Ear­li­er this week, Mary Glick­man wrote about the sim­i­lar­i­ties in the cul­tur­al nar­ra­tives of African Amer­i­cans and Jews and a strange inter­view ques­tion. Her most recent book, March­ing to Zion(Open Road Media), is now avail­able. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

The Civ­il Rights Era rep­re­sent­ed a Gold­en Age for Jew­ish and African Amer­i­can rela­tions. We were part­ners in jus­tice. Allies against racism. Amer­i­can Jew­ish mem­o­ry was haunt­ed by the images of the Holo­caust, the news­reels of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen still fresh in the mind. African Amer­i­cans suf­fered the indig­ni­ties of Jim Crow in the South, their frac­tured Amer­i­can dream neutered by de fac­to seg­re­ga­tion in the North and West. We were peo­ple who empathized with each oth­er, under­stood each other’s racial scars. 

And then it all fell apart.

Why? Hard to say. The emer­gence of the Black Pow­er Move­ment had some­thing to do with it. Quite under­stand­ably, quite nat­u­ral­ly, African Amer­i­cans desired to carve their own paths to lib­er­a­tion, through their own metaphors, their own cul­tur­al touch­stones. Self-deter­mi­na­tion, self-expres­sion was an imper­a­tive and who could blame them? Jew­ish con­nec­tions were cast off, col­lat­er­al dam­age in a bat­tle for iden­ti­ty. On the oth­er side, there was resentment.

Time went by. A Mal­colm X and a Meir Kahane lat­er, Jews and African Amer­i­cans per­ceive them­selves often as strangers, some­times ene­mies, to each oth­er. The Civ­il Rights Era lega­cy of blend­ed fam­i­lies, of black Jews, recent and antique, has been tossed into the dungheap of his­to­ry and redeemed only recent­ly through the efforts of Be’chol Lashon and oth­ers in the Jew­ish Diver­si­ty Move­ment. Today, in an Amer­i­ca with an African Amer­i­can pres­i­dent whose wife’s cousin, Rab­bi Capers Fun­nye, is spir­i­tu­al leader of the largest African Amer­i­can Jew­ish con­gre­ga­tion in the coun­try, resent­ments on both sides of the racial divide per­sist. It’s a shan­da.

But back to the orig­i­nal ques­tion posit­ed by these blogs: Why do you care so much about black peo­ple?” The answer is not so sim­ple as Why shouldn’t I?” although that res­onates on an ele­men­tary lev­el. It’s also because so much has been lost that should be recov­ered. In a world where the nation-wide race riots of 1917 have been for­got­ten, when the young must Google the word pogrom’ to com­pre­hend its tragedy, old alliances, ancient com­mu­nal­i­ties must be cel­e­brat­ed, rean­i­mat­ed. My nov­els seek to do that in what­ev­er mea­sure they are capable. 

So I look for­ward to the day when, like Golde Fish­bein and her grand­fa­ther in March­ing to Zion, African Amer­i­cans and Jews can recap­ture their close­ness and say as if in sight of the red clay spires of Jaf­fa: Hal­lelu­jah. We are home.”

Mary Glick­man is an author, a for­mer free-lance copy­writer, pub­lic rela­tions pro­fes­sion­al, and fundrais­er who has worked with many Jew­ish char­i­ties and orga­ni­za­tions. Her 2011 nov­el One More Riv­er was a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award. Her most recent book, March­ing to Zion (Open Road Media), is now avail­able. Read more about Mary Glick­man here.

Raised in a strict Irish-Pol­ish Catholic fam­i­ly, from an ear­ly age Mary Glick­man felt an affin­i­ty toward Judaism and con­vert­ed to the faith when she mar­ried. After liv­ing in Boston for twen­ty years, she and her hus­band trav­eled to South Car­oli­na and dis­cov­ered a love for all things South­ern. Glick­man now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina.