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Local blacks, Jews seek to rebuild old bond

The history of connection and understanding between Jewish people and the black community is deep and rich, according to local founders of the Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance, a recently formed group devoted to using their shared experience as a way to resist the current political climate.

That relationship, they said, goes back to the founding of the NAACP, when Jewish supporters helped create the civil rights organization, and heightened during the freedom-fighting era of the 1960s as Jews flocked to the South to help facilitate voter registration for black people in poor and underfunded communities.

The Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance seeks to celebrate that longstanding relationship and shore up those connections for the future so that both communities can make a statement about oppression, survival and perseverance.

“This alliance is a way to acknowledge that both cultures, though they have been oppressed throughout history, are stronger because we stand together,” said Worcester NAACP chapter President Patricia Yancey.

The seed was planted when Rabbi Michael Swarttz reached out to Ms. Yancey and her husband, George, to begin a dialogue about how the two groups could come together in Worcester in a meaningful way. That conversation led to meetings that included people from the NAACP, the Jewish Federation, and the Rev. Esau Vance, pastor of Mount Olive Pentecostal Church.

Rev. Vance notes that the objective of the new initiative is “to restore the relationships between the Jewish community and the black community that we had in the 1960s.”

Rabbi Swarttz, who hails from Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Westboro and also serves on the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, said this relationship is long overdue and also much needed in the current political climate.

“Right now we are looking to make ourselves known and start to get the word out that we are here,” he said, adding that the alliance will sponsor its first event, Songs of Hope, at 4 p.m. Sept. 10. The event will be a cultural feast for the body and soul as performers of all kinds take the stage to share songs of triumph, endurance and hope, followed by a potluck meal consisting of foods from both cultures.

While the event is a statement to the community and to leaders everywhere that the black and Jewish people are standing, once again, side by side, said Ms. Yancey, it is also a kick-off to what they hope will be a series of events throughout the coming years that will encourage understanding and friendship between the two groups.

In coming years, added Rabbi Swarttz, the alliance hopes to sponsor lectures, educational events, movie screenings and panel discussions about relevant topics, political and personal.

The group also intends to have a continued dialogue within its membership about what, according to Ms. Yancey, “evolves as something that needs understanding or attention.”

“Our voices are rising up right now as we stand together, once again, in solidarity and protection,” she said. “This is a form of resistance and it’s a very powerful statement that we are making.”

For more information on the Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance, follow them on Facebook or stop by their event Sunday at the Belmont A.M.E. Zion Church at 55 Illinois St. in Worcester, or contact the Jewish Federation of Central Mass at (508) 756-1543 Ext. 201 or the Worcester NAACP at (774) 314-7515.



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