Menu JTA Search

Yeshiva University conference aims to rebuild black-Jewish ties

New York Jewish Week
NEW YORK, March 12 (JTA) — The four panelists were in agreement. They knew deep problems continued to exist between blacks and Jews. They just were not sure what to do about them. “We came here today to see how we might have lost our way, and how we might find it,” said Kweisi Mfume, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At a recent daylong conference titled “African Americans and Jews: A Dialogue for the 21st Century,” the former congressman from Baltimore was joined by Hugh Price of the National Urban League; Israel Singer, executive director of the World Jewish Congress; and Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. About 200 people attended the keynote discussion at Yeshiva University’s main campus sponsored by the WJC, the ethnic foundation and the university’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Mfume, credited with re-energizing the NAACP after several years of controversy, called the conference “an experiment” to rekindle the partnership between the black and Jewish communities. That alliance formed in the 1950s, he said, from both group’s “righteous indignation against injustice in our society.” “We have no answers, we have no guarantees, but we hope these efforts pay off,” said Mfume, who spent several minutes recounting his poor childhood as a high school dropout and gang member growing up next door to an equally poor Jewish family whose son became a doctor. Mfume said the difference between the two was that American society was prejudiced against blacks. Schneier said the most important job the leaders have is to shatter the myth that black-Jewish relations are dominated by conflict. He said a recent study by his organization found there is much more cooperation between the two groups than is publicized. But Price brought up several political issues that are likely to cause problems between blacks and Jews, including affirmative action and welfare reform. He said while notable progress has been made in recent months between blacks and Jews, the widening of the income gap is a cause for concern. “The great depression in the inner cities of our society must end if we are to make headway,” he said. Singer called on Jews to live up to their obligation to make the world a better place, while also asking blacks to understand the problems of “traditional” Jews who have five kids and must spend $10,000 a year each for yeshiva. Asked why more radical Jewish and black groups apparently were not invited to the conference, Singer said this was the first step and he hoped future conferences would include more diverse organizations than those at the political center. While there were no concrete plans that resulted from the 90-minute session, conference organizers were roundly criticized by several audience members for not including a woman on the panel.