Black Jewish leader works to boost community, inclusiveness

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Nate Looney is a Black man who grew up in Los Angeles, a descendant of enslaved people from generations ago. He’s also an observant, kippah-wearing Jew.But he doesn’t always feel welcome in Jewish spaces — his skin color sometimes elicits questioning glances, suspicions and hurtful assumptions. Once, he walked into a synagogue dressed for Shabbat services in slacks and a buttoned-down shirt and was told to go to the kitchen. “The last thing you want to happen when you go to a synagogue to attend a service,” Looney said, “is to be treated like you don’t belong.” Now Looney is in a position to do something about that, after being named to the new role of director of community, safety and belonging for the Jewish Equity Diversity and Inclusion team at the Jewish Federations of North America, or JFNA, in April. He believes he can channel his painful personal experiences into healing divisions and changing perceptions, and help make a trip to the synagogue a spiritual rather than a scarring encounter for Jews of color.

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