Edot Midwest works on behalf of Jews of color, helping them get to know one another and informing the larger community.
“Edot Midwest is a collaboration of different Jews of color who are leaders in their communities,” said Chelsea Cross, a spokesperson for the Milwaukee chapter. “The organization is really focused on bringing Jews of color together.”
Other chapters include Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Given the Ashkenazi-heavy population of Jews in the United States, Jews of color can feel overlooked, according to Cross. She said her organization brings Jews of color together to increase awareness and expose them to one another. Edot Midwest has fewer than 20 people actively involved, but organizers believe there are many more Jews of color in the area, Cross said.
Edot Midwest was founded in Madison by Shahanna McKinney Baldon about three years ago, Cross said. The organization’s full name is the “Edot Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity and Racial Justice Collaborative.”
Edot Midwest sponsors social events for Jews of color and also reaches out to the broader Jewish community. It has provided training, discussion based on readings, and other activities. The topics have related to anti-racism, creating more inclusive synagogues and more. It has worked with synagogues and nonprofits, including Tikkun Ha-Ir of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
In particular, Edot Midwest worked with the Federation on its racial equity task force, made up of Federation staff and members of the Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council boards. This process ran from November 2020 to May 2021.
“Through the process, lay and professional leadership learned and listened on the history of race and its role in society,” said Rabbi Hannah Wallick, vice president of Outreach, Israel and Overseas. “We started the conversation of how we can build a more inclusive community in Jewish and greater Milwaukee. Our work with Edot Midwest precipitated an invitation to Milwaukee to be one of seven communities to participate in the Jewish Federations of North America’s inaugural Jewish equity, diversity and inclusion initiative. Through our continued work in this area, we strive to be a community leader in developing and implementing more inclusive practices around diversity and race.”
Cross gave a talk on behalf of Edot Midwest at one local congregation about “just growing up as a Jew of color. How did I feel going to Hebrew School? How did I feel when I was practicing for my bat mitzvah, passing out those invites at Shorewood High School?”
Cross said she wants a Jew of color to be able to walk into an American synagogue and not have their Judaism questioned. She feels spreading the word about Jews of color will help with that and other issues.
Asked for advice for Ashkenazi Jews, Cross said she recommends “embracing Jews who don’t look like an Ashkenazi Jew. Come from a place of curiosity rather than judgement. And be more inclusive.”
For more information about Edot Midwest, visit EdotMidwest.org or contact email Info@EdotMidwest.org.