richmond, and the USA.
  • Federation missions to Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world.
  • This is your space: making CRC more representative and more inclusive

An obsession with politics is not a precondition for involvement in CRC.

The work of the Jewish Community Relations Committee is to effect change that represents the vision of Jewish Richmond.

One person might be more invested in the Jewish values that drive this process of “Outshining Hate,” and another might be interested in advocating for the adoption of the IHRA definition of antissemitism in legislation. Some might engage to teach about the relevance of Israel to their Jewish identity, others to combat anti-semitism.

Some might want to promote Holocaust education, others might want to accentuate knowledge of Jewish history in Arab, Spanish, and African lands within the Jewish community and to our inter-group partners.

Some might have a love of representing Judaism within and beyond the Jewish community, others might have a passion for dialogue.

These are just a few angles among many, and I hope that you, the reader, will reach out to me and share your vantage point on the CRC’s mission. I urge you to express the realities you wish the CRC to create, and join me as a thought partner as we make them a reality.

Know that this is your space. To help fulfill this goal, we have invited each Synagogue and Jewish agency to nominate a representative to officially serve on JCRC so we can create a more diverse and representative JCRC.

Please feel free to reach out to me by email or on my cell – bgartenstein@jewishrichmond.org or through Whatsapp on +12036061446, so that I can hear more over a cup of coffee.

 

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