Why Kumi? Why now?

Moving Traditions recently launched a new program called Kumi: An Anti-Oppression Teen Leadership Experience. We invite you to learn more about the inspiration, motivation, and goals of this new exciting pilot.

Applications for Kumi are due January 15, 2023.

Why Kumi?

Moving Traditions has long distinguished ourselves for the ways we provide teens safe spaces to talk about and explore the real, hard, wonderful, and confusing things in their lives – knowing that this is key to their healthy development and thriving. While for the first fifteen years of Moving Traditions’ work with teens we focused on gender and religious/cultural identity, it has become clear that this is not enough. Teens also need to wrestle with and find a home in their racial and ethnic identities. This is true for teens with Ashkenazi heritage and/or practices, Sephardi and or Mizrachi heritage/or practices, for those with more than one religious heritage and/or national origin, for those adopted, for those descended of immigrants, for those descended of enslaved people, and for every other beautifully  complex story.  

Why Moving Traditions?

In 2022-23, as an organization that seeks to embolden Jewish teens to thrive, we have come to understand that we have an obligation to give teens the skills and safe spaces to better understand, accept and take pride in the fullness of their own identities – and to develop empathy and respect for the identities of their peers.

We are committed to providing Jewish teens a sense of belonging in our diverse Jewish community. By connecting them to wise and caring mentors who can help them get comfortable talking, feeling, and taking risks in formulating ideas, they can think critically about their individual and collective identities. We know that critical thinking is a key skill for adolescents and one that they need more support developing. The peer communities we facilitate and co-create with teens are Jewish spaces where social and emotional skills are taught and practiced alongside creative and traditional ritual, Jewish learning, storytelling, humor, ethics, and history. We believe that these elements – along with good food whenever possible – provide teens with a foundation for thriving.

We also believe that the connections they make and the knowledge they build will serve them when they have to join together to resist the various forms of discrimination and oppression that they will inevitably face as they continue to come of age in our highly polarized, too often divisive, and prejudiced society.

Who is behind Kumi?

We’re grateful to our board, former and current leadership, our funders – especially the Shards of Light Foundation through the Isabel P. Dunst Philanthropic Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. We are also grateful for the leadership of Rabbi Tamara Cohen, Moving Tradition’s Chief Program Officer, and Beckee Birger, Kumi’s Director, in creating this new program.

Why now? How does Kumi address oppression?

Moving Traditions takes seriously the rising antisemitism impacting all Jewish teens. We want to help teens counter the impact of antisemitism by providing them with opportunities to feel proud, safe, and equipped with a long and strong heritage of resistance, solidarity, faith, and perseverance. We also want to help teens understand antisemitism, find ways to talk about it and confront it, and feel safe asking questions and wrestling with confusion about what is and isn’t or might be antisemitism.

With Kumi, we aim to support teens in reflecting on and learning about the connections between antisemitism and other forms oppression and discrimination impacting them and the world around them. That includes new restrictive legislation impacting sexual and reproductive freedom, challenges to transgender and LGBTQ teens, or the ongoing impact of structural and systemic racism on all of us – and particularly on Jewish Teens of Color.

How does Kumi work?

Kumi has a unique two-part structure designed to move participants from theory to action. The first part is an in-person, immersive, learning retreat followed by a virtual community of practice.

This in-person seminar will have two tracks: a JOC empowerment track and an anti-racist allies track. These two tracks will both be at retreat at the same time but, in keeping with best practices around racial justice work, will spend some of their time in separate spaces and some of their time all together as one cohort. Learning will include setting foundational language for talking about identity and oppression, exploration of various intersectional feminist concepts related to race, gender, religion, and oppression through a lens of Jewish identity exploration. Participants will be challenged to explore how these concepts show up in their lives and communities. Modalities will include Jewish and non-Jewish text explored in hevruta pairs, journaling, art creation, small and large group discussion, and skill-building modules.

Kumi participants will continue to meet monthly for 90-120 minutes. Through introspective conversations and activities, in tracks or large groups, teens will dig deeper into topics related to their identities and experiences. External speakers and trainings will deepen teens’ connection to the community, skills, and application of concepts. These sessions will build the concepts from the learning retreat into tangible real-world skills.

We know that teens benefit from the community-building and support of being part of affinity groups and from the opportunities for growth, learning and empathy that are fostered in supportive heterogenous discussion spaces. Kumi is built to provide both affinity group space and multiracial shared community because both of these kinds of experiences are needed. Moving Traditions’ Teen Groups, affinity spaces including Rosh Hodesh groups for girls, were part of the founding methodology of Moving Traditions. We now offer affinity groups by gender identity and also offer Kulam as a mixed gender experience. Kumi is also dedicated to making sure affinity spaces are staffed by supportive adults who understand the unique challenges faced by that particular group, and our JOC empowerment track will have exclusively JOC staff.

Kumi will incorporate both the methodology behind our Teen Groups – where mentors who share the identity of the participants provide guidance and identity development is supported by creating a space where conversations can go deep because of shared core identities, and the methodology of Kulam where empathy is built, active listening is practiced, and heterogenous groups give teens a space to learn both about themselves and about their peers through both shared experience and noticing and honoring differences.

How else will Kumi prepare Jewish teens for the future?

Kumi is designed for 11th and 12th graders to prepare Jewish teens as they head off to college campuses. Kumi will cover a broad range of issues justice-minded teens may be considering as they think about their life after high school, including Israel. Participants will be offered the much needed and sometimes rare space to grapple with and explore their relationship to Israel with other Jewish teens before having those conversations on campus. Teens will be supported to explore their relationship to Israel and to the Israeli-Palestinian reality through the lens of their Jewish identities as well as through the lens of their other identities and their values. This means they will be invited to wrestle with the complexity of Israel and of the Israeli-Palestinian reality within a context that affirms Israel’s right to exist that also takes seriously the challenges of Israel today in terms of pluralism, the rights and women and LGBTQ+ people, and the rights of racial, ethnic, religious and national minorities both within the State of Israel and within the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

We know that many teens are yearning for safe spaces in the Jewish community to unpack messages they see on social media and to ask questions about the narratives they are learning in Hebrew school and day school. They need spaces where they can make sense of what they do and don’t understand and feel about Israel and about the ways that racial justice and feminist movements in the United States connect with their understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian reality and related issues.

None of this is easy or simple. But teens aren’t asking for easy or simple. They are asking for challenging, fun, engaging, real. And that’s what Kumi is going to provide.