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February 05, 1988 - Image 120

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-02-05

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American Blacks, Jews
Share A Changing Agenda

New York (JTA) — Jews and
blacks may be unable to
restore the spirit of in-
tergroup harmony they
developed in the 1960s, say
black and Jewish leaders, but
the groups can avoid the con-
flicts that often have
dominated their interactions
in the 1980s.
According to analysts of the
black-Jewish relationship,
that may mean bypassing
divisive issues and concen-
trating on the local com-
munal concerns they share as
members of historically op-
pressed minorities. Whether
that is possible in an election
year and in the light of events
in Israel remains to be seen,
they say.
"The relationship between
blacks and Jews is rather
tense, but both groups come
out of a commonality that's
still there," said Albert
Vorspan, director of social ac-
tion at the Union of American
Hebrew Congregations, the
Reform Jewish congrega-
tional organization.
Tension peaked in 1984,
when Jewish groups, still
reeling from the Rev. Jesse
Jackson's "Hymietown"
remarks and what they con-
sidered his inadequate
apology, demanded that the
presidential candidate and
other black leaders repudiate
Nation of Islam leader Louis.
Farrakhan for rhetoric
Jewish leaders considered
But disagreement over
Jackson is often perceived not
as a cause of tension between
the groups, but as a symptom.
The cause of the tension may
be that Jews and blacks have
diverged in economic status
and thus in political and
social conviction. Said Phil
Baum, associate executive
director of the American
Jewish Congress, "Both
groups believe in the better
distribution of opportunity
and advantage than exists at
the present time. However, we
disagree on the means of how
to achieve that distribution."
A continuing conflict has
been over quotas in hiring,
which black leaders believe
would help speed economic
growth, but which Jewish
groups feel serve to limit in-
dividual achievement.
Analysts agree that discus-
sion of quotas does not create
the rifts it once did, but deep
misunderstandings remain.
According to Cherie Brown,
executive director of the Na-
tional Coalition-Building In-

stitute, those misunderstan-
dings became apparent when
she conducted, as part of the
group's activities, intergroup
dialogues in the months
following the Farrakhan con-
troversy in 1984 and 1985.
Blacks don't understand
why Jews mistrust them
when they say the Far-
rakhan's anti-Semitic pro-
nouncements are marginal to
his real message of black
economic independence, said
Brown, and Jews don't
understand how painful it is
for blacks to be asked to
refute one of their leaders.
Ironically, Farrakhan's
notoriety led to the formation
of black-Jewish coalitions in
a number of cities. Some, such
as the New York Black/Jew-
ish Coalition, have since
become dormant.
Wilbert Tatum, a founder of
the New York coalition and
editor-in-chief of the Amster-
dam News, the country's
largest black newspaper, said
the coalition foundered
because "both sides are afraid
to speak out, lest they be call-
ed racist or anti-Semitic."
In other cases, the coali-
tions have avoided areas of
major conflict — such as
Israel's trade with South
Africa, affirmative action and
black support for Palestinians
— and instead seek common
ground in local social and
economic concerns.
Boston's Black-Jewish Coa-
lition, for example, was form-
ed in 1979 to diffuse tensions
that arose when Andrew
Young, a black who was dis-
missed as U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations after
holding unauthorized meet-
ings with members of the
Palestine Liberation Organi-
zation. Blacks accused Jews of
forcing the ouster.
The coalition has since
changed its mission to tackle
urban issues such as housing,
education and crime preven-
tion, according to Sol Kolack
of Boston, national communi-
ty service director of the Anti-
Defamation League of B'nai
Such coalition-building im-
plies that Jews and blacks
still share an agenda. "Both
groups still have a strong
sense of being outsiders," said
Murray Friedman, Middle
Atlantic States director of the
American Jewish Committee
and vice chairman of the U.S.
Civil Rights Commission.
In addition, said Martin
Lapan, executive director of
the Jewish Labor Committee,

"Of all white ethnic groups,
the Jewish community is still
in its voting patterns far
closer to the interests of the
black community."
Blacks and Jews were the
only two groups to vote in ma-
jority for Democratic
presidential candidate Walter
Mondale in 1984.
But Friedman and others
are concerned about underly-
ing tensions. "Polls are show-
ing more hostility towards
Jews in the young and better-
educated level of the black
community than among older
blacks who are
knowledgeable about the civil
rights movement," said
On the other side, blacks
say the traditionally liberal
Jewish community has ab-
sorbed the negative values of
the larger society. "There is a
new kind of racism," said Nor-
man Hill of the Randolph
Said Tatum of the Amster-
dam News: "There has been
a real pulling apart on the
part of blacks and Jews."


Estelle Kahn

Estelle K. Kahn, a life
member of Hadassah, died
Jan. 28 at age 72.
Born in Detroit, Mrs. Kahn
also was a member of Adat
Shalom Synagogue, Jewish
National Fund and the
Jewish Home for Aged.
She leaves her husband,
Kopel; two daughters, Mrs.
Susan Sovel and Mrs. Alyssa
Mertz; a brother, Jerome
Keywell; two sisters, Mrs.
Ethel Levant and Mrs. Joyce
Pensler; and two

Memorial Rite
For Merzon

The Young Israel of Oak-
Woods will host a community-
wide memorial service for M.
Manuel Merzon on Sunday at
the synagogue at 7:30 p.m.
The service will include a
Siyum Hashas, a ceremony
marking the completion of
the entire six orders of the
Talmud studied in memory of
Mr. Merzon.
Mr. Merzon was an at-
torney, scholar and communi-
ty leader. He died Jan. 8.
The entire community is in-
vited. For information, call
the synagogue, 398-1177.

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