More than 100 students from several U.S. cities and abroad came to Atlanta – via Zoom – to hear about the remarkable relationship between the Jewish and Black communities. The star-studded panelists led the conversation that was preceded by online screenings of the documentary, “Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance,” which premiered at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in February.
The educational program last month was co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast, the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College and the Spill the Honey Foundation, which developed and produced the film. According to Dr. Shari Rogers, president of Spill the Honey and director of the documentary, the film might not have been produced if it had not been for Atlantans.
“Atlanta helped me raise the funds for the film,” she told the participants. “Atlanta is really the model for the rest of the nation” with regards to Black-Jewish relations.
Among those who helped spearhead the making of the film was Sherry Frank, president of the Atlanta section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Frank was executive director of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee when she helped create the National Council of Jewish Women along with the late Congressman John Lewis.
In addition to Atlanta civil rights icons Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. Joseph Lowery, Lewis was honored during the evening. “The allyship between Blacks and Jews” was Lewis’ legacy, said Caleb Barco, a recent Morehouse graduate and one of the panelists.
Student participants from around the country asked questions of the various panelists, who included former Atlanta Mayor and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young and former NBA all-star player Isiah Thomas. Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon opened the program, which featured three separate groups of panels.
Thomas spoke about the close association between Blacks and Jews in sports. “This is a community that’s always been together,” he said, pointing out that the founder of the Globe Trotters was Abe Saperstein. “Lots of sports team owners are Jewish.”
The basketball celeb referred to the summer-long civil rights protests in America sparked by the killing of African American George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, saying he is encouraged by “what’s happening on the streets and the world coming together. None of us could have gotten to this point in time without our Jewish brothers and sisters.” He told the student participants, “Your generation can stop the institutional racism” in the country.
Young spoke about growing up in New Orleans not far from an office of the American Nazi Party. He said his father taught him not to get angry at “sick people.” White supremacy “is a sickness, and you have to learn to live with people who are different. Never get emotional, stay calm and cool,” was his father’s advice. Young’s father was a dentist and the dental supply companies were Jewish owned.
“I grew up in a community bound by common beliefs,” Young said. The National Conference of Christians and Jews was the first international meeting he ever attended.
Frank recalled the launching of the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition in the early 1980s. “We built coalitions by getting to know each other. We created a table to hear each other’s issues.”
The third panel consisted of The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg and Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The two congregations have a long history of working and praying together. Berg noted the relationship between former Temple Rabbi Jacob Rothschild and Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, Rothschild helped organize the first integrated dinner for the late civil rights leader.
Both clergymen Berg and Warnock spoke about the importance of the book of Exodus. “This is the central narrative of the Jewish people,” Berg said. “All holidays deal with the story of Exodus.” Warnock quoted the late Rabbi Joshua Heschel after he marched with King from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. “It felt like my feet were praying.”
Speaking to the participants, Warnock stressed the importance of condemning “bigotry wherever we see it, whether it’s racism or anti-Semitism. We lose some of our credibility when we don’t.”
- Nazi Party
- Jewish and Black communities
- Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Black-Jewish Relations
- Sherry Frank
- National Council of Jewish Women
- Rev. C.T. Vivian
- Caleb Barco
- Isiah Thomas
- White Supremacy
- Temple Rabbi Jacob Rothschild
- Rabbi Peter Berg
- Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock