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Recent flashpoints in Black-Jewish relations—Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, the violence in Crown Heights, Leonard Jeffries' polemical speeches, the O.J. Simpson verdict, and the contentious responses to these events—suggest just how wide the gap has become in the fragile coalition that was formed during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Instead of critical dialogue and respectful exchange, we have witnessed battles that too often consist of vulgar name-calling and self-righteous finger-pointing. Absent from these exchanges are two vitally important and potentially healing elements: Comprehension of the actual history between Blacks and Jews, and level-headed discussion of the many issues that currently divide the two groups.
In Struggles in the Promised Land, editors Jack Salzman and Cornel West bring together twenty-one illuminating essays that fill precisely this absence. As Salzman makes clear in his introduction, the purpose of this collection is not to offer quick fixes to the present crisis but to provide a clarifying historical framework from which lasting solutions may emerge. Where historical knowledge is lacking, rhetoric comes rushing in, and Salzman asserts that the true history of Black-Jewish relations remains largely untold. To communicate that history, the essays gathered here move from the common demonization of Blacks and Jews in the Middle Ages; to an accurate assessment of Jewish involvement of the slave trade; to the confluence of Black migration from the South and Jewish immigration from Europe into Northern cities between 1880 and 1935; to the meaningful alliance forged during the Civil Rights movement and the conflicts over Black Power and the struggle in the Middle East that effectively ended that alliance. The essays also provide reasoned discussion of such volatile issues as affirmative action, Zionism, Blacks and Jews in the American Left, educational relations between the two groups, and the real and perceived roles Hollywood has play in the current tensions. The book concludes with personal pieces by Patricia Williams, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Michael Walzer, and Cornel West, who argues that the need to promote Black-Jewish alliances is, above all, a "moral endeavor that exemplifies ways in which the most hated group in European history and the most hated group in U.S. history can coalesce in the name of precious democratic ideals."
At a time when accusations come more readily than careful consideration, Struggles in the Promised Land offers a much-needed voice of reason and historical understanding. Distinguished by the caliber of its contributors, the inclusiveness of its focus, and the thoughtfulness of its writing, Salzman and West's book lays the groundwork for future discussions and will be essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary American culture and race relations.
"The peculiar entanglements of Blacks and Jews have, at times, provided an important impetus for social justice in the United States and, at other times, have been the cause of great tension," writes Jack Salzman in the introduction to this collection, which he edited with Cornel West. Struggles in the Promised Land: Towards a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States considers both sides through a distinguished group of contributors who discuss the Old Testament, slavery, the rise of the American left, the civil rights movement, Hollywood, affirmative action, the women's movement and more.
Salzman (director, Center for American Culture/Harvard) and West (African-American Studies and Philosophy of Religion/Harvard; Race Matters, 1993, etc.) have brought together about an equal number of black and Jewish scholars in these 21 original essays. Their focus is overwhelmingly on political and socioeconomic interaction during the 20th century, after the massive immigration of Eastern European Jews and the "great migration" of blacks to the North led to increased intercommunal encounters. A noteworthy exception is the opening essay by David Goldenberg, which demolishes the idea, advanced by black anthropologist St. Clair Drake and others, that the ancient rabbis were racist. The book also ends with four interesting essays by Patricia Williams, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Michael Walzer, and West. Unfortunately, too many pieces deal with material covered in greater depth elsewhere, on such matters as the crucial financial and political support of largely assimilated German Jews (for instance, Jacob Schiff and Julius Rosenwald) for such black institutions as Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, the NAACP, and the Urban League. While Gary Rubin's essay demonstrates convincingly that, despite the headline-grabbing demagoguery of a Farrakhan or a Leonard Jeffries, the black masses are not anti-Zionist, it also reminds us that we lack adequate data or even a good historical overview of the extent of racism within the American Jewish community.
While the scholars, journalists, and activists represented here unearth a great deal of interesting information about the vicissitudes of the black-Jewish encounter, their work more often points out the many unexplored facets of the interrelationship of two groups caught "in an inescapable web of mutuality."
|1||The Curse of Ham: A Case of Rabbinic Racism?||21|
|2||The Medieval Background||53|
|3||Jews in the Slave Trade||65|
|4||"The Law of the Land is the Law": Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South||73|
|5||Between Words and Deeds: Jews and Blacks in America, 1880-1935||87|
|6||Blacks and Jews: The Struggle in the Cities||107|
|7||Long-Distance Runners of the Civil Rights Movement: The Contribution of Jews to the NAACP and the National Urban League in the Early Twentieth Century||123|
|8||Negotiating Coalition: Black and Jewish Civil Rights Agencies in the Twentieth Century||153|
|9||Black-Jewish Universalism in the Era of Identity Politics||177|
|10||Allies of a Different Sort: Jews and Blacks in the American Left||197|
|11||The Need to Remember: Three Phases in Black and Jewish Educational Relations||231|
|12||African Americans and Jews in Hollywood: Antagonistic Allies||257|
|13||Separate Paths: Blacks and Jews in the Twentieth-Century South||275|
|14||Affirmative Action: Jewish Ideals, Jewish Interests||295|
|15||Affirmative Action: African-American and Jewish Perspectives||323|
|16||"Nation Time!": Black Nationalism, The Third World, and Jews||341|
|17||African Americans and Israel||357|
|18||On Imagining Foes, Imagining Friendship||371|
|19||Blacks, Jews, and Gender: The History, Politics, and Cultural Anthropology of a Women's Dialogue Group||385|
|20||Blacks and Jews: A Personal Reflection||401|
|21||Walking the Tightrope: Some Personal Reflections on Blacks and Jews||411|
|Notes on Contributors||417|