The Other "OTHER" Zionism
Progressive Jewish Org lead by Former Rabbanic Student...from HUC
The next controversal issue...ach
There have been about a million posts this week on Black Jewish relations. I suppose I should have written this last week but I am lazy and went with something banal and easy to come up with…so you know normal POLJ stuff. But I am a little disturbed about the trend I am seeing both on the blogs and in the real world when it comes to Black Jewish relations and the perception there of.
Back when I was in college I worked on an ADL program for Hillel. This program was designed to facilitate conversations between Jews and Blacks. Unfortunately not a single Black student showed up. The room was filled with Jews ready and willing to pat themselves on the back about how open minded we all were, but we made no effort to actually act on this open mindedness. For all our talk, we didn’t reach out and talk to black students in our classes or clubs and ask them to come to this “joint JSU and BSU” event.
About a year later, my campus activism got me into student government where I met one of my best friends. Many folks would say “and he happened to be black and that doesn’t matter to me at all.” But I will say that it mattered a lot that POLJF (Pissed Off Liberal Jew’s Friend) was black. We were not best buds right off the bat, we agreed with each other’s political platforms – liberal progressive student fees stuff etc. He was on in a party and I ran independently. He campaigned for me and I for him. But it was during this (ridiculous) campaign process that we got to talking.
We became really good friends over the course of the campaign and during our government experience. I would say I have about five or six good friends from college with whom I keep up regular correspondence. POLJF is defiantly one of them. I have seen him more than anyone else I graduated with.
Now after we created this friendship we started to understand each other’s personal issues. When Hillel was flag was stolen and the building was vandalized, he co-sponsored a resolution in the student senate with me. When issues of Darfur were discussed we both brought our communities to the table. When issues of affirmative action came up (again) for debate, I had his back. It was because we both knew from where we came.
This isn’t to say that I understood what it means to be a black man living in a world of whites. I could blend in. ( I didn’t but I could have if I wanted.) And it isn’t to say that he understood how torn I would be at an “anti-war” rally where the Jews were blamed for the world’s problems and told to leave Israel to go back to Germany. But we were there for each other.
That is the Black-Jewish relationship. Not the fact that over fifty years ago, a Rabbi and a Minister walked into a (lunch)bar. This gets to the core of the issue; interpersonal relationships.
I am currently reading the Honorable Barak Obama’s first book. He was a community organizer in Chicago. (Which he seems to work into every speech he has ever given) Here he works to find out what is important to the people and makes the change. That seems to work. When people care about the issues they tend to work harder. Rabbi Jonah Pessner of Boston now works with JFSJ and the Union for Reform Judaism working to create Just Congregations, in the same way, one-on-one sit down conversations to find out what is important.
When we – Jews and progressives – get up and testify to our relationships with people we should have them. We can’t say “I know what black people go through because I am Jewish;” in the same way it would be asinine to say “I know what it feels like to be a woman because I am a male feminist.” I know what POLJF goes through cause he is my friend. When we work with other “others” we need to work on the grassroots. Make grand statements based on principle when speaking for yourself and your group only. Advocate on behalf of yourself when it is just that.
The Black-Jewish relationship does not exist outside of interpersonal relationships. Similar values and such tend to make these relationships easier to come by, but values and ideals are not what the Black-Jewish relationship. It is friends who “happen” Black and Jewish.