Black-Jewish alliance: What occurred to it?

Black-Jewish alliance: What happened to it?

7 minute learn


How bizarre, tangled, contradictory are Black-Jewish relations in 2023?

Two phrases. Whoopi Goldberg.

The “View” star — one in all a number of celebrities to get into scorching water for troubling remarks about Jews — was born Caryn Elaine Johnson.

The “Goldberg” was pure creativeness. Cross-cultural empathy. “Claiming kin,” as they used to say in England.

In her 1984 one-woman present “Whoopi Goldberg,” she performed a “avenue” character named Fontaine, who by accident boards a aircraft to Amsterdam and winds up at Anne Frank’s home. “I all the time thought once you went into hiding, it was like transferring from one condominium to the opposite,” she says.

That, too, was claiming kin.

The African American expertise and the Jewish expertise are each rooted in trauma. Slavery, and Holocaust. Racism, and anti-Semitism.

These twin horrors have all the time given the 2 teams a particular bond. However it hasn’t prevented misunderstanding, mutual suspicion. Nor, in as of late of rampant hate-speech, localized outbreaks of ugliness.

Goldberg’s remark that The Holocaust was “not about race” bought her suspended from “The View” final yr (she later apologized). There was worse. Rapper Ye and basketball star Kyrie Irving made current headlines for much more inflammatory stuff.

All this, after all, is within the context of a normal rise in bigotry that’s focusing on each Blacks and Jews. The identical white thugs who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 with Accomplice flags additionally shouted “Jews is not going to substitute us!”

So what now? What can we do about it as we speak, this January — the month of Martin Luther King Jr. day (Monday Jan. 16), honoring the person who gave his life so that individuals of all races may get alongside? What can we do about it in 2023 — the sixtieth anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech?

“We now have to attempt to determine the right way to rekindle the connection between the African American and the Jewish communities,” stated Paterson historian Jimmy Richardson.

Making a begin

He is doing his half on Jan. 13.

He’ll be in Wayne, three days earlier than MLK Day, delivering the annual Temple Beth Tikvah Martin Luther King lecture — established by the late rabbi Israel Dresner, himself a monumental civil rights chief. The rabbi, who died a yr in the past to the day — Jan. 13, 2022 — stood by King’s facet, marched with him, was arrested with him.

“Dresner was a real humanitarian,” Richardson stated. “He not solely fought for Civil Rights, he fought for the homosexual and lesbian group. He fought for the liberty of the Israeli nation. He was not only a one that did quite a lot of speaking. He was a person of motion.”

It was the rabbi himself, shortly earlier than he died, who particularly requested Richardson to ship this yr’s tackle — an honor beforehand reserved for such luminaries as Andrew Younger.

And Richardson is just returning a favor. A dozen years in the past, Dresner spoke, by Richardson’s invitation, on the landmark dedication ceremony for Paterson’s Group Baptist Church of Love, one of many final locations Dr. King appeared in public. That was March 27, 1968 — only a week earlier than his assassination.

“Dresner was visitor speaker,” Richardson stated. “From that, a beautiful relationship developed.”

“All King’s Males” is the theme of Richardson’s Jan. 13 tackle, one in all a number of occasions on the Reform temple on this key weekend.

A pathway in entrance of the constructing shall be devoted within the rabbi’s honor, adopted on Jan. 15 by the revealing of the rabbi’s gravestone. And the Jan. 13 ceremonies usually are not restricted to Beth Tikvah’s congregation.

Members of the Conservative Congregation Shomrei Torah of Wayne shall be there as properly. So will visitor musician Ronald A. Foster, director of worship at Madison Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Paterson. The ceremony shall be each interdenominational, and interracial. And that is telling.

Shoulder to shoulder

“There was a powerful alliance, throughout the Civil Rights motion, between the Black group and the Jewish group,” stated rabbi Brian Beal, Dresner’s newest successor.

Robust — and far famous on the time.

Not solely have been Jewish leaders going South to march at King’s facet (together with members of the white Catholic and Protestant clergy) however there have been college students. Most famously, there have been Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two New Yorkers who have been murdered in 1964, alongside Mississippi’s James Chaney, as they tried to register voters within the Deep South.

“I believe extra must be stated concerning the alliance, as a result of it is vital for youthful folks to grasp it,” stated Marilee Jackson, who, in 1980, was the primary African American girl elected to the Paterson metropolis council.

This honeymoon interval was even mirrored in popular culture. In 1961, Sammy Davis Jr. transformed to Judaism. In 1959, Harry Belafonte had a success with “Hava Nagila.” “Most Jews in America discovered that tune from me,” Belafonte as soon as stated.

All of it mirrored a deeper kinship that goes again to the times of slavery. It is not by chance that one of the well-known spirituals was referred to as “Go Down, Moses.”

“The Jewish folks have been persecuted via the generations, going again to the times of historical Egypt,” stated Arthur Barchenko, a previous president of Congregation Beth Tikvah. “We knew what slavery was.”

For the final yr, Barchenko has been assembly with a bunch referred to as The Jewish/African American Alliance of Truthful Garden, an outgrowth of the Jewish Historic Society of North Jersey, and created with $2,500 in seed cash from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. The thing: to resume the outdated ties.

“It is a group of representatives of various universities, synagogues, and church buildings,” he stated. “Black and white folks. We meet each two weeks. This must be rebuilt.”

Mutual assist

For greater than 100 years, this bond between two of America’s most abused minorities was worthwhile to each.

Louis Armstrong, to the tip of his life, wore a Star of David round his neck. It was a tribute to the Karnofsky household — who nearly adopted him when he was a homeless 7-year-old in New Orleans. In 1909, activist Henry Moskowitz was a key founder, together with W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, of the N.A.A.C.P.

And the help went each methods. When Joe Louis KO’d Max Schmeling of their rematch battle on June 22, 1938, spontaneous avenue celebrations erupted, not simply in Harlem, however in Jewish neighborhoods within the Bronx. The Brown Bomber had defeated Hitler.

Within the 4th ward of Paterson, the place Jews and African People had been residing collectively for the reason that mid-Nineteenth century, relations have been normally cordial, Richardson stated. He has quite a lot of good recollections of that neighborhood, the place he grew up within the Nineteen Fifties.

“There was a grocer on 135 Governor Avenue, owned by Mr. Katz,” he recalled. “If you did not have the cash, and also you wanted an extension, he would give it to you. My grandmother would ship me there. She’d say, ‘Junior — she used to name me Junior — inform Mr. Katz to present you a dozen eggs, a field of matzos, Velveeta cheese and salami.’ “

Black and Jewish youngsters have been out and in of one another’s houses. As 7-year-olds, Marilee Jackson and her pal Mildred can be taken on outings by neighbors — typically by household pal Mr. Herman, typically by his pal, Mr. Kirby. Mr. Herman was Jewish. Mr. Kirby was Black.

“They’d take us horseback using, to the park, to the amusement park,” Jackson stated. “We have been all neighbors. All people knew everyone, from Truthful Avenue to Governor Avenue, and from Straight Avenue as much as East 18th nearly. That lasted for years.”


So what occurred to all that good will?

A protracted, difficult story. However suffice it to say that alongside the mutual respect, there was rigidity.

Stigmatized and excluded as they have been, Jews traditionally had benefits that African People didn’t. That prolonged to the possession of shops and tenements in Black neighborhoods. “Once we have been rising up in Harlem our demoralizing sequence of landlords have been Jewish, and we hated them,” wrote James Baldwin in 1967.

They have been hateful — as a result of they have been unhealthy landlords, not as a result of they have been Jewish. For some, nonetheless, that was a distinction and not using a distinction.

“African People’ major contact with Jews was usually within the type of landlords or store homeowners,” wrote Judith Rosenbaum of the Jewish Girls’s Archive. “And a few resented Jews for making a revenue off their group.”

And simply as some African People resented Jews, some Jews resented African People for resenting them.

“I used to be afraid of Negroes,” wrote Norman Podhoretz, who grew up in Brooklyn within the Nineteen Thirties, and wrote about it — extra actually than some — in a 1963 essay in “Commentary,” the Jewish conservative journal.

Add to this, within the Nineteen Sixties, the worldwide scenario — a militant Zionist feeling taking maintain in some Jewish circles, and a pro-Muslim feeling gaining floor in components of the Black Energy motion. The query of who was the oppressed, and who was the oppressor, within the Center East was divisive. It nonetheless is.

“That is a really, very difficult difficulty,” Richardson stated.

Most crucially, on the finish of the day, Jews have been — by America’s reckoning — white. They might flee to suburbs, within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s. Locations the place Black people, for essentially the most half, weren’t welcome.

“Most Black people who lived within the 4th ward have been there traditionally without end,” Jackson stated. “Jewish folks, and I assume Italian folks, all of them moved out to suburbia.”

When Jewish households left locations like Paterson’s 4th ward, they left them bereft. Not simply of shops and jobs, but in addition of moderating voices. Who, residing there now, may counter the anti-Semitic rhetoric of leaders like Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan (each of whom got here to the realm within the Nineteen Sixties)? “You had varied African American teams all vying for everyone’s consideration,” Richardson stated.

That is rather a lot to beat.

However overcoming is what the Civil Rights motion was all about. And for all of the arduous emotions, Beal believes that the connection between the 2 teams might not be as damaged because it typically appears.

And in any case, do not we owe it to Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Israel Dresner to attempt?

“I do not assume it is a lot frayed because it’s drifted,” Beal stated. “I believe the 2 communities targeted on their very own and different points. And I believe with the rise once more in recent times of white nationalism and white supremacism, we see the wants of the Jewish group and the African American group overlap.”

Extremism is a looming risk. Most of us can see that. However those that have race riots and pogroms of their background can really feel it — of their bones. They must be allies within the battle forward, Beal stated.

“We have to know one another,” he stated. “Care for one another, defend one another.”