It seems so long ago, but there was a time that Jewish people and Black people banded together to help push the nation’s civil rights agenda across the finish line.
But that was in the 1960s. Today, the two groups barely seem to know each other and relations are hindered by mistrust, misunderstanding and anger from both communities. It comes during a period of white supremacists increasing attacks — physical and through social media — against both groups.
Still, if Denver’s Caren Press has her way, the two groups gradually will move closer via the organization she recently formed, called “The Denver Dialogue: A Conversation Between Denver Blacks and Jews.”
Press was spurred to action after hearing the anti-Semitic attacks by Kanye West a few months ago.
After a preliminary meeting a few months ago at a Montbello barber shop, the second gathering drew more than 100 people to George Washington High School’s library on March 15.
The group conducted a frank talk about the tensions between the two communities and how to close that gap.
“We want to address some of the issues between the two groups and see if there is a way both can work together to combat white supremacy,” said Press, a retired attorney. “This grassroots movement is not controlled by any church, synagogue, school district or advocacy group. It’s our communities coming together with no agenda other than understanding, reconciliation and combining to fight the white nationalists that want to destroy us both.”
White nationalist groups send out a steady stream of fake news lies, and anti-Semitic and racist material and tropes.
“This group (The Denver Dialogue) would like to begin a dialogue and see if the relationship can be repaired to at least work together to fight this common adversary,” Press said.
The March 15 event was a breakthrough, and some attendees suggested not only more gatherings, but also some with a social bent, such as a barbecue. There was a frankness, as some Jewish attendees said they didn’t know any Black people, and some Black attendees said the same about Jews.
The gathering not only enabled people to learn about others, but also helped debunk some of the supremacists’ messages.
Israel’s relations with Palestine was a hot topic on March 15 — and some of the Black attendees were interested to learn that not all Jews felt the same way about Israel’s actions. Jews in attendance learned that some Black people were horrified by what West had to say.
That can help open some doors.
“Anti-Semitism is a real thing,” said Evan Weissman, an activist with Warm Cookies of the Revolution and one of the two guest speakers on March 15. “For a lot of White Jews in the Denver area, it’s not something that’s felt in the same ways as systemic institutional prejudice is. Speaking for White Jewish folk: We need to be involved in racial justice efforts all the time, not just when it affects Jews in a more direct way.”
Theo Wilson, a Black man who is the executive director and lead facilitator with ShopTalk Live Inc., was the event’s other speaker.
“I don’t operate from a hopeful frame,” he said. “This is what is necessary and this is in front of me. It’s necessary to have this conversation, to build this bridge. We can’t move forward unless we understand that this is what we have in common.”
Wilson has been involved in improving relations between African immigrants and Black Americans.
In summary, Press said, “It’s a waste to fight amongst ourselves. We’re putting energy into not trusting others. There are people that want to annihilate both. It’s dumb; we should be helping each other. We should be understanding each other and reconciling.”
To learn more about The Denver Dialogue, contact Caren Press at email@example.com.