Gay, black Elon rabbi to take job that seeks diversity within Jewish faith – Burlington Times News

Posted By on February 12, 2021

Dean-Paul Stephens|Times-News

The Jewish faith needs to expand its reach, believes Elon University Rabbi Sandra Lawson.

To that end,Lawson soon plans to take on a national role as Reconstructing Judaism's inaugural director of racial diversity, equity and inclusion. It'sa position she believes has positive implications concerning the future of her faith, and as a queer black woman, it is a role for which she is uniquely qualified.

"Diversity and equity positions are relatively new positions that address diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization," Lawson said in an interview. "I added ... 'racial' to the [diversity, equity and inclusion] part because I don't want the racial component to get lost."

Reconstructing Judaism is an international organization that represents followers of the Jewish faith's Reconstructionist movement.

"The Reconstructionist movement is my home, Lawson noted in a news release. I believe in our movement. I believe in our values. We have ahuge impact on the Jewish world.

Lawson said she took the new position because she believes in Reconstructing Judaism's intentions.

"I really want us tolive up to our values and do better," she said."Putting people in positions like this sends a message that its time to start doing better.

An Elon University rabbi since 2018, Lawson has managed to build a following that is equal parts online and offiline. On top of her usual Rabbi work, Lawson is known for using social media for both outreach and activism.

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"Currently, I'm the campus rabbi at Elon University," Lawson said, adding that her new position will allow her to do more activism work.

"My job at Elon was very time-consuming and I often felt that there was a lot of stuff in the community that I couldn't do,"Lawson said, adding that she still plans on doing work in Alamance County."I'm hoping to do more in the community, I'm hoping to be more of a clergy member in the community. My wife and I bought a house so we're invested in living here."

A lifelong member of the Jewish faith, Lawson admits that part of the reason she became a rabbi was due to a noticeable dearth of rabbis within the Jewish faith that shared her identity as a queer black woman.

"I came from a community ... called the Congregation Bet Haverim," Lawson said. "It was a pretty cool synagogue in Atlanta. I was a member and then I was a vice president and I started doing more social justice-related work. I started thinking about going to rabbinicalschool.

"I didn't know any black rabbis at the time and I kind of wondered if that was a good thing to do. And so I decided to go for it and apply to the college and today I'm a rabbi."

According toLawson, citing recent studies,people of color make up 12-15%of Judaism. In spite of this, people of color have always played a prominent role in the faith, Lawson said.

"I think, sadly, many in the United States, when they think of who is an American, are still thinking of white people," Lawson said. "Many Jews in the United States, when they think of who is a Jew, there is this idea that all Jews come from Eastern European heritage. That actually has never been true ... the majority of Jews in the world come from all over the world."

It's this and similar messages she hopes to convey in her new position, which begins next month.

"The Jewish community, just like the rest of America, is beginning to realize that diversity matters," Lawson said. "If you give people an opportunity, if you cast a wide enough net, you will get the most qualified people and you will get the most diverse group of people. What's important about my role is to make sure that all of our processes around hiring, around applicants, are equitable for everyone, to help people move past their biases."

Lawson said that the position she is preparing for likely wouldn't have existed 15 or 20 years ago.

The Jewish community, much like much of America, didn't think of this 15 or 20 years ago," Lawson said. "This is about making sure that all people have the same opportunities. I don't think this was on anyone's radar 15 years ago."

On their part, Reconstructing Judaism officials are excited to have Lawson on board.

"Reckoning with racism both systemic and personal is one of the moral demands of our time. Sandra has the substance, the experience, thepassionand the compassion to help lead our movement in this challenging and necessary work,"said Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism. "I am thrilled to work with and to learn from her."

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Dean-Paul Stephens is a lifelong North Carolina resident who has covered communities throughout the state. He currently covers racial justice in the region. If you have racial justice related tips send an email to


Gay, black Elon rabbi to take job that seeks diversity within Jewish faith - Burlington Times News

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