For decades Louis Farrakhan the head of the Nation of Islam has made antisemitic comments. He has called the Jews “Satanic.” When African slavery was introduced in America, early in the sixteenth century, because of the historical attitude of Judaism against slavery, Jewish French statesman Isaac Adolphe Crémieux, and others like him, threw themselves into the anti-slavery movement. Crémieux for many years had been working in the abolitionist crusade before he became a member of the French Provisional Government in 1848. He was instrumental in helping the French proclaim the abolition of slavery throughout the French colonies.
In England, there were Jewish members of the abolition societies. Granville Sharp, in his Law of Retribution, and Wilberforce in his, A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, freely expressed Jewish teachings arguing against slavery. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Jewish pulpits and newspapers spoke out against slavery. Men like Rabbi G. Gottheil and Dr. L. Philippson forcibly spoke out against the views spread by Southern sympathizers, that Judaism regarded slavery as divinely ordained. Rabbi M. Mielziner’s book, Die Verhältnisse der Sklaverei bei den Alten Hebräern, was published in Germany at Copenhagen and Leipsic in 1859. It was quickly translated and published throughout the United States. The book was closely similar to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It aroused public opinion against slavery and the slave trade.
Only months after Hitler seized power in Germany in the spring of 1933, Jewish intellectuals who had held prestigious positions in Germany’s renowned universities were targeted for expulsion. Many of the Jewish intellectuals found refuge in America by teaching at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) such as Howard University, Hampton Institute, Tougaloo, and Talladega College. According to Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of, the Jewish Theological Seminary, “They found a place where they could make a contribution, and they found a place where they could pursue their intellectual life. They found a place where they could make a difference.”
Julius Rosenwald was a Jewish American businessman and philanthropist. He is best known as a part-owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company. He used his career and finances to promote education for African-Americans in the segregated South. Working with Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald established schools throughout the South. Rosenwald once stated, “The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer.” It was this type of empathy that enable Rosenwald to support Booker T. Washington’s goal to educate African-American children in the deep south.
These schools became informally known as, “Rosenwald Schools.” Over 5,000 schools and vocational shops were constructed for the education of African-American children. Funds from the Rosenwald foundation also helped to pay the litigation costs of the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended school segregation in the United States.
The Civil Rights movement, the greatest social justice movement of the 20th century, would not have been as successful as it was without the support of the Jewish community. The Jewish community not only helped in financing the Civil Rights movement, but Jewish citizens also paid the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for the cause. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were both Jewish. Along with African American James Chaney, in 1964 the three of them worked on the “Freedom Summer” project for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to register black people to vote in Mississippi. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were murdered near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi by members of the Klu Klux Klan. Their bodies were found on August 4, 1964 buried at a dam site in Neshoba County—lying face down, side by side.
One of the most faithful supporters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was Jewish businessman, lawyer, and professional fundraiser—Stanley David Levison. According to Coretta Scott King, “Stanley Levison was more than one of my husband’s most loyal and supportive friends. He was [a] trusted and dedicated adviser.” Andrew Young stated, “Stan Levison was one of the closest friends Martin King and I ever had.” In spite of all the many tasks Levison did for the movement, he refused to receive any pay. He also served as Dr. King’s literary agent, and a legal advisor for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization established by Dr. King and other Southern black preachers.
In the field of sports, Hank Greenberg is one of only two Jewish players (the other is Sandy Koufax) inducted into the Major League baseball hall of fame. Greenberg played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the most successful Jewish sports figure of his time. He hit more home runs in one season than anyone except Babe Ruth. Jackie Robinson, during his rookie year and breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, met Greenberg. Robinson and his family received constant death threats. There were also threats of kidnapping his infant son, Jackie Jr. Things got so bad that Robinson thought about quitting the team. At each game, every time Robinson came to bat, he would be heckled by the opposing team and fans and called racist names. Both Greenberg and Robinson played first base. The hotel where the Dodgers stayed refused to admit Robinson. Early in the game, Robinson laid down a perfect bunt. He collided with Greenberg at first base. In the next inning, Greenberg was walked. While at first base, Greenberg asked Robinson if he had been hurt in the earlier collision. Robinson assured Greenberg that he hadn’t been hurt. Greenberg then said to Robinson, “Don’t pay any attention to these guys who are trying to make it hard for you. Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin up.” Following the game, Robinson told The New York Times, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.” Greenberg and Robinson became life-long friends.
Jewish sports journalist, broadcaster, and author, Howard Cosell helped the boxing career of Muhammad Ali. Cosell supported Ali when he refused to be drafted into the military. It was Cosell support that enable Ali to return to boxing after his three-year exile for refusing the military draft. Cosell was also one of the few outspoken sports broadcasters supporting Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith after they raised their fists in a “black power” salute during their 1968 medal ceremony in Mexico City.
In the areas of TV and movies, Norman Milton Lear is a Jewish American television screenwriter, film, and television producer. In a time when African Americans were rarely seen on TV, Lear gave America three of the most successful African American cast television shows in history: The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford and Son. Music producer Quincy Jones wrote the theme song for Sanford and Son. Lear recently produced the movie, The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show (2020). The documentary chronicles the week in February 1968 when Johnny Carson gave up his chair to Harry Belafonte. This was the first time an African-American had hosted a late-night TV show for a whole week. Lear also produced a documentary on the life and career of actor, singer, and dancer, Sammy Davis Jr. (2017), I’ve Gotta Be Me. He regularly cast African American actors and actresses in his movies and TV productions.
Mark Zuckerberg, Jewish founder of Facebook has consistently supported causes in the African American community by donating funds, speaking at HBCU institutions, hiring African Americans at Facebook, and supporting African American businesses and tech innovations. He even visited Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine African Americans were killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof during a Bible study. Zuckerberg spoke to the congregation and the community. After his visit, he posted on Facebook:
“This community is a symbol of resilience. In 2015, a white supremacist walked into bible study and murdered nine of its black members, including its pastor. The community experienced a level of grief beyond what I can imagine, and they are still working through it. Yet in the face of such hate and tragedy, the victims’ families forgave the murderer and treated him with compassion. While many cities might erupt with racial tension after murders like these, the Mother Emanuel community, with a tradition of fighting injustice, led the city in setting a tone of calm for the whole nation. As one white resident of Charleston told me: ‘the ones we should be apologizing to are forgiving us.’”
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroot organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action and provides antiracism resources to fight the injustices perpetrated against the African American community. NCJW is at the forefront of fighting against the senseless acts of violence committed against Black Americans such as the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery. NCJW lives by the teaching of the Torah, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” (Leviticus 19:16). Listed on their website, NCJW’s Take Action Antiracism mission is straightforward, “We have a sacred obligation to speak out against racist systems, structures, speech and action, and to work towards a more just future. And as a diverse Jewish community that includes Black and Brown Jews and allies, it is our responsibility to be proactive and not passive. The work of making change can feel daunting, and first and foremost we must each make choices every single day to be anti-racist.”
This article is only a small sampling of how the Jewish community has been supportive of the African American struggle in this country. In a real sense, the Jewish community sees our struggle as their struggle. The same forces in America that hate us, also hate them—and at times with even greater viciousness. Racist groups that hate Black people also hate Jewish people—and vice versa. Their mantra has always been, “We hate ni**ers and Jews!”
Why has the Jewish community been so supportive of the African American community? The answer may be that the Jewish community understands that our struggle in America is always foreshadowing of their struggles in America. When African Americans are attacked, it is only a matter of time that the next group will be Jews. White supremacist elements in America know if they can create a rift between the African American and Jewish communities, they would have a much easier time accomplishing their goal of making America an exclusive white Christian nationalist nation.
Martin Niemöller (1891-1984) was a prominent Luther pastor in Germany prior to World War II. He became an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent eight years in Nazi prisons and concentration camps. His words should be a warning to all of us who sit idly by and do not speak out against injustice: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Antisemitic speech like what Louis Farrakhan has been spreading for years and now made even more popular by Kanye West, threaten the implicit bond of brotherhood between the African American and Jewish communities. It is a fact that racism is alive and well in America. It is also a fact that African Americans have been and continue to be the greatest recipients of this evil malady that has plagued this country since its founding. But even in the face of this somber reality—as African Americans, we must never stoop to the level of the racist who knows only one thing—hate. If we do this, it will cause us to lose our greatest God-given gift—Love.