Welcome to the first installation of Jewish Mentor of the Month, a column that profiles interesting people in our Jewish community who have had interesting life, career, and personal experiences we can all learn from. For our first profile, meet Deitra Reiser, PhD (she/her/hers), Owner of Transform for Equity, LLC, an Antiracist Repair Group.
Interested in connecting with Deitra? Hit her up at @transformforequity, on LinkedIn, or learn more at www.transformforequity.com.
Want to nominate someone to be featured as a future Jewish Mentor of the Month? Send an email with their name and a brief description of why you are nominating them to Kendra.
Deitra: I was born in Tennessee and grew up in Aurora, Illinois outside of Chicago. I now live in Silver Spring with my husband and two daughters who are 8 and 10.
Deitra: I moved here in September 2004 for my doctoral internship. I started in Lanham, MD, moved to DC, then Arlington before settling in Silver Spring. I considered living in NYC, but it is overwhelming and expensive to me. I have fond memories of spending time in the DC area when I was a girl visiting my aunt and cousins and could picture myself living here. I was excited to be in a relatively affordable city (back in 2004 mind you) where I could learn the city intimately. I’ve always loved the feel of the neighborhoods in DC: the architecture, the row houses, trees and green space. The proximity to politics was also a draw even though I personally was not in policy or politics myself.
Deitra: With one day in DC, I’d focus on scenery and food. I’d start my day sitting by the Potomac in Georgetown enjoying a latte and smurfette cupcake from Baked and Wired. I’d then take a walk to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to enjoy the 3rd and 4th floors – the entire museum is a true national treasure. I’d then go to the National Museum of the American Indian for lunch before heading for an afternoon hike at Turkey Run. I’d then eat dinner at Rasika before closing the evening with a drink watching the day turn to dusk on a balcony at The Wharf.
Deitra: My family and I say the Shabbat blessings and are active at our synagogue – Temple Sinai (in Northwest DC). I have been the co-chair of the Multiracial Sinai Committee for almost three years. Our goal is to lead Temple Sinai in striving to be affirmatively antiracist and making sure that each person who comes to our synagogue is embraced and feels a sense of belonging.
I’m also involved with RAC, the Religious Action Committee, through my leadership in Multiracial Sinai. The RAC passed a resolution in 2017 for synagogues to begin the internal work necessary to broaden racial justice by first considering racial justice in our own institutions. Since that time, our committee has had a laser focus and determination in ensuring that Temple Sinai is being antiracist in every part of our institution. The RAC has provided a great opportunity to share the experience we’ve had instituting antiracism at Temple Sinai to provide a model for other synagogues across the nation.
Deitra: There are so many things. The history of social justice in the DC Jewish community is strong and that is important to me. Most importantly, I love the connectedness and the diversity, especially the racial diversity. There is a strong community of Jews of Color who are supporting one another and as Yavillah McCoy says, “in beloved community” and there are a lot of White Jews who are in the antiracist space being allies.
Deitra: I want more people to be invested in the antiracist community. If there is one thing we have learned over the last few years it is that not being racist is not good enough. We must work – do the hard work- of being antiracist. The many systems of racism will not be dismantled by not being racist.
Deitra: I started Transform for Equity in January after realizing how passionate and skilled I am at facilitating change in the anti-racist space and recognizing a need for transformational experiences. I truly believe that we will not be able to create an equitable society by just having discussions, reading about race and racism, or by engaging in good work, when the work is not driven by antiracism. Individuals change organizations and institutions which, in turn, change society.
At Transform for Equity, we believe that antiracist organizations, especially synagogues, are a powerful force in building diverse, equitable communities that promote authentic belonging for people of all backgrounds and experiences. As an antiracist repair group we build the capacity of organizations to make strides toward institutional and systemic antiracist impact. We partner with organizations at all stages of the journey – from individual and personal awareness to scaling and tuning antiracist practices and policies – to deepen the relationships and community essential to sustain this transformational work.
I am most proud of the curriculum I designed called Building Racial Stamina, a facilitated discussion that focuses on each individual’s personal and internal experiences. The discussion group has changed the way people view race and racism. And most importantly, the congregants who have experienced Building Racial Stamina are now making a significant impact toward Temple Sinai being antiracist. I feel the difference.
Deitra: Start now and start with I. There are so many great resources to help people start their own work. Read books, articles and tweets by people of color, especially Jews of Color. Find ways to engage in conversations with other people who are thinking about how to be antiracist. Take the time to learn how racism lives within you and think of ways to disrupt those thoughts and actions, we all have them. Most importantly, find a community of people who are focused on antiracism, possibly at your synagogue or work place. If that community doesn’t yet exist, start it because this work cannot and should not be done alone. Recently, I participated in a community conversation hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington called Listen. Learn. Create: A Series on Race & Relations. Both conversations were recorded and are a great place to start for those interested in learning more. You can access them here (1st Session) and here (2nd Session)*.
*Deitra was featured in the second session.
Deitra: Ha! That’s a funny one. I’d tell myself to enjoy being young and single in a new city.
Deitra: you’ll hear, “you have to unmute.”
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