Kai Gardner Mishlove – a local mega-volunteer, a deeply experienced refugee advocate, and a member of both the Jewish and Black communities – is the new director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council. She started in the position April 15.
The JCRC, an arm of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, advocates for the rights and values of Jews individually and collectively, here and abroad. Typically, the local JCRC director fields requests from the public and the media, on behalf of the local Jewish people. She speaks out against antisemitism. She meets with other groups in Wisconsin and works on various projects with them.
“I have a lot of high hopes for the job,” Gardner Mishlove said. She said she wants to “assist with and build more partnerships and allies for the Milwaukee community and beyond.”
Former JCRC Director Jenny Tasse stepped down from the position in April to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning.
Active in Milwaukee
Gardner Mishlove, who came to Milwaukee from Chicago in 2009, said she likes Milwaukee. She likes the green space, beautiful biking trails and motorcycle culture, but is disappointed in “the level of segregation.” Milwaukee is one of the most segregated communities in the nation, she noted.
She has served on the boards of Hillel Milwaukee, JCRC Milwaukee, the Friendship Circle of Wisconsin, the National Council of Jewish Women – Milwaukee, the SEA Literacy Project, Hands and Voices and various disability rights groups. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University with graduate studies in public health from the University of Illinois. Before her new role with the JCRC, she was program coordinator of Refugee Health and Social Services for the Advocate Aurora Walkers Point Clinic.
These roles have placed Gardner Mishlove on the forefront of cross-cultural learning and communication. She’s learned to “center” her relationships with people, which means “meeting them where they are, but it’s an exchange, a give and take,” she said.
“I’ve been so active and involved in building cross-cultural relationships,” she said. “I’ve felt very comfortable in doing that particular work.”
It made the JCRC role seem like a perfect fit for her, she said. It connects with her own Judaism, she said, including a strong feeling of commitment to tzedek (justice); chesed (loving kindness); and tikun olam (repair of the world). It builds on her community experience.
“I see it as very, very important that our Jewish community be at the table,” she said. “If you are not at the table, you run the risk of either being on the menu or being excluded. You want to be a part of the planning.
“I see relationship building as being very important to counter antisemitism, too.”
Member of African American Diaspora
Gardner Mishlove said that worldwide Judaism diaspora is diverse, with people who are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Mizrahi and African, and that one can be in multiple communities at once. She sees herself as a member of both the Jewish community and the African American Diaspora community.
“I’m very committed to countering hate against all communities,” she said.
Gardner Mishlove said she’s also a member of the community of families with special needs – her daughter Surya Kidist is part of the deaf and hard of hearing community. Her other adult children are son Berhane, daughter Jnana Konjit and stepdaughter Julia Reva.
Gardner Mishlove said she hopes to “build better bridges” between the African American Diaspora community and Jewish communities. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that she was granted a Building Bridges award by National Council of Jewish Women Milwaukee in 2007. She said that such bridges are an important part of the answer to intolerance.
She’s disappointed in the growth in intolerance in America in recent years, she said.
A progressive Zionist
“I consider myself a progressive Zionist,” she said. “Israel has a right to exist. I love Israel. I was in Israel in 2019. I have many family and friends there.”
Just like in the United States and other countries, there are things in need of improvement in Israel, she said.
“I want to be supportive in assisting Israel in whatever way needs to happen for it be secure,” she said. “I can’t wait to go back again.”