JCRC Executive Director Lindsey Mintz addressed the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly discussing the Indianapolis Jewish community’s efforts to strengthen ties between the next generation of Jewish and African American leaders. Read her full remarks:
Good afternoon. I’m Lindsey Mintz, the director of the JCRC in Indianapolis. I’m honored to be sharing some of what we’re doing to build long-term relationships between Next-Generation leaders in the Jewish and African American communities.
We all know these images of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. We are rightly proud that our community played such a pivotal role in advancing civil rights and racial equality in this country.
But it’s been over 50 years and 2 generations since the peak of Black-Jewish cooperation in the 1960s. Today, the most pressing concerns of our two communities are very different.
In 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement emerged after a string of police shootings took the lives of several African Americans. The Movement seeks to address systemic racial discrimination. So much so, that today’s Millennial African Americans are calling the Black Lives Matter movement: “Civil Rights 2.0” Will the Jewish community be on the front lines with them again?
Over the last 2 generations, our relationship has been complicated, which has made it difficult to engage in meaningful conversations on sensitive topics. We are seeing the impact of this play out right in front of our eyes…
What else was happening during the summer of 2014? The 50-day war in Gaza. Almost immediately, we saw images like this appear, directly linking the experiences of Palestinians to African Americans in the US. “Black-Palestinian Solidarity” was born.
This is when BDS really picked in central Indiana. Within a span of 6 months, SJP chapters on 4 campuses partnered with the Black Student Union, screened films, displayed posters, and hosted professor’s eager to make the case that:
- Israel is an apartheid state, and
- Racial profiling and military-like force against black Americans is a direct result of the influence of the IDF on US law enforcement.
After the Movement for Black Lives published its platform this past summer, which called Israel an apartheid state guilty of ‘genocide’, David Bernstein, the CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, wrote how this should not have come as a surprise. “There are a number of reasons for this…but none more salient than the organized Jewish community’s… absence from today’s civil rights tables.”
It’s clear: if we want to have any influence on how Millennial African Americans view Jews and Israel, then we must intentionally build these relationships anew, from the ground up. This is – at its core – the very essence of Community Relations work. And every Jewish community can – and should – do this do this.
The Indy JCRC has maintained a broad domestic policy agenda for 75 years. One way we’ve done this is by being actively involved with several social justice and human services coalitions. We are the bridge, bringing together disparate groups around a common cause. Indiana is one of only 5 states that does not have a Hate Crimes statute. We’ve made it our top legislative priority to change this. So we have brought together over 30 organizations – from the Urban League to the Prosecutor’s Office – into a statewide coalition to advocate for its passage.
But because the BDS Movement has hijacked the language of social justice, we have a serious challenge when it comes to having conversations about Israel with just about anyone on the progressive left. This is where the Israel Action Network comes in. A full understanding this dynamic and how we could best address it came through training and support from IAN Staff. After the training, we created an African American Outreach Task Force and started a new chapter of relationship building – focusing on creating personal relationships among Millennials. We identified and reached out to leaders from both communities. And we listened. These initial conversations are not about Israel. You’re establishing the relationship so that it’s IN PLACE when you need it.
In speaking with our JCC, we learned that they too had been interested in making connections between our two communities through the arts and dialogue. They call their initiative The Unity Project. We agreed to partner. Over the course of this year and next, we will screen 4 films and host 2 authors. We understand that the JCC’s goal is to put on programs that attract 100 or 200 people. They understand that the JCRC’s strategy is to form personal relationships with key millennial leaders. The two approaches are very different – but fully complement each other.
So how can we measure the success of this initiative? Is it really possible to measure preventing a crisis, or building trust? We live in an age of instant gratification – where every idea should turn into a program – and where every program has to show an immediate and quantifiable outcome. That’s not what we’re looking for here – and that’s not what Millennials in Indianapolis want to do. What they want is to genuinely know each other. And what we want is to have these relationships in place – because from them:
- Crises can be averted,
- Conversations about Israel and BDS will take place, and
- Collaborative initiatives will be born.
So what’s so innovative about outreach to the African American community that it deserves a place in the “FEDovation” line-up? Well, it’s not about having a program where you check the box with an event and a speaker. And it’s not about the method or strategy employed to create the relationships. What’s innovative is having your Jewish community actually do it
- invest in a long-term initiative that may not have clear-cut, immediate, measurable outcomes.
- commit to the “long-game” that on the surface may seem only tangentially connected to “Israel Advocacy” or “Combatting BDS” – but at its core, is exactly that.
However, this is not about just fighting the delegitimization of Israel, or increasing the number of relationships we have. We also need to do this because it’s the right thing to do. We want to walk in the footsteps of Heschel and King. And we can. But we have to show up.