June 3, 2024
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Middlesex Black-Jewish Coalition Discusses DC Violence

The Middlesex Black-Jewish Coalition (MBJC) presented their second event, “Hear Thy Neighbor—Reflections on the Insurrection: Black and Jewish Perspectives,” on Sunday, March 7. Five interviewees (all members of the local Black and Jewish communities) shared their personal and unique perspectives on the violence perpetrated in Washington, DC, on January 6.

Rabbi Esther Reed, senior associate director for Jewish campus life at Rutgers Hillel and MBJC secretary, spoke about the events at the Capitol, noting she did not fully grasp the violent level of the rally until the next day when she saw pictures of people breaking into the Capitol building, defying police, wearing clothing with hate-filled slogans and spewing hatred in their insistence that the election was stolen.

She noted that what was previously considered to be extreme behavior was now commonplace, with fringe ideology gaining momentum. “When Jews are targeted, other minorities are targeted too. The hate begins with the Jews, but never ends with the Jews. The Black and Jewish communities need to support and stand for one another to make our country a place we want to live.”

Highland Park Councilperson Elsie Foster then spoke about growing up in Jamaica, where her idyllic childhood was shattered after a major political shift brought crime and violence to the area. Virtually overnight the neighborhood went from one of safety to one where neighborhood watches were necessary.

Foster’s family came to the United States and settled into American ways after a learning curve. Everything was wonderful until the time of President Carter’s election. Foster was worried that a new president and political party would bring the same violence she saw in Jamaica. Despite her parents and others telling her that the United States accepted democratic elections peacefully, she was fearful and frightened. She was amazed that the morning after the election she saw only regular daily activities outside her window and no hint of violence on the television news or anywhere else.

On January 6, Foster was flooded with the memories of post-election Jamaica. Her belief that this sort of violence would never happen in the United States was shattered.

Foster said, “If after 400 years they still believe that Blacks are not human, there is nothing more I could say to them. I’m not hopeful that the people I saw want to live peaceably.”

Foster does feel somewhat optimistic about the future, noting that on a later trip to Jamaica she noticed people from opposing political parties sharing a bicycle ride to the polls. “Years ago they would have been physically violent toward each other, yet here they were riding on the same bicycle!”

The next speakers were Rev. Antoinette Gaboton-Moss of Trinity United Methodist Church (Highland Park) founding director, Black Community Watchline, and Rev. Kermit Moss, Christ Church United Methodist (Paterson), interim director, Center for Black Church Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary and Ph.D. candidate (ABD), practical theology, education and formation, Princeton Theological Seminary. Rev. Moss saw different influences growing up in Virginia than he did attending school in New York. In the south, white and Black residents based relations on race and policy. In New York, there was segregation based on economics and neighborhoods, where policy and policing benefitted some groups but not others.

Rev. Antoinette Gaboton-Moss grew up in Germany, and didn’t experience racism or Black-white friction until walking into the lunchroom of her new school and having to decide where to sit.

Both agreed that it is clear that bias, hatred and discrimination have emerged into the public arena and “democratic ideas need to be put in place” so that ethics are connected to democracy and other humans.

The final presenter was Hanina Hanoch, educator and Highland Park resident. Born in Chile and raised in Germany, Hanoch came to the United States on a student visa to study in Chicago.

Her impressions of the events of January 6 were “horrifying, but not unexpected,” based on the speeches and online materials that were being posted. She noted the differences between the approaches by police towards the George Floyd protestors over the summer and those of the Capitol rioters, speculating that they were based on race. She felt the Capitol rioters were treated mildly because they were white.

While these events did not change her perspective of America, she is more hopeful after what she saw over the summer, with people joining together to fight racism. Hanoch noted that even childrens’ books note parents of color advising their children on how to interact with police to avoid violence; these conflicts weren’t on her radar before. She stated that being made aware of things she did not know before is helpful in fighting against the never-ending inequities and biases that exist.

MBJC’s mission is to increase the understanding of, and interaction between, Jewish and Black people through dialogue and programming. Contact them at [email protected] or [email protected].

By Deborah Melman


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