Yavilah McCoy, an African-American Orthodox Jew who has a unique family experience to share, as well as a conversation to start on Jews of color and multi-culturalism within the American Jewish community, will be the scholar-in-residence May 6-7 at Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill. The theme of this year’s annual Silverstein and Gray Kallah is “A Kaleidoscope of Jewish Life in 2011: Jews of Color.”
The Kallah begins on Friday evening, May 6. Following Kabbalat Shabbat services, Yavilah will discuss “From Brooklyn to Jerusalem: The Saga of Four Generations of Jews” and the matriarchal path to embracing Judaism taken within her family. At Shabbat services Saturday, May 7 (which start at 9:30 am), Yavilah shifts her focus from her personal story to Jewish communal life. She will deliver a sermon on “Diversity in Jewish Life: Welcoming the Stranger,” followed by a Q & A session.
The culmination of the Kallah will be a musical performance — “The Colors of Water: An African American and Jewish Journey,” which Yavilah co-wrote with Anita Diamant and Janet Buchwald. In an exciting mix of storytelling and song — otherwise known as Jewish gospel — Yavilah celebrates both her African American and Jewish identity and heritage. She will be accompanied by an ensemble of musicians and singers.
The “Colors of Water” affirms the strong belief of Yavilah McCoy’s family in the invisible, in hope in the face of adversity, and most of all, in the freedom to build a relationship with God and spirituality. Working as an activist, educator, writer, and performer, Yavilah has increased awareness of Jewish diversity and developed successful strategies for inclusion.
Raised in the Flatbush and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn and yeshiva educated before attending the State University of New York at Albany, Yavilah McCoy pursued graduate studies at Hebrew University. She spent more than a decade teaching Judaic Studies, Hebrew, and English literature to elementary and secondary school students. In 2000, she founded the Ayecha Resource Organization to address the needs of Jews who come from diverse backgrounds and to help mainstream Jewish organizations become more aware, inclusive, and welcoming to Jews from different racial and cultural backgrounds.
As Yavilah notes “Today ‘our people’ is changing. Today our people come from Sudan and Ethiopia, and our people come from Brooklyn, and our people come from New Jersey and Yemen, and everywhere. We get to claim every inch of our Jewish spiritual breadth.”
Since 2008, Yavilah has been the New England Director of The Curriculum Initiative, which supports and and promotes Jewish life at independent high schools across the country through extra-curricular programming, school-wide and classroom presentations, and opportunities for professional development. Among her professional accomplishments, Yavilah is a trained facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s “A World of Difference” program and in 2000 she was one of only eight recipients awarded a Joshua Venture fellowship for Jewish social entrepreneurs. She has also served on the boards of directors for the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Hadassah, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Tickets for the Saturday evening, May 7, performance of “The Colors of Water” are priced at $15 per person and $25 per couple. Tickets can be ordered online at www.templeemeth.org or by contacting the Temple Emeth office at (617) 469-9400. Temple Emeth is located at 194 Grove Street/Putterham Circle in Chestnut Hill and the building is handicapped accessible.