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Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews

Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were unprepared for the raw anger directed against us as Jews. We were blamed for “Jewish exploitation of blacks.” We heard stereotypical charges against Jewish pawnbrokers and Jewish landlords, the middlemen who represented institutionalized oppression in the ghetto. Having lived in the buildings of exploitive landlords myself, I could understand their anger against such landlords (not all of whom were Jewish). But I could not understand why these students held so tightly to their anger against all Jews or why they transferred such anger to us. One of the more self-reflective students explained it this way: African Americans were angry that we Jews could succeed in America where they could not because we could pass as whites whereas they could not.
I have thought a lot about those interactions since the recent brouhaha over presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s relationship with his controversial black liberation pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.


Obama’s recent speech on race was clearly crafted to put at ease not only white America but also Obama’s Jewish supporters. Obama won points in the Jewish community for including a reference to one’s rabbi among other clergy with whom a parishioner might disagree. Obama also won points as a friend of Israel by accusing Rev. Wright of distortion in blaming the conflict in the Middle East on “the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
Obama’s vision of how, together, we can move beyond mutual recrimination toward real change and betterment for all is truly inspiring. I am convinced this is not just rhetoric for him but reflects his deepest beliefs.
However, in a fairly long speech touted as the definitive response to his relationship with Wright, Obama’s silence on Wright’s support for Louis Farrakan was deafening. Where was Obama’s repudiation of the decision by the magazine run by Wright’s daughter to award Farrakhan the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award as a man it said “truly epitomized greatness”?. Where was Obama’s courage to speak truth to power, to decry hate talk in all its permutations?
Obama’s silence reminded me of another memory, this one of a congregant. He remembers his family traveling to the beach on the Maryland shore. He was a child. Maryland was still a segregated state. They arrived at the beach to find a section of beach for blacks only and another section for whites only. Posted between the two was a sign that said: “No Jews or Dogs.” The family had to get back in the car and head home. It was a stark reminder that, as Jews, his family did not fit in.
I have not had a chance to confirm the historicity of this memory. It is a telling sentiment, nevertheless, about the ambivalence we Jews experience in discussions about race in America.
One thing this campaign has revealed is that we Jews still see ourselves as a minority in a Christian world whereas the African American community still largely sees us as part of the white majority. If we are ever to effectively resurrect the Jewish-African American alliance Obama talks about, then we will need to address this “race” issue as well.



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Dave

posted March 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm


1/ Jews are only ‘passing’ as whites? What does this mean? This strange belief that the majority of Jews aren’t somehow really white is one shared by huge numbers of both Jews and anti-semites regardless of the evidence. Who are you going to believe, Rabbi Grossman or your own lying eyes?
This can have serious health consequences. Google “Jewish Community Center” and “skin cancer clinic” and see how few (I got only 3) hits you get.
And why not? For most Jews no matter how white the skin (or blue the eyes or blond the hair) s/he can’t be white so how could white-related health problems happen?
2/ The ‘Jewish-African American alliance’ mentioned here lasted about 50 years from 1920-70 and was mostly a result of both peoples having the same mortal (and I use that word literally) enemies.
As the Nazi/Klan threats diminished to next to nothing the differences btween the groups became apparent.
There is now no more reason for a ‘Jewish-African American alliance’ that there is for a ‘Jewish-Hispanic alliance’, or any other group.



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chaim baruch-chaim

posted March 24, 2008 at 8:58 pm


1) Rabbi Grossman did not say Jews were passing as white, she said that many African Americans see Jews as part of the white majority rather than also a minority. The issue was not about race alone but about how lines of majority and/or privilege are perceived by different minorities.
2) If one takes a more transparent approach to googling matters related to the “white-related” problem of skin cancer among the Jewish community, you will find 120,000+ hits for “Jewish” and “skin cancer.” Of course there are irrelevant hits. But I don’t know what community centers and clinics really have to do with such a search, unless you are looking for a skin cancer clinic that is located in a Jewish community center. The presence or absence of such is not really relevant to whether or not Jews experience skin cancer.
3) Dave’s final point links with my #1. Where the lines of commonality are perceived depends on the situation various groups are experiencing at different points in time. How else could ultra-fundamentalist Christians perceive themselves as Israel’s best friends? — and even be perceived as such by some Jews too.



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Dave

posted March 24, 2008 at 10:10 pm


1/ Check the last line of paragraph 1. I used her words.
2/ Google “Jewish Community Center” and “Tay-Sachs screening” (you can’t have a tay-sachs clinic). Far more than 3-even though far more Jews will get skin cancer than tay-sachs, and far more will die of melanoma than tay-sachs.



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writer2consultant

posted March 24, 2008 at 10:14 pm


It is good that so many people are speaking out about their experiences with reverse racial hatred. Having lived in Detroit during and after the Riots of the 60’s, we saw the Black Power movement, the Black Panther movement and we lived with hatred surrounding us. Because of my Jewish and Native American mix my color may have been invisible to African American’s but not to whites and sometimes to whites and not to African American’s. Talk about paranoia. It was difficult to walk the streets of Detroit as a female by yourself and sometimes necessary, so you had to stay where their were lots of people and hope for the best. African American men would stand with containers asking for coins to fund “Black Colleges and Universities.” I always told them, I do not believe in Segregation. They just looked at me with kind of a puzzled look and then started jiven me. I looked past them and went on and usually didn’t say a word. Tough times. I am still here and there are many stories and people have changed. I am happy that people are changing.



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Scott R.

posted March 24, 2008 at 11:45 pm


It doesn’t matter how light our skin is. To a lot of white non-Jews, Jews are not white. They may actively look down on “brown” skinned people, but they actively hate us.
We’ve only been verging on white since the ’60’s.



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Marian Neudel

posted March 24, 2008 at 11:49 pm


Re: skin cancer as “white” problem–it’s not. African-Americans and even Africans get melanoma. In fact, I think Bob Marley died of it.



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Cheryl Brown

posted March 25, 2008 at 7:34 am


As a so-called “black” American, I have never been in a black church that spouted hatred of the Jews! If I had, I would have stood up and said something and left the church! Perhaps it is true back East where there is more interaction–I’m from Oklahoma! Even if I lived back East I would have done the same thing. I can’t fathom ANY black being bigoted against anyone and when I do come across it–I address it right away! Whem I was 5 or 6, I saw this beautiful lady coming down the street, I had just been to a movie in Muskogee, OK (blacks had their own movie theatre)on the way to my grandfather’s tire shop, furniture store, etc.. I spoke to her and she spit in my face and called me the “n” word. Beauty had become a beast. When I told my grandfather, he briefly explained that there are some whites who don’t like Negroes. I had to learn what whites looked like because my grandfather and his siblings looked just like her. Their father (my great grandfather) was white, from Scotland, and married their mother. I never heard any more about–that evening I sat on the porch wondering what Negroes had done to whites to make them hate us so–I heard a voice (I now know that it was G-d) that said they are not all like that! I could have taken this experience to hate all whites–instead, I stayed in tune to my G-D spirit. That is what we must all do.



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yet another name

posted March 25, 2008 at 8:15 am


I have never met “an angry,” hateful, Jewish person in my decades of life here in America. Never. I have met so many angry and hateful African-American people that I can no longer count the numbers. I’m being honest.



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A.W. Bowman

posted March 25, 2008 at 11:55 am


Being a WASP with strong southern roots, I think the primary (fundamental) reasons for whites hating blacks are based on several issues. First, blacks are an “in your face”, black and white reminder of a failed political, economic, and moral structure of an entire international social system. Most human beings don’t like to be reminded that they (or their parents, grandparents, group, society, etc.) do not, or have not, lived up to their self-proclaimed high moral, political or religious standards. This is sometimes called “exposing the hidden hypocrite within”. This generally makes folks very angry. Second, most white’s don’t like being held accountable for the “sins of their fathers”. Of course, this is another general human condition and has nothing to do with race, but it is a great way of keeping fuel on the fire. There is an argument that goes something like, “Your great-grandparents kept my great-grandparents as slaves, therefore you owe me.” The same kind of argument that is used here can also be used by Native Americans (Indians), early Chinese labors, Mexicans, Irishmen, etc. If the truth be confronted, most every group here in these United States have a family history of percussion which either drove them here to America in the first place, or that they experienced after they arrived here. Of course, I do ask myself why Muslims come to this country and choose not to remain in a Muslim country – and what has been their experience of their acceptance by the American society at large?
Now, what about those “polluted wretches … [having] nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews … [we should] withdraw … from that most odious fellowship.” From a letter to the newly formed “Roman Church” concerning the Jew’s observance of Easter, aka the Passover Controversy. (Emperor Constantine, circa 325 CE, quoted/translated from The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus.) And, this was by no means the first expression of a haltered toward Jews, today is usually called anti-Semitism; it started back at the first Passover. So, what is the root cause for the hatred of Jews? The Jews are hated the world over simply because they are Jews – and that is reason enough. Being God’s chosen, they have also become the world’s scapegoat for every ill under the sun.



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writer2consultant

posted March 25, 2008 at 6:15 pm


Why do Christians the workd over worship a Jew, if Jews are hated the world over as Mr Bowman states. I do not believe that, Jewish people are respected and consulted, they are physicians, film makers, comedians, actors, philanthropists, economists, professors, business mogals, stock market gurus, builders, Rabbis etc. around the world. Remember the diaspora. The world is changing. Jews do not feel hated. I believe there are people who hate Jews but I also believe that those people hate themselves first as Mr Bowman implied. It may be Jewish Jealously turned into angry torment.
There are many “closet Jews” people who converted in more recent history to the Christian, Catholic or Luthern Church to excape tyrany like Nazi Germany or the Spanish Inquisition. If you look deep enough in your family tree there is probably a Jew there. Hitler was known to have had Jewish ancestry.
Jewish philosophy is to do Mitzvot, good for other people in their daily lives and that is how Jewish people live their lives. It is a Blessing from G-d if Jewish people are able to give to and help others. Most Jewish people live by this philosophy.
Jewish People all over the world will be celebrating Passover in April and the Greek Orthodox Church will celebrate Easter following Passover as Jesus was hung on the cross after his Passover Sader. Jews celebrate Passover because Moses took the people out of Egypt from being enslaved under the Pharoh. If you recall, the lambs blood was placed over their houses so the death angle would Passover their houses so their first born son would survive. The Egyptian son’s died. It was a miracle of G-d’s work and no other to help the Jews out of bondage and convince the Pharoh’s to let them go and return to the Promised land. Therefore, Jews celebrate “Passover” as a Miracle since the days leaving Egypt’s bondage and the freedom to worship only one G-d.



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Dave

posted March 25, 2008 at 7:04 pm


Bob Marley had a white father and was far lighter skinned than most other Jamaicans.



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Scott R.

posted March 25, 2008 at 7:08 pm


Hitler did not have Jewish ancestry. That’s a myth. He may of thought he had it, but he likely did not.



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laura mushkat

posted March 26, 2008 at 3:22 am


when it comes to race and Jews we are seen by both whites and blacks as nishta here nishta there!
It is unfortunate that the stories about slumlords and retail store owners are based in truth. My daughter attended a Hebrew Day school and at her graduation 2 elderly men were given a plauge for their generosity to the school. I found out later that these men gave to many organizations and causes, were prominent Jews-how religous I do not know, and were very wealthy. I also learned they accumulated this wealth after their fathers who were friends, had made some money in a retail business and the sons bought property in bad and poor parts of town where they rarely fixed their property and charged blacks differently then whites for their rent. Whites were charged per apartment, blacks for each person who lived in that apartment.
Yes they may or may not be in the minority of total slumlords but they did standout.
At the age of 16 I worked in a very poor part of town for a man or had a small ma and pa general store. When I wanted to buy some stuff he told me the price which was cheaper then the price on the counter I had not seen. When I pointed this out to him I thought he would say that it was because I worked there, but he said no it was because I was who I was! I stayed there two weeks and quit because I could not take how he treated his mainly black customers. Yes he was a Jew and attended the Orthodox shul every Saturday morning but wanted his help to come in-including the Jewish help-another reason I quit.



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Barry

posted March 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm


Some people will hate all Jews because of the slumlords and the like. Some people will hate all African-Americans because of Louis Farrakkhan and the like. Some people will hate all Germans because of the Nazis. Some people will hate all Palestinians because of Hamas. Etc.
We must refuse to answer hate with hate. We must be resolute in acting and speaking in ways that demonstrate our belief that we are all connected, that as Martin Buber wrote, “In each person there is a priceless treasure that is in no other.” Each person, of whatever ethnicity!!
We must extend our caring and compassion to those who are different than ourselves, no matter how often or how angrily it is thrown back in our faces. We must make common cause with those who are oppressed, because it is what is right, it is what G-d commands, and because we could be next.
Farrakkhan? There is much in his message that I find distasteful, much that expresses hate. But let us not forget that he has also been a powerful voice, calling upon young black people to reject lives of crime and drug use and promiscuity. His followers may hate us — but they are not the ones that we might reasonably fear late at night in a subway station. The same can be said for Pastor Wright.
Let us condemn the message, not the man. Let us chose our words carefully, respectfully, let us edit out hateful inferences without respite.
It will not happen overnight, it will not happen soon. But let us go on working to create a world where a person is judged by where she is going rather than where he came from.



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thisis

posted March 26, 2008 at 11:47 pm


It would be shameful to hold Obama responsible for a six-degrees of seperation relationship with Farrakhan. Are we blacks to hold every jewish person responsible for racist comments that are made by their leadership? Examples:
1) Talmud – curse of ham – blacks cursed with big lips, curly hair and black skin.
2) Moses Maimonides – blacks think like apes
3) Rabbi Ovadiah – Katrina/Gaza connection – “Cushim” punished for not reading Torah.
I could go on and on, but I won’t.



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Cheryl Brown

posted March 27, 2008 at 5:48 am


There is no such thing as a different race! It is a social concept. We all started from the same place–AFRICA! G-d knew what HE was doing, it’s just human beings that screw it up! When are we going to try to get this idea changed!!! It continually divides us. To the person who says she has met more hateful blacks, I’m not hateful but I do understand their anger. EVERY day, practically we have to face some kind of insult because of the color of our skin. We have to be careful when traveling, hoping that we don’t stop in the town to get gas where we will never return, my son and son-in-law stopped to get gas, and there were racial epithets all over the walls–“Niggers go home, swastikas, etc. It gets tiring. I worry when my son is stopped by the police–even though I know not all police are our enemies. It’s a different world for us! However, I NEVER blame all white people for these problems we face. When we do work, (not always), there are people angry that you’re working and make your lives miserable because you want to be honest! Example: Whirlpool in Memphis, TN. It was so bad that some whites joined the lawsuit. Human beings love to hate and exclude–that is the nature of some humans. I tell my children all of the time—“It’s bite, scratch and kick” all the way to the end to be the person that G-d wants you to be. There will always be obstacles in the way.



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bonnie k.

posted March 28, 2008 at 12:49 pm


My parents were both european immigrents. We grew up in a neighborhood with friends and relatives that has similar customs and rich traditions. This has made the thread of my being. I long for those close family times. We stayed together because we wanted to be together, not to keep anyone out. We were not angry people and I can honestly say we never talked against any one group. I would be hard pressed to vote for a person who spent 20 years listening to hate speech.



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Nachum

posted March 28, 2008 at 2:29 pm


I think it’s pretty appalling to raise the Farrakhan issue again as a criticism of Obama’s speech. In January, on at least two occasions, Obama completely and unequivocally denounced Farrakhan and stated on equally certain terms that he strongly disagreed with the decision to honor him in that magazine. He did so again in early February, and I believe even later. How many times does he have to repeat that? It’s simply an unfair criticism.



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Barry

posted March 30, 2008 at 4:57 pm


thisis: yes, exactly. Let’s respond to each individual based on what that individual does and says. Stereotypes and guilt-by-association are just shortcuts to avoid paying attention and thinking!
Cheryl: Agreed — it’s called the human race. And I’m glad you mentioned the town with the N-word and swastikas: We have so much in common, as objects of hate, it isn’t funny. A number of years ago, on a tv documentary about the KKK, it said that haters in Germany, where it is illegal to be a Nazi, were joining the Klan! There is very little difference in what they believe, after all.
It is time, as Obama says, to stop looking at the past, and start working harder, together, toward a future when this kind of hatred is only a memory.



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Malka

posted April 1, 2008 at 10:59 am


Never forget…action speaks louder than words…Obama only spoke against his pastor..when it came out on TV…prior to that, he spoke very highly of this anti-Semitic, anti American, pro radical Islamist, sorry excuse for a man of G-d…a lot of people are impressed with Obama being a fantastic orator…..people were impressed with Adolf Hitler’s orator skills….please don’t think of being politiclly correct, or white guilt….there is too much at stake…We live in the best country in the world…common sense must rule…the best person for the job should be voted in.,..for their skills, not for their speech making…I’m sure someone is writing every word for him…I know that if I sat in my Synagogue, and a Rabbi went on an anti-American rant…there would be no hesitation…I would leave, never to return…read his book…don’t just listen to his promises…he is a cover up, and dishonest person…



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windbender

posted April 2, 2008 at 11:29 am


I do not for one second doubt that Obama would throw Farrakkahn inder the bus any more than he has Wright – and for the same reason. I have no doubt that he wouldn’t throw G.W. Bush under the bus, or you, or me. Barak Obama has made it quite clear that he believes that the central issue which holds the key to our moving past the mistakes of our past is the willingness to move beyond trying to pick out who is best suited to lubricate the path of the wheels of our progress. Each of us (and each of them), however flawed, has a role to play in moving forward as a nation. If we are going to sincerely expect others to set aside racial bias and bigotry, suspiscion and condemnation, we absolutely must begin with ourselves.



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jon01

posted April 2, 2008 at 2:54 pm


Cheryl: “There is no such thing as a different race! It is a social concept.”
Okay lets play this tired PC rhetoric out, so we can avoid a, to use Barry’s words, “shortcut to avoid paying attention and thinking”.
If race is a mere social concept that doesn’t really exist and is thereby irrelevant, how much more so could we agree this applies to the concepts of national, political, or cultural/religious/ethnic groups?
Since “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural/ethnic group” is the definition of genocide and since these are all mere “social concepts”, then we must conclude that genocide itself is a non-issue. Since you did not take an overt anti-genocide stance I offer you a cautionary commendation for your lack of hypocrisy.
Now Barry; our brains work like a computer and rely heavily on memory or cache. Creating shortcuts is a natural process that allows us to perform even the simplest of exercises, such as getting out of bed, without having to think about and relearn the problem on a daily basis. It also formulates a framework through which we view the world. Personally I’d rather, both physically and metaphorically, be an active member of society than refrain from using shortcuts. Granted, I’m willing to reconsider these shortcuts and framework, even to the point of religious conversion, but not on the basis of ad nauseum empty PC rhetoric.
Shalom



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Yosef

posted April 5, 2008 at 10:31 pm


B”H
Based on an earlier comment that Obama wll employ the services of HAGAR (2 public officials with known pro-Arab stances), you can be assured that the pressure our Secretary of State is putting on Israel to stretch its neck out for the slaughter (Israel easing up on restrictions for those who want Jews to return to Auschwitz) will be nothing compared to the pressure put on Israel in an Obama admistration.
One good will come out of it…perhaps Israel’s leaders will finally understand that the oppressive pressure on them to allow Arabs to destroy the Jewish state, will force them to see that giving in to the Arabs is suicidal, and perhaps, seeing that not a single country in the world wants Irael to exist, they will come to understand that they must turn to the Guardian of Israel, who never slumbers nor sleeps, for our salvation.
And then G-d will, through His open and full hand, deliver them (and all Jews) from the seventy wolves who are licking their jaws, anxious to devour the lamb.
May G-d help us in Nissan, the month of our redemption, by sending His righteous Redeemer takef u’myad mamosh…Yosef H.



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Homer Wiggins

posted April 22, 2008 at 1:28 am


Barak’s association of 20 years with a man that is blatantly anti-American , antisemitic , and continually promites race hatred. speaks louder than the pretty words he speaks. Pretty speeches are easy to make.
I am a Christian Zionist. Many Jews do not like me because I believe in Jesus.Many Gentiles do not like me because I not only stand publicly for Israel , but for the Jews as a people chosen by
G-D.A man’s goal should not be to be popular but right in his own heart.
During the civil right movement I was the member of a church that voted to refuse entry to any Black person that would come to our congregation. I was the only one who spoke publicly against this policy. At another church many years later there were speakers that were openly racist. I severed my membership immediately. This is why I can not understand why a man who wants to be President of the United States of America could not do the same in a 20 year span. I am sure many of us have had similar situations and you stood for right too. Why could he not do so ?



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Anonymous

posted April 29, 2008 at 10:33 pm


as a jew from new york who grew up in the projects in brooklyn 60’s and 70’s, i was floored when in 1970 children who i went to kindergarden with suddenly discovered they were black. i was egged because i wasn’t one of them, i lost all respect and affection for these former friends.i never saw them as anything different than myself,i never feared them ,i never ostresized them. we were all iwe all lived together in the same enviorment,yet myself and the other few remaning white people were terrorized regularly because we were white in a predominently black neighborhood.i see this as reverse raceism. i do appreciate my living ther ,because it made me stronger.they need to learn this as well and move on



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