When April Baskin’s family moved to Sacramento, Calif., and began looking for a new Reform congregation, the first two turned them away. But the third embraced them, and the family dove into synagogue life.
“I ended up being very much woven into the life of a congregation… and so I feel like I’ve been inspired because I’ve seen what community can look like,” said Baskin, whose mother is Ashkenazi and whose father is black and Native American.
As an adult, Baskin has devoted her career to helping Jewish institutions attract and appreciate families like hers, and last August, she became the Reform movement’s first ever vice president of “audacious hospitality.”
Baskin comes to the position with the perspective of both an insider and an outsider. She was a mainstay at her synagogue, but was asked if she was Jewish when attending a Chabad dinner. Her father has been mistaken for the synagogue’s custodian.
She also noted how at Hebrew school, “the kids from interfaith homes were always on the fringes. I want them to be a part of what I felt like I was experiencing,” she said.
In order to move the dial, Jews at the center of Jewish communal life need to stop thinking of Jews on the margins as people who need to be integrated and begin thinking of them as people who can invigorate the congregation, Baskin said.
Baskin says that, “Yes, there is some apathy and alienation” among Jews of color. But she also sees “a lot of excitement and desire to express their Judaism in the fullness of who they are.”
Baskin has seen it firsthand. At Tufts, when writing her thesis on Jews of color, 48 of 50 people interviewed said they wanted to meet others like them. When she started Jews of Color United on Facebook, people would drive to events here from as far as Baltimore. While president of the Jewish Multiracial Network, the group grew to more than 2,000 members. As national director of resources and training at Interfaith Family, she saw the thirst among interfaith families to engage in Jewish life.
“We need to focus on where the energy is,” Baskin said, “to focus on the group that is interested in engaging.”
Health hound: Baskin is a fan of kale ginger smoothies, lemon ginger tonics and other healthy snacks. She’s also an avid belly dancer, and has won two Michael Jackson dancing contests.