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December 02, 1988 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-02

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'Blacks And Jews Can Work
Together But Not On Everything'

When Jonathan Kaufman was grow-
ing up in New York's Upper West Side,
he assumed the entire world was similar
to what he saw on the streets around
him: A "jumble of people" — blacks,
Jews, orientals, hispanics. Now 32;
Kaufman has grown wiser, the Upper
West Side has largely been taken over
by yuppies and the black-Jewish
alliance that the New York "jumble"
symbolized has been shaken, perhaps
for good.
While researching his book, Broken
Alliance, which examines black-Jewish
relations from the civil rights movement
to the present, Kaufman, a reporter with
the Boston Globe, discovered that Jews
are more "nostalgic" about the alliance
than blacks. Blacks' attitude could be
attributed, he said, to the "unconscious
patronizing" that influenced Jews'
stance toward blacks even at the height
of the civil rights movement.
"Jews were the lawyers and the profes-
sionals," said Kaufman.
"So many Jews have told me they gave
clothes to the maid.' There is nothing
wrong with that. But blacks wanted to
control their fate. They tell stories about
Jews acting like 'the older brother in
suffering.' As much as the alliance
meant to Jews, they didn't know blacks
very well. Perhaps Jews knew blacks in
their different roles, but did they ask
blacks what they wanted?"
Kaufman's book emerged from a tur-
bulent scene in the Boston Globe's
newsroom after a speech there by Black
Muslim minister Louis Farrakhan in
1984. That year, Farrakhan angered
many Jews by praising Hitler as a
"great man" and denouncing Judaism
as a "dirty religion."
Within minutes after Farrakhan left,
shouting matches erupted between
black and Jewish reporters and editors
who had worked together for years.
They argued over affirmative action and
the impact of the Holocaust and
whether, indeed, Jews owned banks and
newspapers. For Kaufman, this scene
revealed the explosive, powerful latency
of the black-Jewish relationship.
As a youth, Kaufman was too young
to have marched in the civil rights
movement of the 1960s. But he did sing
"We Shall Overcome" at his parents'
Passover seders. A liberal Democrat like
his parents, Kaufman keenly longs for

Jonathan Kaufman: Black and Jews are bound by
a "passion to make the world better."

a resurrection of the black-Jewish
Binding blacks and Jews, he said, is
their "passionate" concern "about
making the world better. Blacks and
,Jews can work together, but not on
everything. Both have a common in-
terest in a thriving social agenda. In the
end, both benefit from being in a society
that's tolerant. Both are still outsiders
and marginal, although Jews are not as
much of outsiders as they were nor as
marginal as blacks are."
Rejuvenating the black-Jewish
alliance would demand, according to
Kaufman, treating each other on a
"personal and equal basis." He is
convinced that reviving the alliance is
important because "all alliances are
important. Working together is impor-
tant. And the black-Jewish division has
sowed enervation and havoc in liberal
causes and the Democratic Party."
And, Kaufman was asked, what if the
coalition is not revived?
"If Dukakis' loss means that Jesse
Jackson becomes the front-runner
[for the Democratic presidential nomina-
tion in 1992], then Jews' move to the
Republican Party could be accelerated.
But maybe everyone else is right.
Maybe Jews will focus on Israel and
other issues and blacks will create their
own alliances with other groups. The
country will definitely survive that." El

Arthur J. Magida


avoided his — often her — company. The
characteristic response of Jews to an
unpleasant situation is still avoidance,
flight not fight.
The Ebsteins were not broygez. They
believed in civil rights and integration, and
they believed in them as committed Jews.
Bernie always went back to the Bible, to
the Old Thstament prophets who railed
against injustice. But Roz also had
pragmatic reasons. She had no illusions
about how accepted Jews were in America.
The Holocaust, and the world's silence in
the face of it, had shown that the world
believed that Jews were expendable. It was
important to defend blacks, Roz believed,
because after whites had attacked the
blacks, the Jews were going to be next.
Steven Ebstein was in second grade
when he first noticed a black kid in his
class; his older brother, David, was in third
grade. Some of the Ebsteins' friends, in-
cluding some Jewish friends, had decided
in the early 1960s to put their children in
private schools or Jewish parochial
schools. The education was better in
private schools, and many sensed that a
change in the neighborhood was coming.
But Roz and Bernie remained committed
to public education. They believed the com-
munity determined the quality of the
school and that if there were plenty of
Jewish kids enrolled, the schools would be
In the months leading up, to and just
after the King march, as a trickle of blacks
bought homes in Merionette Manor,
Steven and David seemed to fulfill their
parents' hopes that they would grow up in
an integrated neighborhood. Several blacks
joined the Jewish Community Center
basketball team and in talking with them,
David was starting to get a sense of what
life was like for them.
It contrasted so sharply with the vio-
lence breaking out in other parts of the
city. A week after the Ebsteins marched to
Soldier Field, a riot erupted in Roz's old
neighborhood, the West Side, now a black
ghetto. With temperatures topping 100
degrees, police cars with sirens wailing had
descended on the West Side to shut off the
fire hydrants children were using to cool
down. Angry crowds surrounded the police
and the confrontation spiraled. 'INivo days
later, two people lay- .dead, 56 injured, and
282 arrested. Three weeks later, King an-
nounced that he would broach the question
of segregated housing directly. He would
lead a march of blacks and whites suppor-
ting open housing through Marquette
Park, on ChiOago's southwest side, an all-
white, heavily ethnic neighborhood. The
reaction to the march stunned King. 'A
thousand whites surrounded the 600 mar-
chers, waved Confederate flags and Nazi
banners, chanted "Nigger go home!" and
let loose a fusillade of rocks, bottles, and
bricks. One brick struck King on the head
and knocked him to the ground. "I've never

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