The complex history and diverse voices of the relationship between American blacks and Jews necessarily mean that two individuals can't definitively represent hardly homogeneous groups. Thus, readers might best see these edited dialogues as an instructive introduction to the territory. West (Race Matters), who teaches Afro-American studies and religion at Harvard, and Lerner (Jewish Renewal), founder of Tikkun magazine, range from personal histories to current controversies. They disagree on topics like black criticism of Israel and the depth of black anti-Semitism, and they make some worthy points on topics like the symbolism of the Holocaust Museum and the current estrangement of the two groups. However, both men are of the left, and their rhetoric sometimes degenerates into a laundry list of laments, especially Lerner's harping on his ``politics of meaning.'' Their ultimate proposal: a campaign of ``healing and repair in both communities,'' aimed at fighting both anti-Semitism and racism. An ambitious agenda, given that, as they note, there are currently few links between Jewish and black progressives. (Apr.)
This dialogue between two old friends--both consummate thinkers--explores the passion and pain of a dying relationship. More personal (and because of the conversational format, less cogent) than Murray Friedman's "What Went Wrong: The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance" , the discussion between West, Harvard professor and the author of the best-selling "Race Matters" (1993), and Lerner, a magazine editor and a proudly proclaimed liberal, goes back in history and forward in speculation as the pair tries to figure out what went wrong with African American-Jewish relations and what to do about it. West and Lerner begin asking each other questions about their backgrounds (informative if somewhat contrived) and go on to press each other's hot buttons: black nationalism, the Holocaust, Farrakhan, Zionism. And after all these issues and more have been discussed--emotionally, urgently, and honestly--the initial conclusions are unsettling for all of us. West, for instance, feels that without systematic change America is headed for a race war. Yet, in keeping with their subtitle ("Let the Healing Begin"), the authors offer the epilogue "Grounds for Hope," in which they suggest that a shared spirituality could offer the way to resolve discord. Certainly, their final assessment, that change is possible, comes more from faith than from any empirical evidence: "We can build on the positive potentials and not just focus on the problems and difficulties." Let's hope these two charged voices aren't just crying out in the wilderness.