Yavilah McCoy, a Jewish woman of colour whose career spans two decades and has been called a “pioneer of the Jewish diversity and equity movement,” will be in Toronto later this month to present to students, Hillel Ontario staff and administrators at the University of Toronto.
Rabbi Julia Appel, senior Jewish educator and campus rabbi for Hillel at the University of Toronto, learned about McCoy after taking an online course she offered through Hillel International.
“Her approach is really about building relationships. For example, in responding to anti-Semitism, it’s not about how great your press release can be condemning it, it’s really about how we form relationships with people, so that we prevent it in the first place, because we have a Jewish person to talk to and check in on what they’re thinking,” Rabbi Appel said.
McCoy – who’s the CEO of Dimensions Inc., a Boston-based non-profit that provides training in diversity, equity and inclusion – was raised in an Orthodox family and studied at Yeshiva University High School in New York and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
McCoy is also the founder and former director of Ayecha, a non-profit that provides Jewish diversity education and advocates for Jews of colour in the U.S.
Rabbi Appel said she was eager to invite McCoy to speak, because she’s interested in the subject matter and hopes that McCoy will be able to address the challenges that Jewish students are facing on campus.
“Students from a variety of different backgrounds are experiencing difficulty in collaborating with other groups, because either Israel-Palestine comes up and they are judged negatively because of their association with Israel, or even just their association with the Jewish community,” Rabbi Appel said.
“I have one student who is very involved with the LBGTQ community on campus and he talked about having to hide his Jewishness,” because his affiliation with Judaism “marked him as being anti-progressive, because of its association with the Israel-Palestine conflict. And I think that is a common experience for a certain type of student who engages with activist communities.”
She said that students sometimes feel they are being left out of the conversation when it comes to inclusivity and discrimination, because others often perceive them as being part of the problem, and they feel unequipped to respond.
Rabbi Appel said that McCoy’s workshops will hopefully allow students to feel that they are not alone.
“One of the ways discrimination works is that it makes the individual who is experiencing it feel like they’re alone and that it must be something about them personally, as opposed to, ‘Oh, this is about being Jewish right now.’ That’s a different conversation,” she said.
McCoy will lead four workshops on the U of T campus, which are co-sponsored by Hillel U of T, Hillel Ryerson, Hillel York, the Multi-Faith Centre of U of T, the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office of U of T and the Anglican Campus Chaplaincy at U of T.
One of the ways discrimination works is that it makes the individual who is experiencing it feel like they’re alone.
– Rabbi Julia Appel
“Allyship While Jewish,” which is scheduled for March 21, is designed to help Jewish students “develop a more nuanced understanding of racism and anti-Semitism and what it means to be an active partner in eradicating ‘isms’ as student leaders, Jewish communal members and global citizens within a larger Canadian society.”
On March 22, a training workshop for university administrators, faculty, student life professionals, equity officers and other staff, titled “Hidden Impacts: Understanding Anti-Semitism on Campus,” will further the discussion about the “growing need to advance justice across interracial, intercultural and interfaith differences on college campuses.” It will focus on how to support Jewish students who may experience anti-Semitism.
Later that evening, a similarly themed workshop geared towards students, called “Meaningful Allyship in the Face of Anti-Semitism,” will be held. Hillel staff will also have an opportunity to learn about how to help students develop relationships with the campus community.
“The other aspect of this is helping people who aren’t Jewish understand the contours and characteristics of anti-Semitism, which manifest differently from other kinds of discrimination. For example, it’s not about experiencing blocked access to resources, it’s about an exaggerated perception of privilege. So this will help both university staff and students who care about this to understand what anti-Semitism is, how it manifests and operates,” Rabbi Appel said.
“Really just being able to understand what’s happening in a more sophisticated way, whether it’s swastikas in a classroom, or tweets from a student union equity officer that threatens Jewish students – these are things that are happening on Ontario campuses. (This will give) university staff more tools to respond skillfully and to feel confident in navigating how to respond and how to engage Jewish students in response.”