It’s the end of an era: Be’chol Lashon’s founding director, Diane Tobin, is stepping down after 20 years, and Marcella White Campbell will be the new executive director. Marcella has served as the organization’s marketing director for the last six years, and has been a Camp Be’chol Lashon parent even longer. She takes over at a pivotal moment in the history of the organization—with interest in Be’chol Lashon’s various programs, including diversity trainings and educational resources, at an all-time high—and in the country as a whole.
Team Be’chol Lashon is thrilled to (re)introduce our community to this creative, thoughtful leader.
Mazel tov, Marcella! Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a third-generation San Franciscan and a Stanford grad—that’s where I met and married my husband. After college, I pursued a master’s degree in Literature from SFSU. I’ve been part of the Be’chol Lashon community for over a decade and have worked for the organization for 6 years. Before that, I worked in social marketing, brand development, and storytelling with early-stage Silicon Valley startups, both as an employee and as a consultant. I also have two children; one is a junior in college, and one is in high school.
How did you come to work at Be’chol Lashon?
Ten years ago, just by chance, I met Diane at a Purim event at the JCC. I was honestly, surprised to hear about a community of many Jews of color; I was used to being the only one (or the only three, if I’d brought my children along). I had wanted my daughter to have the formative experience of overnight Jewish camp, and jumped at the opportunity to give my daughter that experience while also creating her own community of young Jews of Color at Camp Be’chol Lashon. We’ve been part of the extended Be’chol Lashon family ever since! Then, six years ago, just as I was considering a hiatus from the corporate world, Diane gave me the opportunity to come on as a managing editor to support the development of what would become our Passport to Peoplehood educational resources.
Why do you think the work we do at Be’chol Lashon is important?
For 20 years, Be’chol Lashon has advocated for the diversity of the Jewish people, but this is the first year in its history that reckoning with racism in and outside the Jewish community truly took center stage. Jews of Color bravely and openly shared their pain, and more Jewish institutions than ever before vowed to bring change into Jewish schools and synagogues, camps and federations. And, as ugly truths were unearthed, as our country continued to divide, Be’chol Lashon continued to do the work we have always done.
Last summer, many white Jews learned new words—privilege, bias, fragility—that illuminated old wrongs and prejudices that have been with America since its inception. They caught a glimpse of the work that people of color have been engaged in since America’s inception, too: fighting against slavery, against Jim Crow, and, so often, for their very lives. This summer, as the streets filled with protest, so many Jews vowed to support that fight in name and deed. And we continued to do the work we have always done.
Do you think the focus of Be’chol Lashon’s work will change when the Biden-Harris administration takes over?
If there’s one thing that the events of the last week have shown, it’s that racism is literally an existential threat to the United States. That threat won’t simply disappear when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris swear their oaths. If anything, the work that we have always done—demanding equitable treatment for ethnically and racially diverse Jews, amplifying and making space for their voices, and working to create a supportive and welcoming Jewish community—is more important now than it has ever been in my lifetime. And, as the parent of two young adults who are Black and Jewish, I feel those imperatives more than ever before.
What are your goals for Be’chol Lashon moving forward?
Be’chol Lashon has always innovated. We began as the vision of Gary and Diane Tobin, who were inspired by adopting their son, Jonah, to champion the cause of Jewish diversity person by person and organization by organization. They turned concepts that were unheard of and undiscussed within the Jewish community into programs and initiatives that changed lives. Camp Be’chol Lashon was the first camp devoted to Jewish diversity and populated by young Jews of Color. Our Passport to Peoplehood curriculum is entirely unique. Today, we have offices in San Francisco, New York, and Atlanta. Our commitment to our programs is stronger than ever. This year, we were forced to take beloved programs like Camp Be’chol Lashon online. We discovered, to our surprise, that it was still possible to find connection, even through a computer screen. Our potential for innovation and collaboration is limitless.
Before joining Be’chol Lashon, I worked in the corporate world, in Silicon Valley, one of the epicenters of innovation and change. There, I was among the first to leverage social media to create inclusive online communities that reflected brand values. I honed product design and storytelling skills with several early-stage startups that were using technology to innovate the parenting and education spaces. I bring that passion for innovation and change to the role of executive director and the social justice space, and I am excited and energized by the opportunity to share it with a cohort of like-minded Jewish professionals and changemakers.
What is the significance of your stepping into the executive director role at Be’chol Lashon?
Over the past twenty years, Be’chol Lashon has grown from a grassroots initiative for Bay Area families of ethnically and racially diverse Jews into a nationwide organization that focuses on celebrating Jewish diversity through education, community outreach, and diversity training. Be’chol Lashon has been groundbreaking in raising awareness about diversity within the Jewish community and amplifying the voices of Jews of Color in mainstream Jewish life. The Jewish community is only becoming more diverse, and, as a mutiracial organization, Be’chol Lashon reflects that.
Transitioning our leadership to become a JOC-led organization puts us in the unique position of being able to develop best practices that can be replicated at other Jewish organizations who are also changing to reflect a more and more diverse Jewish community. We have the opportunity to formalize the current practices that make us a strong, cohesive, and welcoming organization that reflects our team’s values.
We are a global organization, with community members as far apart as Uganda and Colombia, but we are also headquartered in the United States. We recognize that the systems we work within are defined by racism. We will not waver in our commitment to fighting back.