Black-Jewish unity is a topic of immense personal meaning to me. I am Jewish and my long-term best friend Othello is Black. We have always had conversations about the necessity of a healthy relationship between our communities. When I heard about [last week’s] #BlackJewishUnity Week of the American Jewish Committee and National Urban League, I knew I had to be involved.
Othello and I grew up in Augusta. Growing up there as someone who is not white or Christian can be a painful experience. I had to endure several experiences with antisemitism. Some were passing jokes that stuck with me for years; others were swastikas drawn on my homework. Othello has faced similar hate too, with racial profiling and slurs. Our experiences illustrate why unity is so crucial.
In 1982, Atlanta’s Black and Jewish communities came together to advocate for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. In that same year, President [Ronald] Reagan renewed the act. Although credit cannot be attributed solely to the newly formed Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition, the coalition certainly helped. Moreover, the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition reinvigorated the bond between our historically marginalized groups. 2020 has challenged both communities once again. In the wake of despicable police brutality against Black Americans and a violent resurgence of antisemitism, we should remember how much we can accomplish together.
There are ways in which I have more privilege than Othello. I can hide my Judaism; he cannot hide his Blackness. But we have grown closer based on our shared reality: both of us have never felt accepted by the majority. We have both faced discrimination, albeit in different forms. Our communities both have to deal with the pain that comes with being different. We may not ever be able to fully eradicate this pain, but we can try to ease it.
Othello’s friendship has helped me find confidence in my identity. He has always supported me and my Judaism, attending all of the educational seminars I have hosted at my synagogue. I’ve jokingly asked him when he is going to join the tribe, but in sincerity, his support has meant so much. And it goes both ways. Othello has taught me so much about the Black community and the issues they face. Our friendship has made me a better ally.
#BlackJewishUnity Week is something I have always wanted to be involved with. Will it solve all of the struggles our communities face? No, but it will make a difference. Our communities forged a deep bond during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, in an age where hate against Black and Jewish people has increased, we should return to that alliance. Through education and advocacy, we can support each other. The people that hate us are not waiting. Neither should we.
Madison Tomaso is an alumna of AJC’s Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) Jewish advocacy training program for high school students.