Black-Jewish Dialogue Takes Center Stage at Agudas Achim’s Social Action Weekend

Written by Marya Runkle on . Posted in Community News

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the Social Action Committee at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia,  held their first Social Action Shabbat Weekend over the weekend preceding MLK Day.

The weekend kicked off on Friday, Jan. 12, with speakers from Operation Understanding DC at Kabbalat Shabbat. Operation Understanding DC’s mission is to build a generation of black and Jewish community leaders who promote respect, understanding, and cooperation while working to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination.

“With everything that was going on in Ferguson and Baltimore and around the country, everybody’s like ‘Let’s pray,’ and I feel like that just doesn’t cut it,” said Samara Weinstein, chair of the Social Action Committee at Agudas Achim. “The social action and political advocacy piece is something that’s been missing and lacking [in the Conservative movement]. And clearly we’re hitting something. Folks want to do it.”

Saturday morning services featured a speech by Dr. Suzanne Smith, a member of Agudas Achim and a professor at George Mason University. She specializes in African-American history, with a particular interest in exploring how the history of African-American entrepreneurship can transform our understanding of African-American culture. Smith shared some background and history on Jews’ role in the civil rights movement and her experience as a “white, Jewish, African-Americanist.”

On Sunday morning, the synagogue hosted its Fourth Annual Celebrate Community 5K & 1K Fun Run/Walk. The race was started four years ago in honor of Agudas Achim’s 100th anniversary with the goal of bringing the community together.

The weekend’s featured event was “The Black-Jew Dialogues,” hosted by Agudas Achim and Alfred Street Baptist Church. “The Black-Jew Dialogues” stars Kaedon Gray, a young African-American male, and Larry Jay Tish, an older Jewish man. Together, they created the multi-media show about the history and current state of relations between the black and Jewish communities.

“Our goal is to perform an encapsulated history. Here’s 130 years of black-Jewish relations in America,” said Tish. “And only in the 1970s, with the erosion of the civil rights movement, did it not just break, it vanished. Its visible face was no longer visible.”

“The Black-Jew Dialogues” included skits, songs, games, and improvisation to provoke the audience to think about how the black and Jewish communities have both worked together and hurt one another.

The performance ended with Gray and Tish facilitating a question-and-answer session, during which audience members were encouraged to both ask questions and participate in dialogue with each other. The performers made a pact to “have each other’s backs,” and encouraged the audience to do the same.

By Marya Runkle