Friends in need

Friends in need

President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to help revive the black-Jewish alliance is welcome news. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jews today need all the friends we can get, as we are smeared by calumnies based on the doings of financial scam artists such as Bernard Madoff and in the face of Israel’s operations in Gaza.

In such cases, truth is no defense, and information is only that – data that may be ignored or distorted. But when one is dealing with a friend, that friend is more likely to listen and to understand.

That is the reasoning behind our own local Jewish Community Relations Council’s intergroup efforts, which seek to engage as many coalition partners as possible. Working toward both interfaith and interethnic understanding, director Joy Kurland has told the Standard that the group has been “proactive in outreach, so if a problem does occur, we’ll already have a network established to deal with it.”

So too must we create networks on the national stage. This paper reported the heyday of black-Jewish relations – marked, most notably by the participation of local rabbis in history-making freedom marches – and the deterioration of those bonds, as evidenced in remarks by such individuals as Louis Farrakhan. While disagreements remain, the fact that 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Obama shows that (in the words of Bob Dylan) the times they are a’changin’.

Obama is a realist. He knows the importance of Jewish support for the civil rights struggle in the ’60s and he has strong ties to influential members of the Chicago Jewish community. He has also acknowledged instances of black anti-Semitism. His recent call for Jewish groups to make black-Jewish dialogue and joint outreach to the poor a focus of Martin Luther King Day commemorations on Jan. 19 may rekindle the relationshpi.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, points out that black and Jewish leaders are already working together – every day – on issues such as education and poverty. In addition, he says, the congressional black caucus is overwhelmingly pro-Israel, while the Jewish caucus has overwhelmingly been supportive on civil rights and on aid for sub-Saharan Africa. But that’s at the leadership level, Saperstein says. It needs to “trickle down.”

The Anti-Defamation League is asking its members and others to take the Martin Luther King Day “service pledge,” recognizing that “respect for individual dignity, achieving equality, and opposing anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic bigotry, homophobia, or any other form of hatred is a non-negotiable responsibility of all people.” Many have heeded the call. Many more should.