Blacks and Jews: Best friends forever?

The following post reflects only the opinion of Stephen Richer.


Like Jason, I went to Sixth & I’s MLK Shabbat on Friday, January 14.

Like Jason, I enjoyed the event – you can’t go wrong with singing and dancing (Step Up 3 and Stomp The Yard are two of my favorite movies).  I also got to sit next to a whole bunch of high schoolers from BBYO.  Win!

Perhaps unlike Jason, however, I questioned the kumbaya nature of the event.  It seemed to suggest that American blacks and Jews are best friends, and that the only problems we have to deal with are external. I don’t think that’s true.  Perhaps even the opposite.  This skepticism doesn’t stem from a personal experience, but simply from a few statistics and a few lessons in recent American Jewish history that I have a hard time overlooking.

I’m not going out on a limb here.  The decline of black-Jewish relations is the subject of many books.  Time Magazine ran a cover story on the topic as far back as 1969, and in 2008, President Obama addressed black anti-Semitism in a speech on MLK day.  (Huffington Post)  If you want book suggestions, just let me know, but here’s just a quick sample of what I’m talking about:

General anti-Semitism / anti-Israel:

  • In a 2002 study, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that 35% of blacks are “strongly anti-Semitic.”  This same study found the national rate to be 17%.
  • In 2009 and 2011, the ADL estimated black anti-Semitism to be at 28% and 29%, compared to 12% and 15% nationally.  (Page 32 of ADL study)
  • Black Americans are far more likely to side with Palestinians over Israelis than the average American.

Physical strife

  • 1991 Crown Heights Riot.  A Lubavitch Jew accidentally spun his car out of control and killed one black child and injured another.  Angry black residents beat the driver.  A group of 10 to 15 black teens stabbed and killed an Orthodox Jew.  “For three days Jewish resident of Crown Heights and reporters were beaten, cars overturned and set afire, and stores looted and firebombed by angered black residents.”  (PBS)
  • 1968 Ocean-Hill/Brownsville teachers’ strike placed black community activists against the heavily Jewish teachers’ union.

Black leaders

  • In the 1990s, Professor Leonard Jeffries – a leading black academic – falsely advanced the idea that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade.
  • Reverend Jesse Jackson – calling New York City “Hymie-town” and supporting Yasser Arafat. (WND)
  • Al Sharpton accusing American Jews of all being diamond merchants that benefitted from the blood of blacks.

Etc., etc.

It’s of course sad.  It’s not how it used to be.  In 1964, northern whites went to Mississippi to help register blacks to vote.  Three-quarter of the helpers were Jewish.  At Sixth & I we heard much about Rabbi Abraham Heschel who marched next to Martin Luther King at Selma.  That pairing was fairly representative of the solidarity between blacks and Jews in the civil rights movement.

But that is no longer.  There is real tension.  We should of course continue to hold events like the one hosted by Sixth & I on Friday, but at these gatherings, there should be fewer fanciful proclamations about our amazing friendship and more assessments of why roughly 30% of black Americans are “strongly anti-Semitic.”


*Note:  I realize that black and Jewish are not mutually exclusive (I’ve seen this video).  But it’s a very small group.

22 replies
  1. D.
    D. says:

    Without discounting or attempting to disprove anything Steven has written, I would like to add a heartening little tidbit I experienced first-hand, while riding the bus home from work one day.

    Right around Inauguration Day ’09, a fellow passenger and the bus driver, both black, were talking. The passenger, surely no friend of Pres. Bush, said something very similar to this (forgive the imperfect memory for lacking the exact quote): “For all the bad things he did, I will give him his due on one issue- he supported the Jewish people, he supported Israel. He was right about that.”

      • stephen
        stephen says:

        You completly fail to mention the complete anti black portriat painted by a very, as much as you wish to pretend otherwise, Jewish hollywood. you rant about black crimes against jews, give me a fucking break. everyone is in a love hate relationship with everyone right now. Bifurcation bitches.

  2. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    As a black Jew and a member of Sixth/I historic Synagogue and the proud black gurl that was the candle lighter at this event. I think your reflection misses some very important aspects. The event is not an attempt to suggest that blacks and Jews are “best friends” but rather it is an event to bring together the history of the building. Perhaps, you missed the memo that the Synagogue once housed a Baptist Church. It is in this building that an event like this “brings together” both communities to celebrate MLK. The Jews were the first to stand by MLK’s side when everyone else didn’t have the decency to stand up for our rights. It is the Herschel’s who acknowledge the unfairness and the humanity for what Blacks were fighting for. The Jews know all too well discrimination and separatism.

    I don’t think the kumbuya dance is even a factor in the programming event; would it be any different if there were Hasidic Jews up there doing an Israeli dance? Perhaps this should be a suggestion to bring both dancers if that will change your opinion of the kumbaya nature.

    Granted, the blacks and the Jews have had a very disturbing history, but this is not to say that we forget what obstacles we continually have to overcome. To deal with mending the black-Jewish relations is certainly going to take a long time. What you have failed to acknowledge is that the number of blacks who have joined the Jewish community is growing. See the New York Times Article by Trymaine Lee August 27, 2010, “Black and Jewish, and Seeing No Contradiction.”

    As an African American woman that joined the Jewish community I will certainly acknowledge that it wasn’t easy to claim my presence, but I was never turned away. The new lessons that we should teach one another is to acknowledge this history exists, but to look forward so that my children who will have a Jewish upbringing will not have to pay so much attention to the statistics that you put forth. Rather, for them and to know that I paved the way for us to be accepted. Due to the nature of the number of blacks, Asians and “others” joining the Jewish community, we must learn to become the “best of friends.” Together, we are changing those statistics and together we are a part of a population that is inspiring the Jewish community to grow and accept change.

    I found my way into the Jewish community because I was never accepted into the Christian black and white communities. I am proud of being an African -American women Jew. If I saw those statistics before the fact it would not have changed my mind to join. We, as blacks and as Jews are the first to acknowledge that history doesn’t cause us to lay down in shame; but it strengthens our character to rise above and become the face of change.

    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Thanks for the response Tiffany. Much appreciated.

      I didn’t miss the memo regarding Sixth & I’s history. I’m pretty familiar with it.

      The actual dance had nothing to do with the kumbaya nature of it.

      Rather, I felt like the event — and lots of other Jewish/black events — suggested that our main group challenges were universal health care, wage justice, prison reform, and education. All of those themes ran through the speech by the Georgetown Law professor and the keynote speech.

      But all of those issues deal with external issues. External issues should be dealt with when your house is in order. Our house is not in order. Quite the opposite. That is what the post is meant to say. Why not deal with our house as long as both members of the household are sitting together?

  3. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    When I first read this, I thought it might be interesting. There are problems in all communities. Then I was irritated on how facts were used without further questioning. First, being black and Jewish is not exclusive. You are right. I am black and Jewish and I am not like any of the movies you saw (stereotypes). It is no wonder when I walk into an event, synagogue or temple; I am looked at as if I do not belong. Second, how can you expect someone to take what you say seriously when in your first line you say comment about movies that use stereotypes about blacks, how we live with violence and how this portrays how we sing and dance. You state:
    “Like Jason, I enjoyed the event – you can’t go wrong with singing and dancing (Step Up 3 and Stomp The Yard are two of my favorite movies).
    Both Step Up3 and Stomp The Yard are movies that play on the stereotypes of blacks. Both movies have nothing to do about two groups of people coming together to celebrate the lives of two honorable men who tried to better people’s lives.
    Stomp the Yard: ( A young man finds that the moves he learned on the street may help him make a better life for himself in this youth-oriented musical drama. DJ Williams (Columbus Short) is a 19-year-old growing up in Los Angeles; while DJ is at heart a good kid and a gifted street dancer, he runs with a dangerous crowd, and one night an underground dance competition turns into a brawl and DJ ends up in jail.
    Step Up3: ( A tight-knit group of New York City street dancers, find themselves pitted against the world’s best hip-hop dancers in a high-stakes showdown.
    Third, Events that you discuss are reprehensible. Innocent people have gotten hurt. However, you do not talk about “mob mentality”. How people who would never do anything to harm someone else but even kill someone because of the group that is around him or her. Which when the dust settles, it is eventually found out that a few people started it.
    Fourth, you do not get into specifics about the stats you use. The first sentences states:
    “On behalf of the Anti.?Defamation League, Marttila Strategies conducted a national
    telephone survey of 1,754 adults between October 13 and October 23, 2011. The base sample is 1,200 plus an oversample of 243 African Americans, and 227 Hispanics, bringing the oversample for both communities to 400 each (Marttila Strategies;Anti-Defamation League, 2011)”.

    400 Blacks (400 – 243= 157)
    400 Hispanics: American/foreign born (400-227=173)
    800 – 1,754 (Total sample) = 954 (who encompasses this number which is higher than both groups put together?)

    “For those questions answered by all 1,200 respondents, the survey results have a
    Margin of error of +/? 2.8 percent. For many questions, the survey used the technique
    of “split sampling,” a process in which the 1,200 person sample was split into two
    demographically representative samples of 600 respondents each. For those questions
    that were answered by 600 respondents, the survey has a margin of error of +/? 4
    percent. For those questions that were answered by 400 respondents, the margin of
    error is +/? 4.9 percent (Marttila Strategies;Anti-Defamation League, 2011)”.
    At the minimum, the margin of error is +/- 2.8% to a maximum of +/- 4.9%, which could mean black population and anti-semitic views went up or down slightly or extremely. The overall percentage has risen slightly in 4 years. Originating at 25% in 2007, rising 3% in 2009 and only 1% in 2011 (Marttila Strategies;Anti-Defamation League, 2011, p. 32). One aspect it does not take into account is economical level, schooling or homeownership of Blacks, Hispanics, Whites or general population. Nothing in any of the categories is this explored which in other studies has made an impression on findings. In addition, it does not state how it decided if someone was black, Hispanic, White or General Population? Self Identified? Parents? Grand Parents? Assumed by Voice on phone?
    The largest group is not Blacks but Hispanic American that are foreign born, 35% in 2005, 29% in 2007, 35% in 2009 and 42% in 2011 (Marttila Strategies;Anti-Defamation League, 2011, p. 31). This is 13% higher than Blacks.
    I am not saying that anti-semitism is not a problem. To see any percentage on any race is horrible. We should all live together and respect one another.
    “We should of course continue to hold events like the one hosted by Sixth & I on Friday, but at these gatherings, there should be fewer fanciful proclamations about our amazing friendship and more assessments of why roughly 30% of black Americans are “strongly anti-Semitic”
    How about a better way would be how about we celebrate the fact that we are able to sit, sign, worship and eat together. This would not have been possible without either of these individuals. We may have problems but how about we focus on the positive. Are there not enough people who want us to focus on the negative? How about the 71% of Blacks who are not anti-Semitic? How about next time we focus on that?

    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Hi Alicia,

      Thanks for the response.

      1) The Black and Jewish video is a parody, and it is labeled as such. I don’t know if the ladies in the video are even Jewish.

      2) All the main characters in Step Up 3 are white.

      3) Nor was I trying to say, “These movies represent black people.” I was trying to say, “I love dancing. Evidence: These two movies… which are about DANCE.”

      4) If you want to tell the Anti-Defamation League that their statistics stink, that’s your business. I think they do a pretty good job, and I think the amount of anti-semitism found is alarming even if it’s off by 1, 2, or 3 percentage points.

      5) “We may have problems but how about we focus on the positive.” That’s your opinion. But if 1/3 of a population thinks I’m rubbish, then I want to address it… Not talk about how the other 2/3 loves me… That’s not a problem; it doesn’t require attention.

      Thanks, again, for your comment.

  4. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    I applaud the author for writing about a rather sensitive topic that is still in some ways taboo in American society. We talk about race a lot, but we rarely touch upon serious racially-charged issues that still plague our society. And Black-Jewish relations is an issue which I think needs more addressing. I have done a fair amount of research during my time in college on the subject, have written some research papers for classes, and have given the topic some considerable thought. Permit me to touch upon a few points.
    I think some of the people who responded to the author’s piece were quick to attack the author, and I think that doesn’t help us move the conversation forward. If you don’t agree, I think there is a way to respond in a way that still shows respect for the seriousness of the issue the author presented. I agree that focusing on the positives of our community’s relationship is important, but I don’t think the author was implying we negate that. Rather I thought he was saying we still have work to do. And the author acknowledged that Black and Jewish are not mutually exclusive entities, and the issue of Black Jewishness or Jewish Blackness is not germane to the central thesis of the author. The central point as I understand it is that our relationship has been filled with tension and strife, and we haven’t made a lot of strides towards making peace. I wish the responses would have addressed that central point more thoughtfully. I will attempt to do so here.
    I wanted to add some level of nuance and historical context to the author’s depiction of the Black-Jewish relationship in the 20th century. I agree with the author that the pinnacle of the Jewish-Black relationship was probably during the Civil Rights Movement where Jewish activism in the movement was incredibly high, and Jews helped but in freedom summer activities and in financing Black educational institutions. Jews were also central in assisting with the NAACP. However, my understanding is that this assistance and involvement did not necessarily equate to positive Black-Jewish relations. In some ways, I think this may have caused some Blacks to resent Jewish involvement and assistance.
    Also during that time, Jews were also providing loans in Black communities, which while in some ways can be viewed as assisting Black communities, was viewed by some such as Malcolm X as exploiting Blacks in poor communities who were then in financial debt to Jews for the rest of their lives. Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke out again some of the same issues Malcolm X spoke about, and that continued to push Jews away from the Black community. I need to do more research on this, but there were some Jewish landlords, nicknamed slumlords, who exacerbated Black resentment towards Jews.
    In major cities like New York and Baltimore, where religious Jews and Blacks live in adjacent neighborhoods, violence has unfortunately become common. And that should be discussed and addressed. But it is important to note that the Crown Heights Riot was a Caribbean Black- Chasidic Jewish fight, and did not necessarily characterize the way Blacks and Jews across the spectrum felt towards each other. In that instance, I think it shows that minority groups fighting for the same pot of limited city and state resources can cause serious conflict that may not be specifically related to their racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds.
    Thus, I believe that much of the anti-Semitic sentiment in the Black community stems from feeling exploited and dominated by Jews throughout the 20th century, and that unfortunately Jewish activism in the Civil Rights Movement led to a wedge in the Black-Jewish relationship that has only been increasing since that time. I think we have a lot more to think and talk about. I’m sad that we haven’t done so yet, and if the author or any of the other responders or anyone else wishes to discuss things further I would be more than open to chatting.
    To conclude, the author’s reflections resonate with me and I think we should spend less time attacking his views and appreciate his openness and honesty, and respond in ways that are thoughtful and productive to help both of our communities move forward with this.

    • Tiffany
      Tiffany says:

      I certainly agree whole heartedly with your opinions, but your sentiments toward the author are unfair. He does bring up a great topic, but there are too many holes in his argument. I believe my response was certainly respectful enough. In my opinion, he lacks any type of message that “we have more work to do”

      If this was the case, then he wouldn’t have addressed his conversation toward a comparison of two of his favorite singing and dancing movies that have nothing to do with Black and Jewish relations. Why would he even refer to those movies? His comment that the event was of a kumbuya nature. Why?? Because there was African-type dancing and a gospel choir? Last year they had a Hillel accapella group. He even goes further, when he puts forth the video “Black and Jewish” What does a video about a girl expressing her artistic side singing about being black and Jewish have anything to do with Black and Jewish relations? It’s funny, but what relevance does it have on the subject at hand? Maybe he didn’t want to say that the event seem Kumbaya in nature because of having a black gurl lighting the candles! Was he surprised that the only resemblance was the sexy bed head, but that I didn’t have the Star of David neck chain and gold star in my tooth? It seems his argument intends to go toward stereo-types rather than about race relations.

      Even more so, his argument can be questioned with the statistics he provides. The previous poster hit on several examples of the flaws in his argument.

      I am not attacking his argument, I’m simply questioning his motivations because there isn’t any clarity to the main central theme, “Black and Jews: best friends forever”

    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for the response. And thanks for the clarification of what I was trying to achieve. As I noted in a comment above it was this: “We get together and discuss external problems. But we have many internal problems in the black-Jewish community. Statistics and history show this. Why don’t we discuss these problems before we discuss external problems?”

      So thanks for your help.

      One point I want to respond to: Jews making loans to blacks as an agent of future anti-Semitism.

      Let’s first state that loans empower people to conduct business. The let’s state that other whites were unwilling to give loans. Then let’s state that if a black person defaults on a loan, it’s not racist to try and collect through legal means. It’s a loan, not a donation. Anyone who thinks that trying to get your money back on your loan is evil should go join the Sixteenth Century anti-usury club.

  5. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    First, I want to say I did not attack anyone. I reread what was written by the author and my response and found nothing where I ever mentioned anything about his character or anything about him as a person. All I did was discuss the statistics and examples he identified. He says, “This skepticism doesn’t stem from a personal experience, but simply from a few statistics and a few lessons in recent American Jewish history that I have a hard time overlooking” If this is true, then I am just stating that some of the history and statistics he bases his writing on, may not be as persuading as he would imply.
    In addition, in his writing, he talks about nothing wrong with singing and dancing, and then brings up stereotypical movies about Blacks or a video filled with stereotypes on being Black and Jewish. How can you talk about anti-semitism when you quote movies and videos that are riddled with stereotypes? Then quote a study that is based on whether someone agrees (anti-semitic) or disagrees (not anti-semitic) with Jewish stereotype? Therefore, it is important to say and disprove the stereotypes of Blacks, just as it is important to disprove the stereotypes about Jews.
    I do think it is important to sit down and discuss the issues of prejudice, distrust and insufficient knowledge on both sides. That is not what was discussed in the article. The article did not talk about sitting down and discussing these problems. (If I miss read something, please copy and paste and inform me. I could have read something wrong.)
    First, it talked about the service at Sixth and I, then there was facts that were used to justify that Blacks were anti-semitic, and finally that Black and Jewish were not mutually exclusive based on a video that is filled with stereotypical Black connotations.
    I do not have a problem talking about Prejudice and that is what this is about. It is always important to define terms. Therefore, here is the definition of prejudice.
    Prejudice: a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b : an instance of such judgment or opinion c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics
    We do need to talk about this. It is not one sided as it is implied in the article. Prejudice goes both ways. That is why it was important for us, Black Jews, to bring that to light. As far as emailing you personally, I do not think that is appropriate. You said that this needs to be discussed. Well, discussing it with you one on one does nothing to further the education of all people. I know there are people who assume that every Black person is like the characters on “Friday” movies. (I saw them all because a person at work brought them in one day and by the way, he was White.) They were funny but not a true representation of Black People. Just like the films that portrayed Jews with stereotypes. They do not represent all Jews.
    Unfortunately, this article did not state this. You may know him and understand what he meant. I do not know him and only can go on what is written. I do not make any assumptions on any individual on here. I do not take anything personally. Prejudice can occur from inside and outside a community. The only way to stop prejudice/anti-semitism is through education and experience. I welcome your comments.
    Here are two articles I found doing a little bit of research that nicely explains the work that still needs to be done. The first article mentions the same facts but is written to state that more work needs to be done in this area.

    The 2nd article and commentary are very well written.

    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Please see my response to your first comment. And then please also note that I never said that Jews are exonerated from all blame. I said that the black-Jewish relationship is not a happy one. And then I showed an obvious sign of unhappiness. Then I said we should discuss this unhappiness instead of banging on about the external issues that we can fix together as if we walk side by side hand in hand.

  6. CH Pogrom Not Riots
    CH Pogrom Not Riots says:

    @Cheryl: I’m sorry, but I feel I must politely point out some of the commonly repeated inaccuracies regarding the Crown Heights riots that were expressed in what you wrote. There was no black-Chassidic ‘fight.’ It was roaming mobs who were riled up by statements made by Al Sharpton destroying Jewish property and raping and killing several Jews. Mayor Dinkins looked the other way. It was a horrible chapter in American history and in black-Jewish relations that has left scars, but I believe things have gotten a lot better, thank G-d. One former prominent NY Times reporter recently came out on the 20th anniversary of the riot (more like a pogrom) and admitted that he was forced to paint a picture of the riots as a battle between two groups for fear of upsetting the black community when it was in truth an assault on the Jewish community. The media frequently tried to assign moral equivelance e.g. Portaying the black boy hit accidentally by a car and the Jewish teens who were stapped both as victims of a war between two groups. The misleading headline from the NY Post ^ above illustrates the distorted reporting of the tragedy.

  7. CH Pogrom Not Riots
    CH Pogrom Not Riots says:

    Thar being said I hope we have more events like the one descried and I believe with education and demonstrations of unity, bad feelings between non-Jewish blacks and white Jews will decrease. We should have more events that focus on the positive, but also ones that address sensitive issues that seem to divide our communities. We have way more in common culturally than many people realize!

  8. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Steven, I really appreciate that you took the time to respond to everyone’s post. Just speaking about what you posted for me. It seems you validated your argument better the second time around in a more appropriate, concise and reasonable fashion. I’m still rather confused as to why you don’t just say why the event was kumbaya in nature?

  9. Alicia
    Alicia says:


    I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to respond to everyone’s comments. I understand better what you were trying to say now. I did want to respond to two of your responses.

    “4) If you want to tell the Anti-Defamation League that their statistics stink, that’s your business. I think they do a pretty good job, and I think the amount of anti-semitism found is alarming even if it’s off by 1, 2, or 3 percentage points.”

    I do agree with you that the ADL does a good job. I was talking about the study. When anyone produces a study, there are limitations to it. I am not saying that it is right or wrong; I am saying it has flaws. To get a real picture of any problem, you need to perform a meta-analysis. In case you do not know what it means, it involves looking at multiple studies that are based on the same or similar hypothesis, methods and results. This is helpful because studies can be extreme in either direction but if you look more than one and see similar results that you will get a truer picture. I was just saying that basing everything on one study has flaws. I just brought up some of the flaws.

    “5) “We may have problems but how about we focus on the positive.” That’s your opinion. But if 1/3 of a population thinks I’m rubbish, then I want to address it… Not talk about how the other 2/3 loves me… That’s not a problem; it doesn’t require attention.”

    You should be concerned with the people who you say love you. The reason is these positive people are the ones who will persuade the ones who hate you. Someone who does not like you is not going to listen to what you have to say. They will more likely listen to someone who looks like them. You need to use the positive people to educate the negative people on culture and get rid of stereotypes.

    Have a nice day.

  10. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    In response to the title of the article, I say yes, Black and Jews are BFFs. The article seems to be searching for statistics and events to prove a point, rather than basing things on personal experiences and getting to know people. In my life the vast majority of my experiences with Black people have been positive. The only time I ever felt anti-Semitism from Black people, was from some Nation of Islam people in college. Other than that, things have been very good. In my experience, Black people tend to sympathize with Israel because of a strong connection to the Tanak, respect for Judaism, and the similarities of terrorists to klansmen.

    Just one example of good experiences that I have is that at work, I alternate picking up kosher food for lunch with an older Black lady, who doesn’t keep kosher but likes the food at Pita Hut and the kosher Subway.

    I hope that Tiffany and Alicia have good exeriences in the greater Washington DC Jewish community.

  11. Ben
    Ben says:

    We all know there are pockets of Anti-Semitism still floating around us. But this article is one-sided and depicts the African American community as if they are filled with malice. What would you think – young, white Jew – about a black blog writing about the tides of gentrification overcoming black neighborhoods, bringing in oblivious white kids to their communities and displacing families who made those neighborhoods their homes for generations? Are we, the white Jewish DC community, all racists by contributing to the financial decline and physical marginalization of communities that are generally composed of one single race? It would be nice if we could think more about ourselves, and our impacts, and point less fingers to those around us, especially during times when we are striving for cooperation.

  12. Willis Jackson
    Willis Jackson says:

    WOW! This article is very one sided and bias. Are you saying that there are no anti-Black Jews, only anti-Jewish Black people. Get the FACTS about the so-called friendship between Blacks and Jews in The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.


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