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Critical Conversations: Jews & Race

Critical Conversations: Jews & Race

In a pair of public online events, experts address the juncture of race and justice in Jewish life

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership proudly convenes a trio of thought leaders from both coasts for the 2021 installment of its Critical Conversations series, entitled Jews and Race.

This year’s presenters are Boston-based Black, Jewish anti-racism activist Yavilah McCoy; San Francisco author and professor of Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility Dr. Marc Dollinger; and New York rabbi and social action organizer Rabbi Mira Rivera.

Critical Conversations: Jews and Race will take place in two online sessions. Talking Frankly about Race and Racism brings the presenters together on Tuesday, April 27 to discuss race and racism, digging into the nuances and complexities of these issues in Jewish life and beyond. Then McCoy, Dollinger, and Rivera regroup on Monday, May 10 to lead the participatory Workshop on Equity and Allyship, addressing the needs of Jews of Color and issues of race within today’s American Jewish community. Both virtual sessions start at 7 pm Central and are 90 minutes in length. Participants are invited to attend one or both.

Critical Conversations is an annual Spertus Institute program inspired by Judaism’s embrace of civil discourse. The series brings together high-profile experts and activists to debate the most critical issues of the day. Critical Conversations is generously funded by the late Eric Joss.

Spertus Institute President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell will moderate the first session. Addressing the importance of Critical Conversations, he said, “At Spertus Institute, we believe that Jewish wisdom and experiences can provide important insight as we address today's most pressing issues. Race and racial justice are such issues—and they demand our serious attention. Despite the fact that Jews of Color have been central in Jewish history and are an integral part of Jewish life, representing 12-15% of the total American Jewish population, they are frequently overlooked or marginalized. We seek to explore Jewish values to help us develop more just and inclusive communities and organizations. At the same time, we stand to learn a great deal from the deep discussions of race and justice in other settings, which we can apply to broaden our perspectives, improve our work, and advance our communal sensibilities.”

Spertus Dean and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Keren E. Fraiman, who will moderate the Workshop on Equity and Allyship, said, “Bridging theory and practice, the first program will focus on big questions, issues, and ideas about race and racism, broadly and within the Jewish community. Sometimes it can be challenging to take substantial steps towards inclusive communities. Therefore, the second workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to develop an action plan. Together with our panelists, all of whom are leading voices on these issues, we will explore approaches for creating communities that intentionally and meaningfully address questions of race.”

Tickets are $18 ($10 for Spertus members and $8 for students and Spertus alumni). The two sessions are ticketed separately, and advance registration is required via

Yavilah McCoy, Dr. Marc Dollinger, Rabbi Mira Rivera


When most people think of Jewish, they think white and they think European. But Jews of color have been alive and well for thousands of years.—Yavilah McCoy

Yavilah McCoy is a Boston-based Black, Jewish anti-racism activist. She founded Ayecha, the first nonprofit for Jewish diversity and is CEO of Dimension Educational Consultancy. A renowned educator and spiritual practitioner, she was named a “Faith Leader to Watch” by the Center for American Progress.

We need to upend our entire way of thinking.—Dr. Marc Dollinger

Dr. Marc Dollinger holds the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University. He is the author of Black Power, Jewish Politics and served on the California advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Being a courageous and compassionate Jew matters. Black and brown lives matter. Standing up for what is right matters.—Rabbi Mira Rivera

Rabbi Mira Rivera—the first Filipina-American ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary—is a chaplain and social action organizer for Romemu, and co-chairs the rabbinical council of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. She came to New York to dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Spertus Institute is grateful for the support of Presenting Sponsor Krueck Sexton Partners and Program Sponsors Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. and Oppenheimer—John and Joan Gilchrist.

This is the fourth program in the Critical Conversations series. The 2020 program, held on stage at Spertus Institute just before the pandemic limited such events, focused on Climate Change. It was moderated by David Wallace-Wells, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth. Resources from that program are available online at

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership offers dynamic learning opportunities rooted in Jewish wisdom and culture and open to all. Graduate programs and workshops train future leaders and engage individuals in exploration of Jewish life. Public programs—including films, exhibitions, speakers, seminars, workshops, and concerts—take place online, and when safe to do so, at the Institute's Michigan Avenue facility and in the Chicago suburbs

Monday, April 5, 2021

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