In order to better understand the nature of our work, we offer here a list of working definitions. Definitions listed here are for working purposes, are in process, and are fluid. If you’d like to learn and discuss more we hope you’ll be involved with our programs and welcome you to be in touch.
Embodied Jewish Practice
In the words of Antonio Damasio in The Feeling of What Happens, embodiment is “an experience in which a primarily physical sensation becomes an experience of emotional depth replete with transformational power and meaning.”
Embodied Jewish practice refers to the experience of Jewish life & learning through our bodies. In other words, it is the use of modalities that utilize physical sensations (touch, sound, sight, smell, taste, movement) and awareness (e.g. perception of ourselves and our environment, reaction and response sensations, emotional response, etc) alongside creative and/or spiritual expression (e.g. music, dance, ritual, food, prayer) to cultivate meaningful and lasting Jewish experiences.
Mitsui Collective centers embodied Jewish practice in almost every aspect of our work, with the goal of catalyzing transformative experience for both the individual and the collective “body” through a given program or resource.
Somatic — relating to the soma, or awareness of the presence, sensations, and experiences of one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self.
Staci Haines, co-founder of Generative Somatics, writes in her book The Politics of Trauma that “a somatic understanding of the body/self … holds the body, self, thinking, emotions, action, and relating as an interconnected whole.”
Somatic Antiracism is therefore:
- Understanding the underlying physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects that impact our individual and collective responses to racism and racialized identity, particularly to bring greater attention to and awareness of somatic responses to perceived racial difference;
- Acknowledging and addressing the personal and generational impacts of racialized trauma on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing;
- Utilizing somatic frameworks and practices towards addressing and healing the impacts of racism across the personal, communal, and cultural spheres through which it plays out;
Mitsui Collective’s somatic antiracism work addresses the unique variables of racialized trauma across the range of individual Jewish identity and experience, and its particular impacts and considerations across the range of Jewish communal and institutional contexts.
Jews of Color (JOC)
Broadly speaking, JOC is shorthand for Jewish People of Color. There are many ways to define JOC. Here are a few:
- In the study Counting Inconsistencies: An Analysis of American Jewish Population Studies, with a Focus on Jews of Color, The Jews of Color Initiative defines JOC “broadly to include anyone who identified as non-white” and Jewish.
- Ammud: The JOC Torah Academy defines JOC as “people who are considered non-white in the U.S. by nature of their generational lineage and identify as such (including Mizrahi and Sephardi people).”
- The Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism defines JOC as “a pan-ethnic term that is used to identify Jews whose family origins are originally in African, Asian or Latin-American countries. Jews of Color may identify as Black, Latino/a, Asian-American or of mixed heritage such as biracial or multi-racial. Due to several factors, Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews from North African and Arab lands vary in whether or not they self-identify as “Jews of Color.””
Please note that important distinctions can and should be made between race and ethnicity when discussing Jewish heritage; and that JOC may come from any combination of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and/or Mizrachi backgrounds or from none of these particular ethno-cultural traditions.
Mitsui Collective welcomes all those who identify as JOC to attend / get involved with JOC-specific programs and initiatives. If you’re unclear about whether and how to identify, we welcome you to get in touch so that we can chat about what it means to be in JOC space. We know the work of race and identity is messy and complex!
Multiracial & Multicultural Jewish Families
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the definition of “Jewish family” is increasingly varied and diverse. Many Jewish families include family members who may not personally identify as Jewish and come from diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, who are nonetheless part of a family who associates with Jewish identities, traditions, and practices. Mitsui Collective welcomes and embraces all such families as a valued and critical part of our community and seeks to create contemporary Jewish practices that provide meaning and value to spiritual seekers of all backgrounds.
Ashkenormativity is the phenomenon wherein Ashkenazi (ie originating in Central and Eastern European) Jewish traditions and cultural markers are assumed to be the default standard for Jewish identity and experience. Examples include Ashkenazi Jewish foods like bagels and lox or potato latkes being go-to foods for any and all Jewish events; Yiddish culture assumed as a stand-in for all Jewish backgrounds; or more complicatedly the assumption that all American Jews have been to Jewish summer camp — an experience both predominantly Ashkenazi (though certainly not exclusively) that also intersects with class privilege.
Ashkenormativity becomes problematic due to its disproportionate prevalence in assumptions and practices both internal and externally associated with the Jewish experience both in North America and elsewhere. Ashkenormativity often intersects with predominately white (or “white-passing”) Jewish spaces but should not be used as a place-holder for whiteness. Many JOC have Ashkenazi heritage; and many Sephardi & Mizrachi Jews consider themselves white or white-passing.
Whether as JOC or as an ally, if you’re looking for resources to deepen your learning and toolkit around racial equity in the Jewish community and beyond, here are a few links to get you started.