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Jewish Journal

In the eye of a racial storm

By Rev. Eric P. Lee and Daphna Ziman

May 22, 2008 | 11:00 am

On April 4, 2008, we, the Rev. Eric Lee and Daphna Ziman, came face to face in the eye of a national racial storm that has surfaced during the primary election campaign.

Two communities, both of which have suffered discrimination and both of which have fought for justice, found themselves in the middle of storm that has created unwarranted tension. On the one side is the plight of African Americans, who have been enslaved and victimized throughout the history of the United States. On the other side are the Jews, who have been persecuted across the world for generations and escaped to America to find freedom.

Generations of Jews have repeated to their children, "Never again," referring to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Generations of African Americans are still facing barriers to equal opportunity.

We African Americans and Jews were on a journey together but did not yet realize it. We have the same destinations: justice, peace, dignity, respect. However, we began from two different locations.

On the one hand, the journey began with a people whose historical backdrop consists of centuries of slavery, oppression, persecution and ultimately stereotypes. It is the story ofIsrael and the tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust and the continuing struggle against anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, the journey began with a people whose historical backdrop consists of colonial rule, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery, legal segregation and discrimination and ultimately stereotypes. It is the story of African Americans and the tragedy of the African holocaust and the continuing struggle against racism. Although there have been many advancements in the journey to justice, there still remains a long way to go.

And although the historical relationship between the African American and Jewish communities has resulted in significant civil rights gains, there still remain injustices that must be combated together.

Through the deep pain of adversity, we have turned to the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in making his case for universal rights vs. identity rights (gay rights, women's rights, children rights, etc). Dr. King stated, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

We were on a journey together but did not yet realize it. What we do realize, however, is that the destination is the same and the beginning of our respective journeys is not that different.

Why then has there been such a challenge in taking this journey together? When our communities suffer with racism, anti-Semitism, negative stereotypes and persecution, why haven't we continued to join together to fight against the social evils that continuously plague our respective communities? Why have we been tossed into this storm of racial animosity and apparent tension between us?

The answer lies within society's apparent inability to deal with and eliminate racism and anti-Semitism. It is not enough to have laws against acts of hatred. Hate crime laws are only applied after the act of hatred has been committed. Society needs to deal with the spirit of hatred that precedes the act.

The spirit of hatred is revealed in the language of racism and anti-Semitism. The spirit of hatred is revealed in the Web sites and e-mails espousing racism and anti-Semitism. The spirit of hatred is revealed in speeches and sermons that condemn entire cultures, religions and ideologies.

We recognized that we had to touch futility before we touched humility. We had to recognize that it wasn't about us individually, but that justice is about us collectively.

Is it possible that we were chosen to remind our country that America is the land of diverse cultures and that within our diversity lies our strength? Divine intervention?

We believe that it is. We had to rise above our own limitations to allow the wisdom of God to be heard.

"The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain."

Now, any fool knows that a wolf and a lamb cannot graze together. But what the Bible is asking us to do is to find a common ground.

We must leave our children a legacy of respect and acceptance -- live and let live. We must demand all religious leaders to stop spouting racism in any place of worship or public gathering.

We realize that our journey together must be walked together -- shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand -- so that we arrive together at our destinations of justice, peace, dignity, respect. We understand that we are all God's children, and that as Dr. King stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

In the seder ceremony, the collective statement of all participants is that "until everyone is free; we are not yet free."

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