Last month we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which prompted a response from too much of the organized Jewish community that, to the uninformed observer, might suggest we mistakenly believe the holiday is called “Abraham Joshua Heschel Day.” Yes, a rabbi walked arm-in-arm with MLK. Yes, “Mississippi Burning” was about the murder of three heroic young political activists including two Jews. And yes, Jews contributed disproportionately to the fight for Civil Rights in America—but only disproportionate to other white ethnicities. Our contributions paled in compared to the suffering, triumphs, and ongoing struggles of the African-American community, for whom the holiday should rightly focus and celebrate.
The Jewish community’s MLK Day internal congratulations seems to grow louder with each passing year, telling the story of “how we were involved” rather than just telling the story. More importantly, there is almost no soul searching on how the “historic coalition” between black and Jews has been battered beyond recognition in the ensuing decades since that partnership, with tensions continuing to this day.
While there are some very important Jewish organizations doing amazing work on the relevant issues, such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Jewish Funds for Justice, it is perhaps indicative of the larger Jewish community’s inability to speak openly on the subject of race that it is currently Black History Month with nary a peep out of “mainstream” Jewish institutions. Do we really have nothing to say on the topic?
Perhaps we can start with what should be our strongest link, the actual intersection between the black and Jewish communities, black Jews. Unfortunately, we’ve heard all too often from Jews of color that they have been made to feel like they must choose between one community or the other. Maybe that’s the Jewish angle for Black History Month: recognizing and overcoming the “white privilege” that so many Jews are unaware they’re even expressing, and celebrating the accomplishments of black Jews.
The latter part of that suggestion is already underway by our friend MaNishtana on his blog, where he is celebrating “Black Jewish History Month” and writes about a fascinating figure named Lewis Morrison who fought in the Civil War and became a great stage actor. MaNishtana has since followed up that post with additional blog entries about actresses Meagan Good and Nell Carter; influential disc jockey Nathaniel “Magnificent” Montague; writer and scholar Carolivia Herron; Ali corner-man Drew Bundini Brown; and the first black police chief of Charleston, SC, Reuben Morris Greenberg (who JOI blogged about back in 2005). We look forward to seeing who else MaNishtana decides to highlight this month, and we encourage the entire Jewish community to recognize that our most important connection with the black community is not an arm-link from a march 50 years ago but the living, breathing friends and family who are both black and Jewish today.
No comments yet.