It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, the saying goes. And a group of
Black and Jewish leaders took that spirit to the fight against racism and antisemitism.
In a full-page ad in The New York Times in December of 2022, a group of Black and Jewish leaders
called for Americans to join them in a coast-to-coast display of unity “to dispel the darkness of racism and antisemitism
in America” for the 15 nights of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
The call came in the aftermath of celebrity Kanye West’s recent high-profile antisemitic statements
and his appearance alongside White nationalist Nick Fuentes at a dinner with former president Donald Trump.
“At a time when racism and antisemitism are on the rise, I am determined to partner with leaders
from all faiths to recognize ‘Fifteen Days of Light,’” wrote billionaire Black venture capitalist Robert F. Smith. “We are
unifying to celebrate Chanukah and Kwanzaa together, and encourage communities nationwide to join us in our support for one
The newspaper ad, which featured several Black and Jewish leaders, called for Americans of all
faiths and backgrounds to participate in “15 Days of Light” — the eight nights of Hanukkah and lighting the Menorah, followed
by seven nights of Kwanzaa and lighting the Kinara. It used the hashtag #LightTheCandles and offered more information
“My father believed very strongly that one should never compare suffering. African-Americans and
Jews have suffered immeasurably and are increasingly targeted today,” said Elisha Wiesel, the son of Holocaust survivor and
Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel and a supporter of the effort.
“The lies that Jews are colonizers or oppressors are as vile as the lies that fueled Jim Crow. It is
time to expose hate speech for what it is and leave no question that it is intolerable. My father lit Chanukah candles even
in Auschwitz; surely we too can find hope in the light.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been tracking incidents of harassment and violence
targeting Jews in the United States since 1979. It reported that 2021 saw the highest number of incidents ever, with 2022
on a similar track.
W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches, who appeared in the
ad, said: “African-American and Jewish communities share a common struggle to live in human dignity, devoid of hatred and
oppression. We both believe in a powerful God and have a legacy of strong faith … and are mandated to link resources to hold
back the darkness of racism and antisemitism.”
As for the non-existent unsupported antisemitic conspiracy theory pushed by Kanye West and others,
advocates for cooperation between the Black and Jewish communities note that both communities have a long legacy of standing
side-by-side in the face of hate.
For example, Peter Dreier, chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental
College, wrote that “although Jews made up less than three percent of the nation’s population, they made up at least
half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.”
And one of the most iconic moments of the fight against Jim Crow was Rabbi Abraham Joshua
Heschel’s marching arm in arm with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1965 march for voting
Did you know that Jews were largely responsible for the formation of the NAACP –
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - that was organized for and worked to obtain full civil
rights for American Blacks? The NAACP was formed in the wake of the 1908 Springfield, Illinois race riots, a horrific event
that left nine African Americans dead and countless injured or homeless from arson. American Jews made several important
contributions, lending organizational, legal, political and financial weight to that nascent enterprise.
The first major Jewish leader to join the charge to right the wrong committed in Illinois was Rabbi
Stephen Wise, the head of the Jewish Reform movement in the U.S. Soon, the German-born Emil Hirsch, rabbi of Chicago signed
on. Eventually, dozens of mainstream Jewish leaders followed suit, and by 1911 these Jews became founding members of the
One of these early members was Louis Marshall, founder of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), who
proclaimed when he joined that he would fight the Ku Klux Klan just as hard if it spared the Jews and focused only on “Negroes
or any other part of our population.”
Another Jewish founder of the NAACP was Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter who helped draft
NAACP legal briefs. Later, Jacob Schiff, a Jewish banker and community leader, joined the NAACP board.
Early Jewish donors included Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears Roebuck, and Lillian Wald, suffragist and
founder of the Henry Street Settlement. Herbert Lehman, Democratic Governor of New York in the 1930s and the son of German
Jewish immigrants, served on the NAACP Executive Committee.
Two Jewish brothers, Joel and Arthur Spingarn, were the most committed. Joel, a literature professor
at Columbia University, served as the first chairman of the NAACP board and then as the second president in the 1930’s.
In 1930, he endowed the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, an achievement award for which they continue to award annually to high
achieving African Americans.
One of the main lessons that can be learned from these facts is pragmatic: the Jews and African
Americans in those early days of the twentieth century focused first and foremost on results, and not on ideological purity.
That is, they knew what they wanted to accomplish together and did not let disagreement about other political issues prevent
them from working together. They did not use what today we call litmus tests of ideological compatibility to dictate whom
they could and could not work with. If they had required total agreement on every issue, they might not have gotten anything
Unfortunately, some in today’s Black community have forgotten that Jews were early supporters
of Black civil rights – some even gave their lives in fighting for racial equality!
There has arisen an anti-Semitic element in today’s Black community – Kanye West perhaps being one
of the most known or reported on. Regrettably, this has been accompanied by an increase in anti-Semitic activity in the U.S.
and abroad. This anti-Semitism has even been called “commonplace” by some. To describe any form of discrimination and
prejudice as “commonplace” is disgraceful and unacceptable, especially when it involves hate speech and worse, deliberate
People are not born haters. Hate is a choice, and people are responsible to teach love. It is
incumbent upon us to see past race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, and gender, and instead focus on what binds us
together: our humanity. When we endorse and accept a culture of hatred, there is a chance that unacceptance and intolerance
become “commonplace.” At some dangerous point, we might, too, become the subject of such contempt.
We here in America must pledge never to accept hatred as commonplace. We need not
subject ourselves to gut-wrenching photos of innocent humankind herded onto train cars and, later, into unfathomable death
chambers, to be reminded of what can happen when individual hatred grows into public acceptance.
The Palm Beach Post article that referred to the purported anti-Semitism as “commonplace” focused on
Donald Trump’s unfortunate choice of an anti-Semitic rap star and a white supremacist as dinner guests. Their opinions must
never be considered normal. Let’s all disregard the vile actions of a few to avoid them becoming the commonplace
actions of many.
Kanye West and some other Blacks forget – or choose to ignore the fact – that entire busloads of
Freedom Riders – Jewish supporters among them - were arrested when they reached southern states in the 1960’s. Interfaith
collaboration at that time was a vital part of the Civil Rights Movement.
After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1937, Joachim Prinz, a rabbi, tackled injustice in America. He became
the first rabbi to reach out to Martin Luther King Jr. and later spoke during the 1963 March on Washington, saying, “As
Americans, we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice.”
The collaboration between Blacks and Jews grew during the civil rights movement period, but has
since soured. For Jews, much of the impetus to align with African Americans came after the domestic terrorism perpetrated
against Jewish buildings and institutions during the late 1950s, including The Temple in Atlanta and Temple Beth El in
Birmingham, Alabama, both in 1958. This has a disturbing correlation today - information from the Anti-Defamation
League documents the doubling of anti-Semitic incidents of vandalism, harassment, and assault during the last five
Doctor King addressed the American Jewish Congress in 1958 because it represented “one of the few
organizations holding a convention in the South and wanted to bring the issue of integration forward.” During his speech,
King said that “every Negro leader is aware that segregationist makes no fine distinction between Negroes and Jews.” The
segregationists’ aim is to “use scapegoats to facilitate their political and social rule over all people,” he said. “Our
common fight is against these deadly enemies of democracy, and our glory is that when we are chosen to prove that courage
is a characteristic of oppressed people, however cynically and brutally they are denied full equality and freedom.”
The Jewish Freedom Riders who rode interstate buses into the South in the summer of 1961 to protest
segregated public transportation are an example of this common fight.
The erosion of the Black-Jewish relationship has multiple causes, including anti-Semitic slurs used
by Louis Farrakan and Jesse Jackson, the waning influence of institutions like the NAACP and the Urban League, the African
American Christian alliance with evangelicals, and Israeli/Palestinian tensions.
As one Black activist has put it: “What I think is important to all of us living in America right
now, both American Jews and African American people alike, is the fact that our communities are being threatened by white
supremacy and anti-Semitism, and people are dying because of these things. We need to figure out a way to talk about
this, first of all, and secondarily to reestablish alliances between our communities, so that we are able to fight against
the perils that are coming at us from the outside.”
Once again, anti-Semitism has again reared its ugly head here in America. It re-surfaced, when Ye,
formerly known as Kanye West, made some controversial statements about Jewish people that have caused him to lose boatloads
On the heels of Ye’s debacle, another Black man came under fire as a result of anti-Semitic behavior.
Kyrie Irving, a member of the New York Nets NBA team, repeated controversial anti-Semitic information from a book and a film.
Kyrie was suspended from his team.
All of this has played right into the anti-Semitic musings of a lot of people.
The relationship between Blacks and Jews is complex, but more importantly, ironic since both groups
have been subjected to prolonged persecution.
The Jewish people seem to have been able to unify to such an extent that any attacks on the
community serve as catalysts for them to collectively fight their enemies. Black people, on the other hand, seem to have
taken the opposite approach. There is a lot of self-loathing in the community, as demonstrated by the incidents of
Black-on-Black crime. Black people have not been able to pull together effectively in order to overcome the curse of
oppression and racial discrimination.
It is important to note that Blacks and Jews have been staunch allies in the past. Particularly,
Jewish people have served as fighters for Black liberation. And though there are pundits in the Black community who believe
that Blacks and Jews are enemies because Jewish people participated in the slave trade, it can be pointed out that there were
Black people who participated in the slave trade and also owned slaves.
Ultimately, it is extremely counter-productive for Black people to jump on the white supremacist
bandwagon of anti-Semitism. Instead, the Black community should take a page from the Jewish playbook and unify against the
enemies of the community. It is only natural for this to happen, which is why it is counterproductive for Black people to
attack Jews. The Black-Jewish schism seems orchestrated by other unseen forces in a divide-and-conquer
strategy. Who would benefit from this schism? This is a question that Black people need to
- Black, Jewish leaders stand together against hate, Michael Graham, Boston Herald: Pge 17,
15 December 2022.
- What We Can Learn From The Jews Of The NAACP About Intersectional Organizing, Bob Silverman,
12 September 2019.
- Commentary: Opinions such as Kanye West's anti-Semitic comments must never be considered normal,
Rabbi Yaron Kapitulnik, yahoo!news, 16 December 2022.
- ‘Then and Now: Black-Jewish Relations in the Civil Rights Movement’, Kristina García,
19 November 2020.
- Blacks, Jews and Ant-Semitism, Dr. Yaounde Olu, chicagocrusader.com, 15 November 2022.