Elana Kahn

My Toughest Challenge


Elana Kahn

Position: Director of Jewish Community Relations Council

Company: Milwaukee Jewish Federation

What it does: The Milwaukee Jewish Federation is a nonprofit organization that provides social and religious services for Milwaukee’s Jewish population. Its Jewish Community Relations Council serves as a public affairs advocate and representative for the Jewish community.

Career: Kahn has served as director of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council since 2010. She previously served as editor of The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle and president of the American Jewish Press Association.   

The challenge

“After Charlottesville last summer, when we saw so clearly what Jews know – which is that the targets of white supremacy include Jews as well as people of color – the response in Milwaukee, and in other places, was often to talk about white supremacy and put Jews on the ‘white side’ of it, not the target side of it.”

The white nationalist rally last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked local and national discussions and awareness efforts surrounding violence and discrimination, but the Jewish population, Kahn said, was largely left out of those gatherings and conversations.

“Maybe one of the local events had a Jewish speaker, but that was it.”

In her current role, Kahn is responsible for representing the Jewish population and sharing its culture with the greater Milwaukee community, including other minority groups. Milwaukee’s response to Charlottesville revealed an underlying mentality of what she calls, “competitive victimhood,” an ongoing challenge amongst victimized minority groups that further divides these populations rather than uniting them.

“It’s like we don’t have enough space in our hearts or in our minds to conceive the idea that we’re actually all in it together.”

The resolution

Kahn faces this mentality in her everyday work – sometimes in the form of stereotypes or anti-Semitic remarks – but it doesn’t stop her.

“For me, it’s continuing to show up everywhere that we are supposed to be and to continue to communicate the message that if any of us are not safe based on our race, religion, or gender or sexual orientation, then none of us are safe. We have to be allies so we are not victims.”

In November, the federation re-launched Hours Against Hate, an initiative that organizes social events and service projects for individuals, organizations, schools and businesses with the goal of connecting people from different backgrounds.

The takeaway

“I think it’s a solution. I mean, it’s slow, it’s a slow and long-term solution, but if we can get to know other people, we can maybe get to see the complexity that they live with, and get to see them as human beings.”

Kahn said she knows there is no easy fix for problems like bigotry, discrimination, stereotypes, racism and anti-Semitism, but for now, she says she does what she can to work toward justice for all minority groups.

Sign up for the BizTimes email newsletter

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display