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Reform Jewish Activists Urged to Promote Black-jewish Relations

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Blacks and Jews must work together not only on the national level, but on the grass-roots level, as well, African American leader Eleanor Holmes Norton told a group of Jewish activists here this week.

Only in this way can racism and anti-Semitism be overcome and the civil rights coalition of the 1960s be restored, said Holmes, a Democrat who is the House of Representatives delegate for the District of Columbia.

Norton spoke after receiving an award for furthering black-Jewish relations at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s “Consultation on Conscience” conference, being held here this week.

While the civil rights coalition is “alive and well at the top,” Norton said, African Americans and Jews must work to “help rebuild” the coalition “from the bottom up.”

Norton noted that Jews and blacks had worked together on civil rights legislation in 1991, but she warned that “anti-Semites have seized the initiative from us” on the grass-roots level, including on some college campuses.

She praised joint community efforts in Washington, citing the protests against gun violence organized outside the National Rifle Association headquarters by the American Jewish Committee and African American groups.

Norton, along with a Baltimore group called the “BLEWS,” or the Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore, received Kovler. Awards from the Religious Action Center’s Marjorie Kovler Institute for Black-Jewish Relations.

The highlight of the ceremony was a performance by the black-Jewish rap group Dr. Laz and the CURE. The group hails from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the scene of racial tension in recent years.

With lyrics such as “Increase the peace,” and “Working together is the way to be, that’s how we survived through history,” the group involved the crowd of several hundred in its energetic singing and dancing, and received a big round of applause.

The awards ceremony was part of a three-day conference sponsored by the Religious Action Center, the purpose of which was to create “an effective Jewish response to contemporary issues of social justice.”

CONFERENCE HELD EVERY TWO YEARS

The center holds a conference every two years, just after a new Congress takes office.

Featured speakers at other conference events included the Dalai Lama of Tibet and Jean-Ber-trand Aristide, the ousted president of Haiti, who were each expected to address the group Tuesday.

On Sunday night, former Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ commission on social action, discussed the possible shape of a new American foreign policy.

Another international topic of concern to the Jewish community, the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was to be discussed Tuesday by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Many of the events focused on the domestic policy agenda, and administration officials and members of Congress discussed their positions on a variety of issues.

Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine Kunin addressed the group Monday morning during a session titled “Education 2000,” following which participants heard a panel discussion discuss gay and lesbian civil rights.

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), was to discuss health care and Rep. Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio) was to talk about the welfare system.

Another conference highlight was a chance for participants to tour the new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened to the public Monday.

Other issues on the agenda were the role of gays and lesbians in synagogues, the challenge of the religious right and women in the workplace.

The group commemorated Israel Independence Day, and many participated in the gay rights march here Sunday, the first day of the conference.

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