Miami’s Black and Jewish communities build new bridge with art collaboration | Guest Opinion

The Black and the Jewish communities aren’t as close as they used to be.

It’s an assertion we’ve heard from members in each of our communities on more than one occasion. In some regards it’s true; in other ways, it’s inherently false. But the underlying premise of the claim is that the Jewish community doesn’t call out racism as often as they should, nor does the Black community call out antisemitism. Essentially, when times are difficult, we’re not standing with each other. In some cases we fall into the trap of arguing among ourselves and losing focus on the real dangers. Chief among them: white supremacy, an equal opportunity threat to our shared existence.

It’s a far cry from the civil rights movement, when Jewish people were second only to African Americans in marching for equal rights for all. We think back to 1964, when three activists (one Black, two Jewish) were abducted and murdered by the KKK and law enforcement in Mississippi. Their crime? Registering Blacks to vote and investigating arson at Black churches. Their ultimate sacrifice was pivotal to the passage of the Civil Rights Act later that year.

How are we supposed to serve as allies today if, even when we live in parallel communities, we don’t know each other? Aventura and Miami Gardens may be a short drive apart, but aside from holiday shopping at the Aventura Mall or attending a Dolphins game, how often do we cross those boundaries meaningfully? How could we possibly stand together in times of darkness when we aren’t intentionally spending good times together too? Friendship is more than fighting a constant cycle of oppression.

So we took action.

For the past year, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, in partnership with the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee (BAAC) and several other organizations in Miami-Dade County, have formed a Black & Jewish Art Collaboration, which uses art as a catalyst to spark meaningful dialogue among hundreds of leaders across both communities.

Funded in part by the Shine A Light on Antisemitism campaign, our goal is to create meaningful, lasting relationships between South Florida’s Black and Jewish communities. We are naming our partnership after our late friend, DeAnne Connolly Graham, former vice chair of the BAAC, who was indispensable in launching this collaboration, and if she were still with us, would be instrumental in continuing it.

Even the phrase “building bridges between Black and Jewish communities” is ambiguous. Black Americans can have vastly different — even contradictory — opinions about what it means to be Black, and they are all legitimate. It is the same within the Jewish community. While neither of us are Black and Jewish, we imagine this must hold especially true for those who identify as both.

We refuse to begin our conversations from a place of shared suffering. From slavery and lynching to pogroms and the Holocaust, we certainly have much to discuss — and these are important elements of history that we each must learn more about to better understand one another. But our communities, our people and our culture are so much more than the atrocities that have happened to us during our long, rich histories. The foundation of a meaningful, lasting relationship cannot be built solely upon pain.

Rather, let’s begin with: What do you love about being Black? What do you love about being Jewish? Or what do you love about being Black and Jewish? There is so much. Our common values of family, food, humor and resilience are a strong foundation for mutual understanding. The basic tenets of friendship and solidarity are cross-cultural and universal.

With that in mind, we move forward together in partnership with the goal of making Miami-Dade County a more welcoming, inclusive place for everyone. This is a worthy goal to strive for whether we are Black, Jewish, both or neither.

Glendon Hall is the chair of the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee and a founding board member of the Miami Center for Racial Justice. Joshua Sayles is the director of Jewish community relations and government affairs for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.