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JNF Dinner Honoring Black Leader in Dc Provides Setting for Urging Need to Heal Black-jewish Relatio

June 3, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A Jewish National Fund dinner tribute provided the context last week for a symbolic mending of Black-Jewish relations that had soured in recent years.

The fundraising dinner, in honor of Robert Washington, Jr., a prominent Black Washington lawyer who is actively involved in numerous civic organizations, drew some 850 guests, about half members of the Black community. Washington was presented with the “Tree of Life Award” for his contributions to the District of Columbia.

Hardly a speaker on the long dinner program which included a keynote address by Attorney General Edwin Meese III could let their moment at the rostrum pass without a reference to the composition of the guest list, and to the shared Black-Jewish legacy of suffering and the pursuit of human rights.


Black-Jewish relations were weakened in the 1970s by the controversy over affirmative action for Blacks. They hit a low point during the last presidential elections, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic Party nomination, set off a groundswell of criticism from Jewish groups, in particular with a private reference he made to New York as “hymie town” and his association with Louis Farrakhan, leader of a Black Muslim group who is regarded as an anti-Semite. The District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly for Jackson in the Democratic primaries.

Accepting the award, whose past recipients include the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Washington Mayor Marion Barry, Jr., who was a speaker at last week’s function, Washington appeared to be referring to the furor that erupted over Jackson and Farrakhan when he stressed that neither the Jewish nor the Black community is a monolith and that “some of us often times get lost along the road or are subject to some meandering.”

“Blacks and Jews must work together,” he said. “It is a historical nexus and relationship. We must understand that when a person or a group appears to depart from our common goal or objectives, it should be recognized that that person may not be speaking for a culture or for a group.”


An appeal to revive the Black-Jewish coalition for civil rights was also raised by Rep. Charles Rangel (D. N.Y.), who drew a comparison made by several speakers — between the Jewish struggle for a homeland in Israel and the struggle of Blacks in South Africa.

The JNF dinner tribute raised some $160-$170,000 earmarked for a recreational center in Jerusalem, Howard Ingram, JNF director of special events, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Plans are being made for Washington and civic leaders from the District of Columbia to travel to Israel where they will dedicate the new facility. A park in Washington’s name is also being established in Jerusalem, JNF executive director Samuel Cohen announced.

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