Jewish, African-American communities join together in Journey for Justice

Posted on: December 30th, 2017 by tgregory

By MARY JONES

Community Relations Committee

Journey for Justice participants gather in the Civil Rights Reading Room of the Nashville Public Library.

Speaking in November 2016 about a troubling current of tension within the new civil rights movement, David Bernstein, who heads the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend. How do we influence anyone’s views if we’re not part of the conversation?” He urged Jews to connect with other communities, “(n)ot because we’re trying to shape the movement, but because it’s the right thing to do.” 

The Nashville Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee (CRC) has engaged with the African-American community through its annual Seders and MLK Day programs, and now it has established a formal framework for ongoing dialogue and partnership.

In spring 2017—months before the shock of Charlottesville, Rabbi Flip Rice and Education Director Julie Greenberg of Congregation Micah developed a plan. Together, Congregation Micah and the CRC submitted a grant proposal to the Federation for a “Journey for Justice” – a first step in exploring the intersecting histories and narratives of the African-American and Jewish communities.  

Thanks to the generosity of this New Initiative grant from the Jewish Federation of Nashville, on Dec. 8, over 50 participants from four churches and three synagogues met at Congregation Micah to worship, have Shabbat dinner, and begin a conversation in hopes of forming friendships and learning how to become better allies for one another.

The next morning, we started the Journey for Justice at the Gordon JCC, where we boarded a bus. The first stop was the Civil Rights Reading Room in the downtown library, where Tasneem Grace Tewogbola interpreted archival photos and inspired honest and reflective conversation about our memories and hopes. 

The journey then continued to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, where community docents Robin Cohen and Faith Haber Galbraith showed us thought-provoking expressions of the African-American experience in the museum’s current World War I and Nick Caves exhibits.

From there, we went to Fisk University, where treasures from the library’s Special Collections taught us about our shared history. We saw letters and photos of Fisk’s German Jewish refugee scholars, whose lives were saved by the Historically Black colleges who gave them jobs when no one else would. We saw documents from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which—with African-American support and labor—helped build over 5,000 schools in 15 Southern states (and also provided funding for buildings and equipment at  our own Tennessee State University). And we heard the story of Fisk’s Slave Bible – an 1808 Bible from the West Indies that, like many of its time, excluded passages that could have encouraged liberation – such as the book of Exodus. 

Next stop was Belle Meade Plantation, where participants learned about the families who were enslaved there and talked about recent efforts at Belle Meade Plantation and in our city to move beyond the traditional tendency to focus only on the lives of wealthy white families.   

The journey concluded back at the Gordon JCC with a tour of the Nashville Holocaust Memorial, testimony from child survivor Frances Cutler Hahn, a stirring song by Dwight Lewis of the First Baptist Church of Gallatin, and Havdallah.  As we moved from Shabbat peace to wishes for a good week, we talked about plans for our next gathering. 

In the words of First Baptist Church Pastor Derrick Jackson, “Taking the time to share, listen, learn, and love can transform a person, a community, a nation, and a world.”  

In the words of participant Arleen Tuchman, “I’m so glad I’m on this journey!” •