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Survey: Jewish-black relations still troubled

NEW YORK, Aug. 16 (JTA) — On the tenth anniversary of the race riots that rocked the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, about one-third of both Jews and blacks believe relations between the two groups have improved, a new survey found.

Thirty-six percent of Jews and 32 percent of blacks polled in New York City said relations were better, while only 10 percent of Jews and 9 percent of blacks said the relationship had worsened.

But the majority in both groups — 49 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Jews — said relations remained unchanged.

Four days of rioting began on Aug. 19, 1991, when a car driven by a Chasidic Jew accidentally struck and killed Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black child. Hours later, Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian Jewish scholar, was chased by a mob of blacks and stabbed to death.

The survey by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding also found that, on a national level, 51 percent of Jews consider relations between Jews and blacks fair or poor, while only 37 percent think them excellent or good. On that same subject, blacks were more optimistic, with 43 percent rating relations excellent or good and 41 percent fair or poor.

But that trend was reversed in New York, where 44 percent of Jews feel relations are fair or poor and 49 percent excellent or good. Among blacks polled, 56 said relations are fair or poor and 29 percent viewed them as excellent or good.

This is the first time the survey has been conducted, so there is no way to judge whether there has been an improvement or decline since the Crown Heights incident.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president and co-founder of the foundation, said the relationship between Jewish and black leaders is stronger than it was 10 years ago, but relations between the Jewish and black publics are not yet what they should be.

“I think that if we have been able to form such wonderful relations on the leadership level — which was not the case 10 years ago — if we focus our energies in that direction, we can return to what it was in its heyday,” Schneier said, referring to the partnership of blacks and Jews in the civil rights era.

While the survey found that 45 percent of blacks nationally felt Jews helped blacks during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, 55 percent either disagreed, didn’t know or gave no response.

Schneier attributed this to “a significant educational gap.”

“I do think African American organizations need to take more initiative to education African Americans. The initiation of these programs tends to come more from the Jewish community,” he said. But, he added, “in all fairness, the Jewish community is in a much more favorable position. We don’t really have to contend with economics” the way many blacks do.

Some other noteworthy findings:

• Seventy-four percent of Jews in New York and 73 percent elsewhere think Jews and blacks should form a partnership to work on civil rights. Eighty-seven percent of blacks in New York and 77 percent elsewhere agree.

• Thirty-seven percent of Jews and 71 percent of blacks in New York think the U.S. government owes reparations to blacks for its role in legalizing slavery. Fifty-seven percent of Jews and 73 percent of blacks believe the government should issue a formal apology.

• Fifty-seven percent of Jews outside New York think the history of slavery is not taught enough in schools, while 48 percent of blacks nationally say Holocaust education is not taught enough in schools.

The survey — of 250 Jews and 250 blacks in New York City — and an equal number outside the city, was conducted by the Global Strategy Group, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

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