We Must Renew Black-Jewish Brotherhood
With friction between the Black and Jewish communities rising again, it’s time to renew African-American and Jewish bonds of brotherhood.
While our problems regarding COVID-19 remain unsolved, forward steps are being made. The rollout of the vaccine bodes well for restoring public health, while the successful transfer of power to President Biden implies we might finally snap out of our partisan political tailspin.
For the Jewish and African-American communities — whose special relationship was put under its own 2020 strain — the coming year already seems to indicate a renewal of brotherhood and friendship that has historically and must forever continue to unite our people.
Learned and earned through our bitter histories, our principles can unite our communities, as we push further toward a more just and perfect world — the promise of a world where our descendants would never again know the pain of our ancestors.
One by one, allies have been attracted to this movement, including television legend Steve Harvey, global entertainer and actor Dionne Warwick, Evgeny Kissin (considered one of the greatest classical pianists of our time), and Emmy nominee Tituss Burgess.
Our kinship with the African-American community is forged through shared faith-based teachings and experiences on the receiving end of barbaric treatment. The struggle for equality and human dignity is never-ending, and requires that we all work together — setting aside our differences so that we can bring forth lasting change for a more Godly world.
I now see that the pains and strains of 2020 say less about Black-Jewish relations than brilliant rays of warmth and kinship that I now feel. This warmth and this kinship are and always have been real. But often, the most real things are the hardest things to see. They’re usually too vast to be squeezed inside a headline, and too gorgeously complex to fit inside a tweet or meme. Some things are so large they can only be seen from a distance. The true bond between African-Americans and Jews is precisely thus.
We have both endured second-class status and wholesale slaughter; each of us still struggles to protect the value of life. Moreover, each of us has been guided by our God and his prophets, and drawn from our faith the hope and the strength to prevail.
The third Rebbe of Chabad, the Tzemach Tzedek, was arrested 22 times protesting the Russian government passing antisemitic laws in 1843. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the greatest American of the 20th century, who restored our nation to its founding principles, was arrested 39 times by the time he was assassinated.
Together, sacrifices such as these gave mankind a model by which to make true on “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.” As Russians rise to protest against tyrant Vladimir Putin, they do so because Alexei Navalny walked fearlessly into his arrest the way our leaders did before him.
Indeed, it was Black leaders who gave our God, our prophets, and our message of liberation a most far-reaching and eloquent voice. It was Dr. King who took the Hebrew Bible and made it into a modern liberation manifesto, thereby demonstrating to the Jewish community, who often look at their own texts and traditions as ossified, the contemporary power of Jewish prophecy and values.
2020 will forever be remembered as a year of tension, loss, and isolation. But perhaps one day we’ll behold it from afar, and see it as the year of darkness that just precedes the dawn — the birth pangs of redemption. Jews and their African-American brothers and sisters must come together to show the whole world how it’s done.
After all, 2020 comes down to what we make of 2021.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of the World Values Network and the international best-selling author of 30 books, including Judaism for Everyone. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @RabbiShmuley. The Champions of Jewish Values Gala can be attended or watched at www.theworldgala.com.