Every Jew of color has a personal experience that shows how the community has room to grow in the area of inclusivity, said Ramona Tenorio.
A Jewish Latina – or “Jewtina,” as Tenorio said – she is of Mexican, Indigenous and Dutch ancestry. One of her stories goes like this:
She and her family left a synagogue once, late at night, possibly after a meeting. As they left the parking lot and turned onto the main road, she said a police officer pulled over their vehicle.
The officer questioned what Tenorio’s family was doing in the neighborhood and why they were at the synagogue, she said. They were asked if they had been cleaning the facility, she said.
Tenorio’s family was not cleaning the shul. They were congregants there, and Tenorio has served on the board of trustees.
“People know us, they know our family,” Tenorio said. “But in the beginning, that wasn’t necessarily the case. That is something that we contend with. When I have conversations with Jews of color nationally, this is a recurring thing.”
Those sorts of incidents contributed to why Tenorio co-founded a nonprofit called Tiyuv. Named for the Hebrew word that translates to “improvement,” Tiyuv is an organization focused on providing Jews-of-color-led evaluations for racial justice programs in the Jewish community, nationwide.
Tenorio’s background is in research and evaluation, with training in medical anthropology. She said she has years of experience working on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. In 2021, she partnered with Shahanna McKinney-Baldon to found the organization.
The nation had seen a resurgence in calls for racial justice and equity following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May of 2020. In the Jewish community, Tenorio said a movement reawakened regarding the need for recognition and inclusion of Jews of color.
McKinney-Baldon, who works as co-director of the clinical program at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a leading voice among Jews of color, Tenorio said. A fellow evaluator, she said McKinney-Baldon connected with her in 2020. They built a relationship and eventually formed Tiyuv.
The organization both provides program evaluations and trains Jews of color to work as evaluators. Tenorio serves as its full-time executive director.
She said her experience with the traffic stop demonstrates the need for Tiyuv’s work. She shared the anecdote about the traffic stop in early September, just before Jews across the globe would gather to observe the High Holidays.
That’s a time of year when the Jewish community relies more heavily on a security presence “for much-needed reasons,” Tenorio said. But for Jews of color like her, that heightened security is a complex experience with “a layer of scrutiny that can be daunting and scary and unsettling,” she said.
In the case of the traffic stop, Tenorio said she felt supported by the congregation and its leadership, which worked to make amends. Still, she said, the experience illustrates why synagogues need to be mindful about how they navigate issues such as security so that Jews of color are not inadvertently targeted at their own congregation.
In its first two years, Tiyuv has built partnerships across the country with a variety of organizations to help them evaluate their programs. For one client, Tiyuv helped ensure a racial justice curriculum for Jewish day schools would be inclusive.
In another instance, Tenorio said, Tiyuv assisted with the development of a training program for community organizers geared specifically toward Jews of color. She said the organization is helping the client prepare to evaluate the impact of its work both for participants and in the community.
In addition, Tiyuv in June graduated the first cohort from its own training program that prepares Jews of color to work as evaluators. Four of 17 applicants were granted $10,000 fellowships and nine months of coursework to learn from national leaders in culturally responsive evaluation, Tenorio said.
Applications for the second cohort were set to open in September.
Tenorio said she looks forward to Tiyuv’s growth, with new partnerships forming frequently. She added that she sees a call surrounding program evaluation to expand beyond Jews of color into multicultural and multiethnic areas. Tiyuv is considering how to broaden the conversation.
Through Tiyuv’s work, Tenorio said she hopes to help organizations and their leaders strengthen their programming so that it has an impact on racial justice.
“It is, in one sense, a ripple effect, but it’s a very tangible ripple effect,” Tenorio said. “As evaluators, one of the things that we work on is how can we measure the impact? We’re always looking for that. We see that within our work and within our partnerships with organizations.”