Jewish On Mercer Island Affinity Group focused on change, positive energy

JOMI aims ‘to meet the unique needs of Jewish students and families.’

Lauren Katz employs the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam” when discussing one of the goals of the Jewish On Mercer Island Affinity Group (JOMI).

The action-oriented diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) group strives to help “heal the world” while enacting change and making a positive impact on the Island, which has a substantial Jewish population. All residents are welcome to share in the vital conversations and learn from each other along the way, she added.

Katz is one of about 36 members of JOMI, which formed in November of 2022. The 15-year Island resident said the all-volunteer group aims “to meet the unique needs of Jewish students and families, and looks forward to partnering with our school district to celebrate Jewish history and identity as part of our district’s commitment to promoting diversity.”

JOMI’s initial four-point agenda is focused on school calendar equity (asking the school district to have some of the Jewish high holidays off); fighting antisemitism; recognizing May as Jewish history month with content presented in all six schools; and social opportunities, such as a spring gathering or potluck.

On the history front, Katz said they’d like to focus on the positive contributions that Jewish organizations and people have affixed to the American story over time.

“I think it’s really important that we bring that into our schools, so that all the children on Mercer Island can benefit from those stories, to have a deeper understanding of the fabric of this country and the different groups of people that have built it and contributed to it,” she said.

Cristina Martinez, Mercer Island School District PTA Council co-vice president of DEI with Vivian Zhou, said that Islanders can flourish as a community while advocating for JOMI and other local groups like the Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Group and LGBTQ+ Families Affinity Group.

“It’s important for the community. It’s an opportunity for children and parents to participate,” she said.

JOMI grew out of a robust Facebook group for Island Jewish residents to discuss community happenings at synagogues or the Stroum Jewish Community Center and to provide a united response to issues that arise in schools or elsewhere.

“When something happens, like an antisemitic event, for example, when it happens to one student in one school, it’s like a seizure that goes through all of us. We all feel it deep in our hearts, deep in our blood and we want to respond as a community,” Katz said about a strong reply that there is zero tolerance for this on Mercer Island.

Katz added: “We sent a letter to community leaders and our school district leadership sharing our concerns and desire for a partnership to meet the challenges of an antisemitic incident in the school district. JOMI is working to strengthen our schools and community. We are very grateful for our school district’s support and partnership.”

Education, transparency with the community and standing up to face the challenge are a trio of critical elements for preventing antisemitism, said Katz, adding that JOMI would like to bring in speakers from the Jewish community and organizations to lead the discussion.

Regarding JOMI’s mission in bonding with others and also stepping up as role models for children in the accomplishment realm, Katz said that she’d like to see more positive energy enter the schools, community and relationships domains.