“Where there is hate for one group there is hate for all,” said Sabrina Spector, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.
That was the central theme for a program held last week that brought together a largely Black and Jewish audience to discuss antisemitism. The event at Middlesex College, formerly Middlesex County College, in Edison, New Jersey featured panelists from the Black, Jewish and Hispanic communities who answered questions and gave perspective on everything from Zionism, the roots and commonality of hatred of both Blacks and Jews, the spread of hate driven messages on social media, to Kanye West.
The program proved so engaging that the audience agreed it should continue beyond its scheduled end time.
During the public portion at the program, Mildred E. Rojas, manager of family and community engagement at Mastery Charter School-McGraw Elementary in Camden, New Jersey told the panel she learned more during the event about history than she had learned cumulatively to that point. “We have to put this in a platform that is palatable and digestible for our kids,” she said. “We don’t have these stories.”
Prejudice is not only directed toward Jews, but the event was scheduled because “We felt someone had to step up,” said John E. Harmon Sr., president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), a co-sponsor of the program. “When there is a fire someone has to put it out.”
The program was held as part of AACCNJ’s mobile academy initiative and co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations councils of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey and the Jewish Federations of New Jersey.
In response to a question by moderator Dr. Tameika Minor, assistant professor of, clinical mental health at Rutgers University, the origins of antisemitism were outlined by Rabbi Esther Reed, interim executive director of Rutgers Hillel, who also explained the history behind Jewish conspiracy theories and how the anti-Zionist “delegitimization, demonization and double standard” crosses the line from opposition of an Israeli policy to antisemitism.
“The talk of Jews doing to Palestinians what the Nazis did to Jews is just not accurate,” said Reed. “I can tell you the Palestinian population of Israel has increased since 1948.”
Harmon said marginalized minorities such as Blacks, Jews and Hispanics are often painted with a broad brush based on the actions of certain individuals and misconceptions about each abound in the media and from some politicians who “that gin up hostility.” Harmon added, “We are acknowledging something egregious has occurred and have come together to try and minimize the challenge.”
Blacks, many of whose ancestors were brought to this country as slaves, have long had their histories and accomplishments overshadowed, said Harmon. She noted that while Thomas Edison gets credit for inventing the light bulb, Lewis Latimer, the son of slaves, gets little notice for inventing the filament without which the light bulb wouldn’t stay lit.
Agent Reginald Johnson of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office of Bias/Community Outreach Unit said most bias incidents statewide are directed at Blacks with Jews coming in second. Together the two groups made up 77 percent of all bias incidents.
One of the most shocking findings is that the majority of bias incidents are coming from school- age young people, who leave hateful graffiti in school bathrooms and elsewhere. “We don’t want to go into the school system and arrest children,” said Jackson. “If it crosses a line we send law enforcement in to talk to the kids.” He said part of the rise in incidents can be attributed to better training of police in breaking down bias incidents.
Jackson, who is also president of the Metuchen-Edison NAACP, said if a racial or religious slur is used by someone arguing over a parking spot it is a bias incident, while scrawling a swastika on a synagogue or KKK on a Black Baptist church rises to the bias crime level. Jackson also said neither the Black, Jewish nor Hispanic communities report all of the bias incidents to authorities.
Jackson grew up in Metuchen, where he interacted with many Jews without problem. But now, “something has changed nationally,” he said.
“America now has created a subgroup of white nationalists,” he said, adding racist and antisemitic groups took note of what happened in the 1960s and 1970s when groups like the Ku Klux Klan were sued for their activities. Now, such groups rely on “lone wolves” to do their dirty work, who often can’t be traced back to a specific group, added Jackson.
Carlos Medina, president and CEO of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said ignorance was behind the rise in hate crimes and he believed the key was education, adding that untruths about Hispanics being unemployed and a drain on the economy were frustrating for community leaders.
He also praised the Jewish community for its ability to organize when antisemitic incidents occur, unlike the Latino community, which is split among many countries and cultures. “There is real unity in the Jewish community,” said Medina. “They mobilize immediately. In the Hispanic community we’re not able to do that.”
Rabbi Reed said after the killing of George Floyd local community members formed the Middlesex Black-Jewish Coalition, noting “that we are most effective when we work together.”
As the program concluded, Minor said she wanted to comment about intersectionality—or more specifically, her own intersectionality—revealing that not only is she Black and originally from the rural South “but I am also Jewish.
“I love every piece of me of my intersectionality,” she said, adding her son is a proud Jew who attends Kellman Brown Academy, a Jewish day school in Voorhees, New Jersey where his presence has taught classmates that Jews don’t all look the same and “can have a mama who has dreadlocks.”
By Debra J Rubin