I do not know Kyrie Irving personally. I do respect his professional basketball prowess. He has been in the news recently and I feel that he might need me to express a few words in his defense.
In 1968, I was serving as the director of education at the JCC of Philadelphia. I received a phone call from the Israel consul officer in Philadelphia asking me to do some research on his behalf. At that time in Israel, a group of Jews from Chicago had moved to Dimona and were requesting acceptance for aliyah. This particular group had dark skin. The consul requested that I reach out in Philadelphia to the Black Jews of that city to better understand their relevance to the large Jewish community of Philadelphia. I accepted this assignment and realized how sensitive an issue this might become.
I spent three years on this assignment and learned a great deal. Indeed, there was a significant population of Black Jews in the city and they gathered in their synagogues regularly. I met with many of them and learned of their history. Indeed, they taught me a lot. And I taught them a lot also. They were a very proud community and welcomed this opportunity to share thoughts with their white brothers.
They taught me that the Jews of the Torah were all dark skinned. They were faithful in their observance of the laws of the Torah.They had a system of Jewish education for their children. They had a well developed system of community welfare for their elderly population. And they were very eager to receive financial support from the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia. I became the conduit through which they established strong ties with the federation. I also learned that their community was as divided as was the white Jewish community of Philadelphia and that proved to be very interesting as well. The pages of the Jewish Exponent newspaper of our city were full of articles and letters to the editors and you can look that up in its archives.
I have extensive files from that period. Much was accomplished and much was discovered and uncovered.
And so in 2022 we continue to be interested in the topic of Black Jews. It is my message today that we not be quick on the trigger. That we realize that this community has quite a history. As they express themselves they might say things that might not resonate well in our ears.Rabbi Simcha A. Green