Minutes of Meeting

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September 13, 1998

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: Black-Jewish Relations

Speaker: Cecilia Moore, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton

Host: Robin Smith

PRESENT: Robin Smith, Co-chair; Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Vivian Frasier, Agnes Hannahs, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, John Magee, Cecilia Moore, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Juanita Wehrle-Einhorn, Robert Wehrle-Einhorn.

Robin called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. She delivered a prayer in the African-American tradition which included the themes of struggle for liberation, working for justice, and peace. Robin then called on first-time attendees to introduce themselves. Vivian Frasier and Bob Wehrle-Einhorn introduced themselves to the Dialogue.

Jack Kelley then delivered a tribute to Lou Ryterband who died on August 26. Lou was a charter member of the Dialogue, and he supported it consistently and passionately throughout its life. Jack passed around copies of an article by Hap Cawood in the Dayton Daily News which extolled Lou's life of commitment to the ideals of interracial and interreligious understanding.1 Jack noted that Lou had played a substantial role in the reform of the Christian Passion Plays to remove the anti-Semitic elements. Once, Louis had given Jack a tip that a questionable Passion Play was soon to be offered in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. Subsequently, questions were raised about the play, and this resulted in its not coming to this Archdiocese. Father Kelley then passed around an article about the Oberamergau Passion Play. He noted that the battle to reform the text of that play has been won. For example, the blood curse on the Jewish people has been removed. Jack also noted that a group called Bridges of Hope met at Bergamo last week. Its mission is to foster good relations between Jews and Christians. Jack then talked about the controversy in Poland over Crosses located near the Death Camp, Auschwitz. Jewish groups have protested that these Crosses show disrespect to the millions of Jews who died in Auschwitz. Jack also noted that the Pope has appointed an Archbishop for the Galilee whom the Netenyahu government in Israel has threatened to bar from entry into the country.

After Jack completed his remarks, Robin said that we will all miss Lou very much. Eileen reported that Connie Breen has an idea for a special memorial for Lou Ryterband. She is working to have Lou's name put on the Walk of Fame at the Dayton International Airport. Robin announced that Dieter will speak at the next meeting. She had a number of copies of his book (see footnote 3 on page 10) to sell for $7 each.

Robin announced the Dialogue Planning Meeting on Wednesday at Connie Breen's home.

Robin then introduced Dr. Cecilia Moore, who is an African-American faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton.

Cecilia Moore's Presentation

Before beginning her presentation, Cecilia passed around a copy of a journal, Common Quest, whose focus is Black-Jewish relations. She also passed around a flyer for a Justice and Race symposium at Xavier University. She displayed some books which she used in preparing her presentation. The following is the text of Cecilia's presentation.

Every morning, save Sunday, Julia Boswell King prepared a delicious breakfast for her family before leaving for work. Then, she walked about four blocks to prepare a similar breakfast for the Jewish family for whom she worked. Upon arriving at the Kaufman's stately gray stone duplex on West Main Street, Julia was usually greeted by the Kaufman's son Jules and Mr. Kaufman's sister, Cary Kaufman. The other side of the duplex was the home of the Hoffman family. The Hoffmans and Kaufmans were a brother and a sister married to a brother and a sister. Each family had its own maid, cook, and driver. They were successful people, proprietors of K. & K. Kaufman's Fine Men's Clothing Store in Danville, Virginia. Mr. Kaufman was a gentleman, Mrs. Kaufman a lady, and Jules was a nice little boy. Jules liked to spend time with Julia in the kitchen. He liked the attention she gave him, he liked the food she made for him, and he liked telling her things. One day, Jules looked at Julia and said, "Julia, my father says we are a family because we share a name. I am Jules, my father is Julian, and you are Julia." That evening when Julia was enjoying her family, she shared this experience with her daughter, Annie, granddaughter, Hazel, and grandson, Jimmy, and now I, Julia's great-granddaughter have shared it with you. "We share a name, we are a family."

I remember Mrs. Feibleman very well. She was one of the women for whom my mother sewed, and I recall her as being one of the nicest ladies that came to our house to pick up garments. My mother told me that she regarded Mrs. Feibleman as a great friend and that they became friends because of their babies. Mrs. Feibleman became pregnant with her last child, Michael, when her other three children were nearly grown. My mother was in the midst of having our family's troop of six, and she had lots of extra baby things. Mrs. Feibleman, who was caught somewhat unawares by baby Michael, did not have baby things anymore, so my mother shared one of our bassinets. My mother said, "it really touched her that I wanted to share our baby things with her. Our friendship was established because of our common experience as mothers." I also think the chopped chicken livers that Mrs. Feibleman often brought to my mother had a lot to do with the friendship too.

I made my first close Jewish friend at Sweet Briar College, an exclusive women's college in Virginia. Sweet Briar had to go to court in the 1960's in order to admit Black women for its founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams, had written in her will that her land and property should be used to establish a college in memory of her daughter Daisy for "young White women." The campus was formerly one of the most prosperous plantations in central Virginia, Sweet Briar Plantation. It was here that I met Shela Silverman, a Jewish divorced mother of five. Shela had helped put her husband through medical school, and when their marriage ended she took on the raising of her children as a single mother. To support her family, she worked in a local mental institution, caring for the mentally ill on the night shift. While at Sweet Briar, Shela continued to work full-time. She would come to school each morning, having spent all night at the institution, raring to go. No one else had quite the energy and love of learning that Shela had. Professors loved her, students admired her, and the staff of the college championed her. Social justice was Shela's primary concern, and Marx was the theoretician to whom she felt most indebted. Though not a practicing Jew, Shela was proud of her Jewish identity and very supportive of others in their own religious journeys. She took pride in her friendships with religious people, and one of her prize possessions was a biretta a monsignor friend had given her. I worked with Shela in the school's library, and one summer she hired me to help her water flowers in the school's greenhouse. Though I only watered flowers, Shela did not have problems with my resume on which I claimed to have worked as a "botany assistant." She agreed that for professional purposes, "botany assistant" sounded much better than "I watered African violets." Shela and I became very good friends and still are friends today. She used to tell me I was her mother. Her mother had passed on a long time ago, but she said I "kept her in line" like her mother used to. I didn't mind this, even though my "daughter," Shela, was thirty years older than I. She was a good daughter, and I got five lovely grandchildren in the bargain, without the wear and tear of life.

In graduate school, I made my second close Jewish friend. Her name is Elsa Conrad. We were roommates. Elsa's mother is a Baltimore native and her father is a rabbi. Rabbi Conrad got out of Germany just before things got really awful, and he is a graduate of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. During our seven years together at the University of Virginia, I got to know Elsa's parents and "the relatives" very well. Her parents visited often and even after Elsa and I no longer shared an apartment, they would always take me out to a really nice restaurant whenever they were in town. Like Shela, the Conrad's were very oriented towards social justice, and once Rabbi Conrad left a congregation that was opposed to his speaking out against racist policies in the greater Detroit area. Elsa was a member of the NAACP and probably still is. Because I am a Southerner, Rabbi Conrad liked to tell me about his years in the South after seminary. He liked living in North Carolina and was a popular guest at Baptist meetings. Many Sunday evenings, he was invited to White Baptist churches to ostensibly discuss Judaism, but invariably they would try to convert him. He said he got used to this. He didn't mind it so much. He knew he wasn't going to convert. But he did want to be in dialogue with the Baptists and with others too. He made friends at these gatherings and ate the best fried food that a person could possibly have at these dinners.

When my Granny, Annie B. Carter, died in October, 1994, Elsa's Grandmother, Mrs. Macks, wrote a very kind letter to me expressing her sympathy. In January of that year, Mrs. Macks had just welcomed me into her home when my grief for my brother, Ellis, was very new. Mrs. Macks signed her card, "Grandma Macks." You see everybody needs a Bubbie (grandmother in Yiddish).

I remember visiting the next year; it was summertime and Grandma Macks thought Elsa and I should take some fresh Maryland vegetables back with us to Charlottesville. That day she bought a beautiful white eggplant for me. On our way home, we passed by a fashionable Baltimore country suburb and Grandma Macks, who was seated in the front turned around, looked me in the eyes and said, "CC, 15 years ago, you and I would not have been allowed to live in that neighborhood." That's all she said, that was all she needed to say. I mourned Grandma Macks when she died last year.

So, why am I telling you all of this? All about my Jewish friends. Because these friendships have been important in my life, that's why. And because I believe such friendships are essential to healing the hurts in the Jewish-Black relationship.

Dealing with the topic of Black-Jewish relationships is overwhelming. There are so many things to read, contemplate, discuss, and do. Do we share anything in common? Is it true that our relationship has been damaged by anti-Semitism and racism? Do we need to become reconciled to one another? Are we in need of healing? The answer to all of these questions is "Yes."

Black Anti-Semitism

One of the causes of the wounds that must be healed in the Black-Jewish relationship is the anti-Semitism of a very small minority of African Americans. From thoughtless and hurtful comments such as "So and so tried to Jew me" to anti-Semitic tirades on college campuses by speakers such as Khalid Muhammad, there is evidence of anti-Semitism in Black culture and this is something that is grievous. Blacks who in any way embrace anti-Semitism must acknowledge anti-Semitism is a sin, turn away from it, and seek the pardon of those they have offended.

Anti-Semitism is a real hatred as is racism in this country. I will not excuse it away as did a White friend who once tried to mitigate the racism present in our own city. The friend sought to assure me that Dayton racism "is malignant but not malicious." This was no salve, and only inflamed the offense for two reasons. First, in our culture we speak of cancers as being malignant. No one assents to cancer. It could happen to anyone. It is not a choice. Racism and anti-Semitism are choices. Therefore, they cannot be described as being malignant. They are conscious decisions to hate and to hate in a manner that does physical, psychological, and spiritual harm to the subject of the hatred. The other aspect of this justification that hurt me was the concept that racism or anti-Semitism for that matter could exist and not be malicious. I have been the victim of racism and I know it hurts. Racism and anti-Semitism are by nature malicious. The intent is to say that someone is less, inferior, worthless, dirty, and unworthy of human dignity and respect, and to justify the destruction of these people on these grounds. This is malice. Racism and anti-Semitism are wholly destructive. They destroy the Black and the Jew, as well as those who are doing the hating.

Therefore, I will not seek to explain the anti-Semitism that a small minority of our Black brothers and sisters subscribe to. From personal experience, I know that when reconciliation is the desired result, it does no good to try to show a person we have offended why we have offended them. What we must say to those we have offended is "I am sorry I hurt you."

Million Man March

Within the last few years, there have been several events in U.S. history that have brought the question of Black anti-Semitism to the forefront in the media. Crown Heights in 1991, the Million Man March in 1995, and most recently the Million Youth March, just this past Labor Day weekend in Harlem. Let me offer you my reflections on the Million Man March and the charges of anti-Semitism related to it.

When the Million Man March took place in October, 1995, I was still a graduate student at the University of Virginia, and everyday I read The Washington Post. Each morning before the March, I read eagerly the OpEd page to find out what columnists such as Courtland Milloy, William Raspberry, and Richard Cohen had to say about the March. Needless to say, there was no shortage of commentary before or after the March. One morning, I was deeply saddened and then very angry about an editorial Richard Cohen had written about the March. Cohen was opposed to the March because of the person who called the March. He said it was impossible to separate the noble aims of the March from the person who called the March-Louis Farrakhan, the leading minister of the Nation of Islam, who had established himself as an anti-Semite (among other things). In his column, Cohen wrote, "this March is sometimes compared to the one Martin Luther King, Jr. organized in 1963. It really ought to be compared to the one the Ku Klux Klan held in 1925, when some 40,000 Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. There too, big causes were proclaimed, not lynching or cross burnings, but "Americanism" and the immigrant threat: Americans be on guard. The Jews control the moving pictures, jewelry, and clothing industries and own us financially. If Powell or anyone else wants to know why this March should be condemned and not either ignored or supported, all they need to do is throw a sheet over Farrakhan and listen to him that way. It's 1925 all over again."2

This comparison stabbed at my heart when I read it and it still pains me today. To have a gathering of Black men for a National Day of Atonement, asking God for forgiveness for personal and corporate sins and to pledge to help each other rebuild their families and their communities be compared to the 1925 Klan march in Washington seemed then and still seems to me to be very cruel and frankly out of touch with history. The KKK was and is a White hate group organized to promote White supremacy. It has historically harassed, tormented, and killed Blacks, Jews, and Catholics. The sole purpose of the Klan march in 1925 was to make it plain that the Klan was alive and ready to do battle to make America be America. The fact that the Million Man March was first called for by a reputed anti-Semite, does not make the Million Man March like the Klan rally in 1925.

The majority of the men who attended the March with their sons were not members of the Nation of Islam, nor were they there to support Minister Farrakhan. The majority of these men participated in the March because they wanted to seek God's forgiveness for their sins and to begin the work of rebuilding strong Black families and communities. It was also the case that many Black men who wanted to join their Black brothers in the Day of Atonement, stayed home because they did not want to hurt their Jewish friends who might understand their attendance as assent to Farrakhan's anti-Semitism.

As the media chose to cast this March as being about Farrakhan primarily and gave little serious coverage to the Day of Atonement and to the actual men who participated, I can understand how many Jews and others would find it difficult to separate the message from the messenger. The message had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, but was about real problems Blacks face in our nation, and to have these problems and people who care enough to solve these problems eclipsed by the focus of the anti-Semitism of one man is a great source of sadness. But, it is also instructive in two ways, it tells us a great deal about the way the U.S. Media chooses to portray Black people, and about the power of anti-Semitism to destroy.

Lerner and West Dialogue

In their book, Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, and Cornel West, a Harvard University professor of African American studies, made a commitment to one another to dialogue about the history and meaning of African American and Jewish relations. They both agreed that the relationship was wounded, sick, and in need of healing. For over a year, the two met for weekends of dialogue at each others homes. Often the discussion was pleasant and joyful, but it also got tense and uncomfortable. But whatever the timbre of the discussion, they stayed at the table, for they were convinced that things would not get better if they did not deal with the sources of pain. Though Lerner and West tackled the issue of Black anti-Semitism and Jewish racism, they also dedicated quite a bit of their discussion to the things Jews and Blacks had in common, and they appreciated the gifts Blacks and Jews have given each other over the years. I would like to close with a brief discussion of a couple of these gifts.

West discussed the parallels and intersections between Jewish and African American slavery. Enslaved Africans' understanding of Jewish suffering in slavery and liberation from bondage by a righteous and loving God became a source of strength and assurance for them. Black slaves took the Hebrew children as their spiritual ancestors, who were victorious in the face of slavery, and they sang, "Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go, God delivered Daniel from the lion's den then why not every man, God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no water but fire next time, Elijah rock, shout, shout, Elijah rock I'm coming up Lord, if I could I surely would stand on the rock where Moses stood." This gift of the story of liberation and of a God of love and justice offered by the Jews helped African American slaves to appropriate Christianity in a life-giving way, and served as the primary foundation of Black expression of Black experience in America.

Lerner and West both spoke of the times when Blacks and Jews cooperated to fight for civil rights in the United States. Many Jews were significant in the formation of the NAACP and actively participated in the 1960's Civil Rights Movement. Both discussed the influence the Civil Rights Movement had on young Jews, for many, participation in the movement and their experience of the Black pride movement encouraged their own desire to embrace in a more public and organized fashion their Jewish heritage. Black education benefited from the generosity of Jewish philanthropy from individuals such as Julius Rosenwald, the Sears magnate. Rosenwald's matching funds to support Black elementary schools in the South during the days when Southern legislatures offered the schools only picayune assistance was very important to Black education. Rosenwald was also a supporter of Tuskegee Institute. He found the gift of inspiration in Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery. Rosenwald made yearly visits to Tuskegee and loved attending chapel there. Whenever he was a guest, the Tuskegee choir sang, "I want to be ready to walk in Jerusalem, Just Like John." This spiritual was very significant to Rosenwald for it expressed his most heartfelt desire.

During the Nazi regime, African American newspapers were among the first to denounce Nazism. Jewish scholars, who were fortunate enough to escape with their lives, often found academic homes at historically Black colleges and universities such as Howard University, Lincoln University, Bennett College, Xavier University of New Orleans, and Talladega College, to mention a few. This experience is presented quite well in From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges by Gabrielle Simon Edgecomb. Many of these scholars stayed at the Black colleges long after the war, and many times the scholars retired from these institutions, even though they had offers from more prestigious and wealthy schools in the U.S. Some stayed because they felt grateful for sanctuary these schools offered them in days of persecution, and others stayed because they felt truly at home at the Black colleges. They were aware of their gift to the Black students they taught, but they were also appreciative of what Black people had given to them.

By making Jewish and Black shared experiences and gifts to one another as central to their dialogue as the sources of disharmony and pain, West and Lerner have provided an excellent example for those of us who care about healing the Black and Jewish relationship. No relationship is healthy when the two parties do not acknowledge how they have hurt each other and likewise a relationship is not healthy when the two parties do not appreciate how the other, has and continues to enrich the life of the other. All of these things must be part of the dialogue that leads to action that leads to healing.

From my perspective, there is much hope for a healthy and life-giving Jewish and Black relationship. The work West and Lerner did together, the journal Common Quest, and your gracious invitation to me to address you tonight make me believe this, but what convinces me even more is my own significant friendships with Jews. True friendship is always a sign of hope.

A long time ago a little Jewish boy told his black cook, "We are a family, we share a name." How true this was and how true it continues to be, but what is the name that Jews and Blacks share? I find our common name in the words of a Negro spiritual which advises, "If anybody asks you who you are, tell them you're a child of God."

Discussion Period

The discussion period began at about 9 PM. Robin told about a new book about the Queen of Sheba which makes the case that she is an ancestor of the Ethiopian Jews. Cecilia referred to the Ethiopian Jews as Beta Israel. She said that the legend is that the Queen of Sheba and Solomon shared a night of love. She then returned to Ethiopia where she founded the Ethiopian Jews. Steve said that he felt that Black anti-Semitism is more widespread than Cecilia indicated. He also asked what Blacks who are not anti-Semites are doing to deal with those who are anti-Semites. Cecilia replied that it is necessary to identify specific Black people who are anti-Semitic, rather than make blanket statements. Cecilia also said that she is concerned that we do not hear enough about White anti-Semitism currently, but we hear a lot about Black anti-Semitism. Steve replied that Jews expect anti-Semitism from Whites, but not from Blacks who have suffered like Jews from persecution. Lorraine reported the case of Julius Lester, a Black professor, who was ostracized by Black Studies Departments once he converted to Judaism. She asked if the situation is getting better; is there more contact between Jews and Blacks? Cecilia said she is from Danville, Virginia. She has not personally experienced hostilities between Blacks and Jews. The Danville Country Club has only opened its doors to Jews in the last ten years. She noted that Black people in Danville often preferred working for Jewish families over non-Jewish ones because the Jewish families were more sensitive to their family needs. She can only talk about her personal experience, not that of others. However, she does think it is unfair that other Black leaders have to come out with a special statement condemning Farrakhan every time an issue of his anti-Semitism arises. Harold asked whether there are any cases in Danville where the housekeeper was White and worked in a Black home. She said that this is possible today. Harold asked whether Jews who join the all-white Danville Country Club are racists. Eileen asked whether there was a Black-Jewish Dialogue here in Dayton. Harold and Ken reported they were members of such a group a few years ago, but the group fell apart. Ken observed that the Blacks and Jews in the group had a number of misunderstandings. Harold explained that the Blacks and Jews had two different agendas.

Jerry Kotler referred to the Cohen editorial that Cecilia had talked about. He agrees the analogy to the Ku Klux Klan march was inappropriate. He thinks that a more relevant analogy is to the Hitler rallies before Nazism overtook Germany. Jews fear that, similar to the Hitler rallies, the anti-Semitism of the primary organizer of the Million Man March may presage a more deadly anti-Semitic policy later on. Jews have learned from the history of the Holocaust that it is important to speak out against evil forces early, before the evil forces become too powerful to stop. Cecilia said that condemnation of Louis Farrakhan should not be a Litmus test for the good will of Black leaders. She noted that Khalid Muhammad, who is known for his virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric, was silenced by Louis Farrakhan. Cornel West says that for democracy to work, one cannot say he will not talk to someone because his ideas are worthless. Dialogue is necessary for democracy to work. Ken observed the commitment of all the Dialogue members to the process of talking with people who have different idea. Ken asked, however, whether there are not some persons so evil they need to be denounced rather than dialogued with. For example, southern Blacks could not and should not have "dialogued" with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Members of the Ku Klux Klan need to be condemned. Vivian supported the idea that we need to read writings from all streams of thought, so that we can learn to deal with them. Jerry noted that Mahatma Ghandi, who embodied the idea of passive resistance, corresponded with Albert Einstein. In his letters, Ghandi observed that the problem with the Jews in Germany is that they did not know how to employ passive resistance. In hindsight, we know that Ghandi did not understand that passive resistance, though it worked against the British colonialists, would not work against the Nazis. Eileen said that cutting people off results in losing the ability to influence them. She cited as examples the Afghanis or the Libyans. Harold noted that Hitler's movement only flourished when he hit upon using anti-Semitism as a means of gaining support. Lorraine said she was very moved by Julius Lester's book. Lester observed that he went to a huge Black rally where he was terrified by the hate that was sparked by the speaker. Lorraine then stated that Blacks should be allies with Jews in overcoming discrimination. In response to a question about the causes of Black anti-Semitism, Cecilia said that some Black anti-Semitism comes from Christianity. Jerry speculated that Farrakhan, who is a Muslim, may be using anti-Semitism to aid in converting people to Islam. Cecilia observed that anti-White and anti-Semitic thought is incorporated in the Creation Myth of the Nation of Islam. In that myth, a figure named Jacob is banished to Europe because he is White. In response to a question, Cecilia said that most Blacks do not blame Christianity for racism.

Harold asked Cecilia what this Dialogue can do to encourage Black membership, noting that it has had only a very few Black members. Cecilia replied that Dialogue members should ask their Black friends to come to meetings and join the organization. Vivian noted that, in contrast to Jews who can avoid being identified as Jews if they wish, Blacks cannot avoid be identified as Blacks. Therefore, discrimination against them is much easier. Juanita reported a recent Dateline story on racism among salespersons in stores. The program had a Black and White staff member go to various stores for service. They filmed the encounters with salespersons with hidden cameras. Almost invariably, the Black staff member received inferior service. Vivian observed that because of the influence of the mass media, Blacks are also reflecting some negative feelings toward other Blacks.

Father Kelley noted that Elizabeth Burks, then a student from Wright State, was our last Black member. She has since moved to Columbus.

The meeting adjourned at about 10:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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1 Cawood, Hap, "The Embraces of Louis Ryterband," Dayton Daily News, September 4, 1998, Page 10A.

2 Richard Cohen, "Just Say No to Farrakhan," The Washington Post, October 12, 1995, p. A25.