“The State of the Black/Jewish Socioeconomic Alliance” is the theme for the inaugural launching of the Black/Jewish Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills. Several leaders in Southeast Michigan are expected to participate.
The forum was conceived by two men who touted their friendship and the closeness of their families as the catalyst for what is to become an important ongoing event in metro Detroit — to revisit the historical ties between Blacks and Jews and looking ahead into the future. Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, and Bankole Thompson, senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle, over the last three years have developed a close friendship that has been extended to their families, resulting in family visits.
“Black/Jewish relations are part of America’s dream and America’s soul. We share common pain and common triumphs, and nowhere is that bond celebrated more keenly than at Temple Beth El, Michigan’s oldest Jewish congregation.” — Rabbi Daniel B. Syme, Temple Beth E.
The Black/Jewish Forum, according to Horwitz and Thompson, is critical to bringing two communities together with longstanding socioeconomic and political ties. “Over the past three or four years, Bankole and I have gotten to know each other very well as friends and as people who care about the future of Detroit and the Detroit metro area,” Horwitz said.
The two have had several opportunities to collaborate, ranging from being on panels together to writing articles that touch on both communities.
For example, in June of this year, the influential Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) in New York, the national public affairs arm of the organized American Jewish community founded in 1944, invited Horwitz and Thompson to serve as keynote speakers at the opening dinner of the JCPA conference in Detroit.
“Blacks and Jews in America once formed an important relationship in furthering the cause of a more just society. Not that it was perfect and there were certainly differences but, in all honesty, our two communities were as strong as any two could be in fighting against oppression and economic injustice. What is surprising is that today we continue to pursue similar goals and yet do very little together,” said JCPA CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow.
Gutow said our challenge in the years ahead is to find those common threads and reestablish the connectiveness that allowed our communities to be the strong forces they once were in fighting poverty and achieving civil rights. “Any Black/Jewish forum should look for ways to work together to better America and to find the common ground that we both once stood upon,” Gutow said. Horwitz said not only did he and Thompson get to know and understand each other, but the two realized they shared a passion for Detroit and the region. For the past few years, whenever he and Thompson go out for lunch every two to three weeks, their conversations center around looking for ways to bring “the historically strong, but currently not so strong” Black/Jewish alliance closer together.
“It was really through those conversations, through getting to know each other, through getting to know our families that Bankole came up with the concept of a Black/ Jewish Forum,” Hortwitz said. “But not something that would be sterile. Not something that would be one and done. Not something that would be from organization to organization, or institution to institution. But, rather, we both felt the real power in re-energizing the Black/Jewish alliance.”
The forum, he pointed out, would create “ways people could engage each other on a personal level, their families, and understand and identify the shared interests they have, of which there are many.”
Thompson agreed that the forum shouldn’t be another “feel good” town hall meeting or panel discussion. Instead, the Black/Jewish Forum will be a continuous conversation on issues that will be held three times a year, every four months, with leaders and up-and-coming leaders from both communities.
“We plan to matchmake the guests that are coming to the forum,” he said, adding that leaders in the two communities will be paired with other leaders in similar roles. “Part of our vision here is to not only make this forum a national model showing that metro Detroit is more than the unflattering image that’s out there, but also a very important conversation platform for leaders locally, nationally and internationally,” Thompson said.
“Arthur and I recognize that we cannot change the world overnight, but we can contribute in our own way to making our community a better place for our children.” Horwitz expects forum participants to not only engage with each other and develop unique friendships, but also identify common areas of interest and work to build on them to create socioeconomic transformation. Thompson agrees.
“We realize there have been conversations and efforts in the past to strongly link the Jewish and African American communities,” he said. “The Black/Jewish Forum is an addition to what existed. Formalizing this past relationship into a permanent forum enhances the collaboration.” The concept of the Black/Jewish Forum instantly caught the attention and piqued the interest of many leaders in Southeast Michigan who have vowed to attend the inaugural launching.
“The response has been great. In fact, most of the people coming have been asking what role they can play. Some have said they are honored to be part of this event,” Thompson said. “If anything is going to be changed, it will be by those who are called to serve.”
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme of Temple Beth El applauded the effort and the spirit behind the October event, saying, “Black/Jewish relations are part of America’s dream and America’s soul. We share common pain and common triumphs, and nowhere is that bond celebrated more keenly than at Temple Beth El, Michigan’s oldest Jewish congregation.” “Temple Beth El has been, and will always be, in the forefront of struggles to achieve Tikkun Olam – healing our world. And one day, all the hands that reach ours in hope will touch in blessing.”
Horwitz wants the forum to be the standard bearer for partnerships that have at the core of their mission bettering the lives of people in African American and Jewish communities in Southeast Michigan and beyond.
“Ultimately, what we hope we’re doing is modeling behavior, because this is a region that we know is very diverse and very segregated,” Horwitz said. “What we’re hoping is that what we do here and the success we hope to have will show other groups in and around Detroit, that there are opportunities to link, to partner, to find and share a common agenda that’s good for them individually, good for their respective communities, and good for Detroit and the region overall.”
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