Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center has received a $13,000 grant from CJP to support efforts highlighting racial diversity. The grant supports diverse programming, mikveh guide training and anti-racism training for staff and volunteers at the Newton-based mikveh.

It’s the culmination of work that began three years ago, when Mayyim Hayyim convened a task force to discuss the impact of implicit racial bias and ways to be accessible to a wider population of Jewish families.

“I think it’s becoming more and more clear that direct work on racism within the Jewish community is really necessary and important. Despite everyone’s best intentions, if your community is led by white, Ashkenazi Jews, it’s going to be your frame of reference,” says Leeza Negelev, Mayyim Hayyim’s associate director of education. “This grant gives us the support we need to focus on broadening our programming and our understanding of racism’s impact.”


A key component is young adult outreach, highlighted during its popular pre-High Holidays “Knocking at Our Hearts” program in September. This year, performer Dr. Galeet Dardashti, assistant professor of Jewish music and musician-in-residence at the Jewish Theological Seminary, will lead the program. She also leads the all-female Middle Eastern Jewish music group Divahn.

On Sept. 8, she’ll host “Sephardi/Mizrahi Sacred Songs for the High Holidays,” a large-scale, interactive presentation focusing on Jewish Middle Eastern and North African piyyutim (sacred songs) chanted during Elul, the month that precedes the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Participants will learn to sing some of these poetic songs and better understand their shifting cultural significance throughout Jewish history. (Check out the full program here.)

Rosa Blumenfeld (Courtesy photo)
Rosa Blumenfeld (Courtesy photo)

Meanwhile, Mayyim Hayyim will recruit for its 12th cohort of volunteer mikveh guides and mikveh educators, tailoring outreach to recruit ethnically and racially diverse Jews to become volunteers. Rosa Blumenfeld, a longtime union organizer, AFL-CIO educator and anti-oppression trainer, leads that initiative. Mayyim Hayyim is also working in partnership with Kavod, a young adult group of Jewish social justice organizers. Kavod’s Jews of Color, Indigenous Jews, Sephardim and Mizrahim Caucus was formed last year by four community leaders and now engages young people in monthly programming. Individual members of the caucus have been thought partners for the Mayyim Hayyim task force, and Kavod is the main co-sponsor of the “Knocking at Our Hearts” program.

Finally, Mayyim Hayyim will offer training for existing mikveh guides and mikveh educators that focuses on how to welcome racially and ethnically diverse Jews, as well as specific nuances of Sephardi and Mizrahi mikveh traditions. The sessions will include anti-racism training to address subtle racial bias.

“As someone who’s been part of the task force we formed three years ago, it’s great to see this come to fruition. I think we’ve been having great conversations—and now it’s time to take action,” says Rachel Eisen, Mayyim Hayyim’s acting executive director.