October 7, 2010
Jewish educator, activist and performer Yavilah McCoy will be presenting her original theatrical creation, “The Colors of Water: An African-American Jewish Journey,” on the evening of Monday, October 11th, in Newton, Massachusetts, as part of the Mayyim Hayyim Gathering The Waters International Mikveh Conference. In this interview, Ms. McCoy discusses her work in the Jewish community and the evolution of the piece she will be presenting this coming Monday.
NVR: On Monday, October 11, you will be performing “The Colors of Water,” an original theatrical piece that tells the story of the four generations of your African-American Jewish family, as part of Mayyim Hayyim’s Living Waters International Mikveh Conference in Newton, Massachusetts. What inspired you to create this piece? What can the audience expect?
I have been an educator and activist within the Jewish professional community for close to twelve years now, and am constantly compelled and inspired by the potential for transformative change that diversity and inclusion work propels forward when it is done with grace, intention, forethought and an eye toward practical applicability. In writing this script with Anita Diamant and Janet Buchwald, I found an opportunity to share the unique experience of a multi-generational African-American Jewish family, and the faith and challenges that four different women experienced in regard to their Jewish communal participation and inclusion. This happens to be the story of the women in my matriarchal line, but the truth is that this could be the story of any Jewish family navigating the margins of community, and looking for an entry point that values both their diversity, history and their hope for a new Jewish future. The audience can expect an exciting evening of edutainment, with moments that will make them laugh, cry, and sit at the edge of their seats wondering where the journey will take us next.
NVR: Can you tell us a little about “Ayecha,” the organization you founded? What needs does Ayecha address within the Jewish community ? Have those needs changed since you first started the organization?
Ayecha was an educational consultancy and advocacy organization that I founded and ran for eight years in service of Jewish communal needs for diversity education and resources to support Jews of Color. In my role as the Executive Director of Ayecha, I helped Jewish organizations to do vision planning around diversity strategies and I facilitated educational workshops and programs that increased awareness of the multicultural fabric that binds our national and global Jewish community.
In support of Jews of Color, I organized a leadership resource group call the Jewish Leaders of Color Roundtable and delivered annual conferences, programs, and workshops to this group.
I did this as a young Jewish professional, but three years ago, when my husband matched for residency in Boston, I worked with my board to close the organization and transfer its work to others and I took on leadership of another educational consultancy, The Curriculum Initiative, whose mission is to provide leadership and Jewish cultural identity resources to Independent (private) schools across the nation. My work in Boston now involves working with students and faculty at independent schools in our area to expand awareness of Jewish identity and culture and empower students to contextualize their Jewish journeys within the framework of leadership, citizenship, and pursuit of excellence in education.
NVR: For readers who may not be familiar with you or your story, can you give us a brief overview of your background and what inspired you to work in the Jewish community?
I was raised in an Orthodox Black Jewish family and was continually compelled to explore issues of Jewish Diversity as I navigated my yeshivah day school education, post-graduate education in Israel, and later work as an educational professional in the Jewish communal sphere. I’ve always felt that the Diaspora journeys of the Jewish people, were leading them to some deep and transformative knowledge of what it means to be a human being on this earth, and it has always been my hope that our community would both cherish the diversity of our global journeys and listen long enough, and with enough love to hear them.
NVR: What do you think are some of the major challenges facing the Jewish community today ?
One challenge that I will address in the show is racism. By virtue of the valuable strides that Jews in America have made since our initial immigration to these shores, we and our children are not as deeply connected to the issues of race and class that our history in this country ought to make us vested change agents against. We do a great job of celebrating the heroes among our ranks who marched in the Civil Rights movement and worked to make equal rights a constitutional reality, but in many cases, we have neglected the every-day work of not taking privilege and societal access for granted and doing what we can in our personal lives to stay connected to the issues of oppression that still plague so many other identity groups in our country. My Judaism fuels my connection to these issues, and it is my hope that through this show I can share some of the ways that my African-American family has been inspired to work for change through the Torah and Jewish tradition.
NVR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you- and I hope your readership will come out and join us for the show!
Yavilah McCoy will present “The Colors of Water: An African-American Jewish Journey,” on the evening of Monday October 11th in Newton Massachusetts, as part of the Mayyim Hayyim Gathering The Waters International Mikveh Conference. For more information, please go to http://www.mayyimhayyim.org
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