Adopted by the UAHC Board of Trustees
West Palm Beach, FL
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has long held that Jews and African Americans are indispensable partners in the struggle for social justice in America. If this partnership is to be sustained, responsible leaders in both the Jewish and African American communities must address the mounting tensions emanating from recent events in Crown Heights.
These tensions represent a nadir in the history of Black-Jewish relations and can be ignored only at our common peril. For the first time, tensions between our communities exploded into widespread violence; for the first time American Jews became the target of mob violence as authorities stood by and failed to act.
In Crown Heights, as elsewhere, neither African Americans nor Jews can afford to translate every controversy into confrontation. When leaders of the Lubavitch Movement failed to express sympathy and sorrow for the tragic death of Gavin Cato, and African American leaders failed to condemn forcefully the anti-Jewish violence and the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, alienation and frustration grew — and everyone lost.
While the tensions between African Americans and Jews in New York have not yet led to problems in other communities, the danger exists that such problems might develop. Tensions in America's largest city must be diffused if future difficulties are to be avoided, and if we are to forge the national coalition for justice which we seek.
This requires Mayor Dinkins and city authorities to accept responsibility for their own errors. The police did not function properly following the outbreak of violence last year, and the Mayor must bear ultimate responsibility for police actions. The Mayor must also understand the anger in the Jewish community after the acquittal of Lemrick Nelson for the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum.
Yet what is also required is that leaders of both communities condemn the extremists in their midst. In the Jewish community regardless of disagreements that may exist with the Mayor, it is cruel and profoundly unfair to accuse him of murder and to call him an anti-Semite — as some in the Jewish community have done. Jewish leaders must defend the Mayor against demagoguery, and condemn those who would exploit these events for political gain.
David Dinkins' public record is clear and unmistakable; he is a long-time friend of the Jewish people, a strong supporter of Israel, an outspoken denouncer of anti-Semitism, a man of innate decency and good will, and a political leader who sees this city as embracing all of us in what he has called "our gorgeous mosaic". Since the explosion in Crown Heights 16 months ago, Mayor Dinkins has sought consistently and courageously to reach out to the Jewish community, to seek peace and build understanding.
The UAHC is committed to healing the wounds that have been opened by the sad events of the recent past. We will participate in the rally on December 17 with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Elie Wiesel, and others. This rally is designed to restore a sense of community and understanding in New York City, and we hope that every New Yorker heeds what is said and done there.
We call upon Jews and African Americans in New York City to initiate additional programs of dialogue and conciliation, and we urge Reform synagogues to continue and to strengthen efforts already underway in this area. We commend the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues for its pioneering work in the creation of Black-Jewish programming for high school youth.
We deplore media reports which have exacerbated the situation through sensationalism and inaccurate reporting, and we urge scrupulous adherence to the facts.
The effort to bring African Americans and Jews together must also be seen as part of the common struggle for the good society. African Americans and Jews in America need each other, not only because of our common enemies but because of common dreams. Together, we share the vision of a just and generous America. Together, we reach out to the weak and the stranger. Together, we hold that it is the purpose of government to help achieve social, economic and political justice. Together, we can undertake this task, and help achieve these goals.