You are not expected to finish the work, but you are not free to desist.” 
-- Pirkei Avot 2:20-21

Dear Families,

In this moment of reckoning about race in our country, Senesh’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and access is more important than ever. Today, I want to share with you the work in which we are currently engaged and the work that we pledge to do. I also want to encourage each of you to continue to take action as part of our community. 

Last year, the Senesh Board of Trustees adopted a diversity statement. These principles guide decision-making:
As an open and inclusive Jewish day school in the heart of Brooklyn, we strive to provide an unparalleled, modern academic home that is committed to the rich mosaic of Jewish life. We are committed to intentionally building this mosaic with our students, faculty, administration, and families through their diversity across ethnicity, race, nationality, Jewish identity and practice, interfaith family composition, sexual orientation, gender identity, life experiences, socio-economic status, perspectives and worldviews.
We value the dignity and self-worth of each member of our community.

We believe in ensuring that our students are prepared to be global citizens who can be productive agents of change toward a more just world. Our core Jewish value of Openness/Elu v’Elu guides our work in building empathy, promoting tolerance, and valuing difference. We live this value daily at Senesh in our curriculum, programming, admissions, hiring, professional development, and dialogue with our broader community. It is integral to our ongoing journey/Masa as a school to embrace the complex conversation of diversity in the 21st century, which we believe will continue to make our
school community even more vibrant and strong.
Now, we must continue to turn this statement into action. 

Over the past two years, we have created a space for ongoing learning and dialogue about race, ethnicity, and implicit bias. This included extensive professional training, curriculum development, and parent engagement. These actions have helped to create and to nurture an inclusive community, to allow us to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, and to respect, honor, and embrace differences. 

Ongoing Professional Development
In partnership with four key organizations, our faculty is engaged in ongoing professional development. Below are some examples: 

  • Race and equity in the context of Jewish education, Facing History and Ourselves
  • Culturally responsive teaching, Facing History and Ourselves
  • A renewed approach to teaching U.S. history, Facing History and Ourselves
  • Navigating conversations about current events, Facing History and Ourselves    
  • Jewish Around the World: Holidays, Be'chol Lashon
  • Racial literacy, New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS)
  • Race for Jewish Educators, Jews in all Hues

Curriculum Development 
Faculty incorporated learnings from professional development in curricula across the school. The following is a list of some of this ongoing work: 

  • Social emotional learning, schoolwide. By anchoring our learning to five core competencies of self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, responsible decision making, and social awareness, we are building an inclusive community with intention. 
  • Holidays, schoolwide. Using holidays as an opportunity to celebrate diversity, students are learning how Jewish communities around the world celebrate. 
  • Embracing Jewish diversity in our own community, schoolwide. Celebrating the diversity of our own community, we have several new programs including the Passover haggadah project, Bar/Bat Mitzvah interviews, and parent speakers.
  • Building bridges through partnerships, schoolwide. In partnership with organizations such as Emma’s Torch, Project Ezra, and Brooklyn Autism Center, students form new relationships, gain skills, awareness, and experience being culturally competent in diverse settings. 
  • Social Studies, lower school. We revised our social studies curriculum ensuring lower school students explore: individual and group identity, respecting what makes people different, standing up to injustice, prejudice, discrimination and exclusion. 
  • Humanities, middle school. In partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, our teachers are constantly iterating and deepedning lessons on anti-semitism, current events and topics across the humanities curriculum.

Parent and Alumni Engagement
Across our community, parents and alumni have mobilized to take action. Our Diversity Committee planned several events focused on race and diversity within Judaism and in the broader world, including a book club, book fair, race workshop series, and other meetings. We also surveyed faculty and parents about diversity within the Senesh community; the survey findings revealed that diversity, equity, inclusion and access are top priorities. 

While there is much more work to be done, the progress we have made has been met with positive feedback from the broader Jewish day school community. I have written and spoken about our work across several august platforms including at UJA Open Tent Conference and Prizmah, Center For Jewish Day Schools. We have also received recurring grants from UJA and the Jewish Education Project. I’m proud that Senesh is emerging as a leader in this work and has the potential to make a great contribution to the field. 

Our work will not stop here. 

We have laid a solid foundation and, if these last few weeks have shown us anything, we know there is more work to be done. More listening, learning, and educating ourselves, our students, and our partners. 

Today, we reaffirm our commitment to this critical work. 

This past year, we learned that we must deepen our work to ensure that we are confronting our nation’s and other nations’ history of race and racism, implicit bias, and privilege. We must also actively engage in anti-racist eduction and work and broaden the racial diversity at our school.

Over the next 18 months, we commit to:

  • Broaden and deepen our professional development, training and workshops to ensure our faculty have the confidence, comfort, experience, and skills to address issues of race, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism across our curricula, programming, policies, and admissions practices.
  • Further develop our history, literature, prayer, and Judaic studies curricula through the lens of racial justice. 
  • Deepen the role and capacity of the parent diversity committee; invest in professionals to facilitate this work; provide parents with the skills to build their own awareness and to support their children. 
  • Increase partnerships that provide students with the opportunity to interact with and forge relationships with a diverse group of young people.  
  • Advocate across platforms to make Jewish institutions and the Jewish community more inclusive.

We also commit to incorporate this work into our strategic plan. In the coming months, through listening and learning with Senesh stakeholders (including parents, staff, alumni, philanthropic partners), our Board of Trustees and school leadership will set out clear long term strategic goals that will not only advance our existing work but will also outline essential steps to ensure that Senesh is a leader among Jewish Day schools. We will work to secure the resources needed to make sustainable change. 

Even during this pandemic, we remain focused on our school’s strategic priorities and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Building empathy, eliminating intolerance, and valuing difference are Jewish values that are an essential part of a Senesh education. We teach our children to not only ask tough questions, but also to become upstanders in the community and take action to make positive change in the world. 

Best wishes,
Nicole Nash
Head of School
Join your Senesh alumni community for two
anti-racist dialogue sessions led by expert facilitators

July 8 and July 27, 6:15-7:30pm EST

Senesh has built a virtual space for alumni to dialogue, reflect, and learn.

Coming together to unpack the intersections of Judaism, race, bias, privilege, and oppression will provide steps for each alum to continue personal and collective lifelong work.

Join in these two important conversations. Zoom link provided upon RSVP.
Please read these resources before our first session:

This article  about Jews of Color and  this article   directly responding to the first.

 by Karen Brodkin (Chapter 1)