by G. David Schwartz
A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue /
Midrash and Working Out of the Book
* * *
Shared and Incomparable Sorrow
Holocaust, Slavery and Future Relations
African-American and Jewish Community
By G. David Schwartz
for my dear friend Rev. Jacquelyn E. Winston
There is a deep and abiding link between the
question: Why did God not intervene? and the question: Why do
‘you people’ talk about your problems so frequently? The
connection is our the common search for perspective.
These are questions we should attempt to
answer because, as Proverb says: Where there is no vision,
communities perish (Pr 29:18).
Why do Jews remember, and speak about, the
Holocaust so often? Do we remember the Holocaust as a
means of maintaining our Jewishness? Hopefully not, for
doing so does not necessarily mean we live our Jewishness only
that we are remembering trauma. Judaism is a way of life,
and life suggests some kind of divine presence and denotes
We remember the Holocaust because we believe
the conditions which made for the Holocaust are yet smoldering
in societies around the world. We remember the Holocaust
to be aware of every vestigial deed, each apparently random
thought which might yet contribute to an acceptance of genocide.
Ideally, we remember the Holocaust because our tradition tells
us to pursue justice.
We remember not because our heritage has told
us we will be despised among the nations, but because we have an
obligation to act in just and righteous ways. We remember, then,
because we cannot forget how profoundly far we have yet to go.
Yet memories are notoriously emotive.
Emotive issues are notoriously obscured in practice. But
what is also obscured is the fact that however we approach our
corporate, our social, and our political persona, the Holocaust
is not spoken, perhaps cannot be spoken, in ultimate terms.
There is no divine imperative in the fact of genocide although
Emil Fackenheim has done the Jewish community a service by
placing the Holocaust in a somewhat more palpable form.
Fackenheim hears a commanding voice over and
above Auschwitz, a 614th commandment, which says we are
“forbidden to hand Hitler another, posthumous victory.”
We need to hear more.
Unlike Torah, which was voluntarily accepted,
and is voluntarily accepted even today, the Holocaust was
something inflicted upon Jews.
So we Jews prefer to speak of the events
which we were subjected not as “holocaust,” which is the
Greek word denoting a sacrifice, but as “Shoah,” which is
Hebrew for a catastrophe. The perpetuators did not
“sacrifice” Jews, and did certainly not believe in a moral
principle of the universe. They murdered Jews, as well as
undesirable others, when they are perceived as different and,
Jews did rarely have an opportunity to
confront our executioners; and when we did, they hung their
heads and claimed to have done nothing, or to have been only
following orders. When one group claims either that
nothing or very little happened, the traumatized group claims
that what happened was everything and is reflected everywhere.
Nor is it the case that another source of
experience or anguish can be denied. Even the
“imagination” of suffering, or identification with the
possibility of suffering, is to experience pain on some level.
However, when the White Aryan Resistance is distributing
literature which advocates constructing crematorium in the
Midwest, we are well beyond symbolism.
We will not give anyone the opportunity to so
physically mistreat us against. We will not give them the
chance, in the West at least, not because we are brighter than
we were in the 30s, and not because we are more moral than we
were in the 30s, but because we are unwilling to think an even
vaguely offensive remark in an oblique text cannot lead to mass
murder. It can. It did. And so, along with the
allies we make around the world, and the armies we either lobby
for or compose, we Jews have been developing for the last fifty
or so years not the chutzpah – we have always had the nerve to
speak our mind – but the sheer sorrow and anguish at the
condition of the world to say: never again.
Sheer sorrow and anguish because our families
have been decimated, our parents annihilated, our cousins
cremated has made us accept the historical chutzpah of the
Jewish people with a vengeance.
Because we could not confront our destroyers,
and because there are those who would yet destroy us, we will
shout to them even if we have to shout through the otherwise
innocent person we are standing next to.
From our initial historical refusal to
confront the issue, to confront what we thought of as our shame,
to our current disinterest in letting the issue broaden;
contemporary Jewish life is largely the life of a traumatized
people. Chutzpah is a defense mechanism which too easily
generates into sheer arrogance.
Until that charmed time when defense
mechanisms are no longer a necessity of human behavior, the
Jewish continual assertion of “what they did to us,” and
“what they would yet do to us if they were allowed the
chance” cannot be removed and need not be excused.
But we are simply foolish if we hear about
the trauma of another as if it negates our own
distress. Unfortunately, history is too often the record
of mutually compatible anguish.
The longing for comparison for the sake of
contrasting our right, our very life, to another is the craving
for abstraction. It is a denial of the living individual
and denial, too frequently more than metaphorically, is
When we compare our anguish with another, we
not only treat their anguish but our own in an objective manner.
We erroneously think we can quantify misery, assert statistics
as if metaphors, analyze the wrong and the innocence.
Shoah, like the residual effects of slavery,
like present day anti-Semitism and racism, reflect one another.
Individuals who experience the physical, and therefore deeply
emotional wound, too often abstract and refract one another.
But where we do not have the terms with which we can think
and act in the context of the totality of life, our best efforts
are fragmented if not illusory.
Just as one of the steps along the way to
mass murder was enslavement after terrorized confinement, so the
logical conclusion of slavery was destruction.
What the trauma, which has been historically
passed on to each community, allows to exist is the
knowledge that certain behaviors even today portend abduction,
confinement, forced labor, abuse, and destruction. What
the Jew who rails about anti-semitism, or the African-American
who decries racism objects to is the most seemingly negligible
hint that he or she, are, in their daily activities, threatened.
Jews are threatened not only when there is a
luger at their head, but when the word “Jew” is uttered with
a contemptible sneer. The very tone of dismissal is a form
of denial, an annihilation.
Similarly, it is not slavery per se which is
an immediate threat, but dismissal and confinement to images
denoting separation, unconcern and abandonment. The
traumatized quest for mutually incompatible superiorities imply
annihilation of a living, breathing individual. To be
spurned is to be disposed; to be treated as if one
is trash is to be lynched.
A Jew who hears revisionist theory
hears that the detainment, confiscation of personal effects,
deportation, terror, abuse, and death was not all that bad!
Similarly, contemporary society’s methodological inability or
unwillingness to perceive much less hear human beings and the
consequential diminishment of large sections of our cities, our
environment, is not simply ignorance, but an assertion that
racism are not all that bad!
Contemporary threats are real! They are
as real as police brutality and as real as systematic unconcern.
They are as real as our inability to seek out and promote a
talented Black child because we are too busy funding the arts.
Art without concern is racism.
Contemporary threats are real: as real as the
disdain at the ethnicity of some owners of the means of
production, as real as the fundamental insults nestled in the
compliment about Jewish genius, or the sympathetic look when it
is learned that our children do not believe in Santa Claus.
The abduction, slavery, derogation, and
miserable treatment of the Black community up to and including
murder proceeded according to a different plan, a different
method and different concern than there location, forced labor,
derogation, and annihilation of Jews. Clearly they were
different phenomena. Nevertheless, slavery stands in a
relationship with Shoah over and against, for example, the Gulf
War as two instances where the United States can claim neither a
cowboy’s victory nor even a moral victory.
Not only can we not say, as we tend to do
when beating up our weak “public relations enemies” from
Granada to the present, that we “kicked butt” or we did it
for “security reasons to protect our people.” We
should rather say, when viewing slavery or Shoah: we did too
little, too late. We erred. We behaved immorally.
We need forgiveness. Even if we are innocent of wrongdoing,
denial of the need of repentance makes us accomplices and
Many, in the late twentieth century do not
only not believe in history; they do not believe in error.
It’s in the past. What does it
There are people alive and with us who
remember the signs which read: “Jews forbidden.” There are
people alive and with us who remember the signs: “Whites
Only.” There are people among us who were shuffled from
packed train cars to lines where their death was determined by
superficial inspection, and their life was determined by
sub-human subsistence, who were overnight transformation from
contributing members of society to slaves of the Reich.
There are people among us who were transformed from free people
into chattel. For what crime? For the crime of being
For the crime of being different, we have a
shared, yet distinct history of degradation, abuse and murder.
It is not a past history which we can comfortably afford to read
about in history books, but a continuing history whose effects
we live. It lives not only in the descendants of the
immediate victims, but even more in the assiduous silence of the
structures of society which did not help, did not mourn, did not
labor to ennoble but continued to account itself a host society.
The trauma of the other offers an opportunity
for a moral imperative to pursue a perspective of renewal.
We too often regard the other under an imperial immorality
without spiritual resonance. We have the opportunity to
ennoble both ourselves and the other. We too often cheapen
For the crime of being different, we have the
lingering, residual effects of hatred smoldering in our flesh,
in our vision, in our cities. We can only counter the
racism and anti-semitism which we feel, we experience, we see,
when we respect the flesh, the perspective, the dwelling of the
other as well as ourselves. The only way to respect the
embodiment of human beings in all their glorious difference is
to demand first the necessary accommodations of the flesh: not
only housing but suitable housing; not only food, but nourishing
food; not only mandated education, but the availability of all
the means and accruements of enhancing and developing culture.
Communities speak of the continuing effects
and inveterate images of the plight they have suffered not
because they desire to exploit their status as victims but
because they desire to fully and completely transcend their
victimization. The identification of the American Jew with
the events inflicted on Jews in Nazi occupied Germany, or the
contemporary Black person with events inflicted upon Black
people in the last decade each carry an identification of
consequences to our health and well-being.
Complaints and criticisms are a means of
expressing their status as survivors, for both the Jewish and
the African-American communities are. And both communities have
a grand human desire to join, contribute to, and modify in
humane directions, the history which lies on the other side of
survival: genuine human advancement. The question we have
been pursuing to this point is how appropriate it is to speak of
genuine advancement and spiritual development when systematic
and perpetual disintegration of integrity undermines basic life
Jews and Blacks have a shared yet
incomparable heritage not because west and in a privileged
relationship with one another, but because all of human life is
in a symbiotic relationship. Whether in terms of personal
relationships or geopolitical affairs, certain general rules of
human behavior have to be obeyed, or the consequences expected.
With few exceptions, the truth is that if we jostle, we are
jostled; if we jest, we are jested with; if we are passive, we
But if we are just and pursue righteousness,
we by and large create within our “opponent” a righteous and
just response wherein deep speaks to deep instead of surface
moaning is found calling to the superficial. When this
occurs, so-called opponents are transformed not into enemies but
people who support us through constructive criticism. And the
only way around the same-old-same-old is if we are consistent in
our care and respect of others. Then, and only then, we
will garner respect and care.
So, we need to built trust. And the
only way we can build trust is to build the infrastructures
which support trust. We need to support the human
relationships which design the superstructures through which we
will affect the development of new, dauntless infrastructures
which protect human beings. We need to revise the basic
facilities, services, and installations so that they function to
satisfy human needs and practice the words of Ursula LeGuin when
she says: The generous heart is wealth itself.
We require the basic processes which will
allow this to be done, process which have begun in the
traditions we have inherited, and are expressed now dimly and
now clearly in the voice we are allowed. We need more
public forums for favorable discussion.
We easily believe the most innocent thoughts
and words are potent and destructive when uttered against us. We
need to believe that words and thoughts matter and can succeed
at improving society. We need to built relationships
celebrating the later as easily as we sever relationships based
on the former.
Our public forums for favorable discussion
will begin with and develop beyond distrust if and when the
participants courageously risk becoming mutually supportive
individuals with voices to be carried back into our homes, back
into our neighborhoods. Not political correctness but the
correct politics of individual responsibility will allow both
ourselves and those we might influence to become rational,
creative citizens. Actually, most of us are responsible.
We need only see our responsiveness reflected in some medium
carrying the message of the possibility that events can and will
occur the way we would vote if quality of life issues came to
Michael Eric Dyson speaks of the practice of
the "politics of redemption" which is to "translate
religious rhetoric about salvation into principled political
practice." Notably, Reverend Dyson is concerned with
speaking people who then act. Dyson implies that from our
stories, and the stories of the other, we can learn what needs
to be done, what we can agree about accomplishing, and what new
methods and procedures we can devise. The issue is not
compromise, but developing new options.
Dyson is speaking about survivors who,
together, can advance and flourish; survivors whose experiences
are not negated but whose flowering is grounded in a vision of
In the sixties, Blacks and Jews were touched
by the plight of the other. In the new millennium, Jews
and Blacks must form bonds and friendships where they are
touched by the very lives of the other. Making friends
will not heal our racial divisions. But meeting on a level
playing field where concerns and insights can be shared will
help us learn more about ourselves, and precisely there is where
real change begins.
When we accommodate the other without denying
our values, but by enlivening our values, when we help the other
when and where they would be helped, support them when and where
we are able, and cherish them always, we are in the presence of
the Redeemer, we are agents of redemption. In terms of
trauma, our relief from suffering carries the higher necessity
of refusing to perpetuate sufferings, of boldly negating
This being so, I can only imagine the holy is
present, supportive, healing in a very special way in that
precious realm where a Jew not only refrains from using the
word, but hears the word "nigger" and is distressed
because that word and those sentiments annihilate people. The
power of repair and reconciliation is present in that sanctified
realm where an African-American can not only refrain from using
the word, but winces when he or she hears the word "kike"
because that word and those sentiments enslave people.
When you can feel the anguish of the other,
and weep for the other as you would weep for your own, you
extend the life which is your own. And the time of tears
is allowed be short through such instances of caring because all
that is holy in the world prefers we imagine, and develop, an
eventual long day of rejoicing.
Joy is what is promised in both the Jewish
and the Black culture: joy, not merely given nor found by
accident, but as the result of earnestly tilling the ground
where it might grow and flourish.
We need to practice reaching into the
reserves of our most precious and tenuous gifts of humanity.
We need to practice the gift of tendering the benefit of doubt
and developing the listening and talking skills our traditions
have advertised as the most accommodating approach to both the
other and the divine. We need to seek not only statistics
and analyzable datum which tell about our experience but seek
compassion within ourselves and care for the other so that
together we may learn to love more broadly, more deeply and
appreciate more willingly, more earnestly.
It is the fact of justice arcking through our
relationships toward compassion. We need to pursue and
effect the intangible, immeasurable, which signifies quality of
life not quantity of wrongs. We need to pursue not the presence
of politics but the politics of presence.
When we pursue the arduous process of
self-disciple and morally accommodate the other even when,
especially when, it requires a change in our practical and
material relationships, then the divine presence stands with the
individuals between these communities. Upon the heads of
those unique individuals who can look past labels and respect
and cherish someone so different in experience, life-style, and
perception than themselves the holy spirit does not simply rest,
Upon the heads of those who can look beyond
the ease and convenience of denouncement and appreciate, love
someone so totally different, the holy spirit is an animating
pillar of fire.
Jews who cherish Christians or others in
terms of their ultimate concern, Blacks who respect whites in
terms of the righteousness of their striving, Caucasians who
appreciate and support African-Americans, Christians who love
the Jewishness in the other... how many grand
opportunities we have for access to the one who said: you shall
love the stranger, the one different than you. I am the
Struggling to appreciate human beings who
think differently, acts differently, than we do is perhaps the
only preparation there is for looking beyond CNN or NBC to
perceive the profound. When we cherish and celebrate one
and, through them, the many who are so different than us, when
we decriminalize the incongruity and fear which results from the
current practice of comparison for the sake of personal or
corporate boasting, there is God.
The divine presence stands with both these
and those and says: I have brought you out of the land of the
narrows. I have uprooted the plantations. I have
stopped the transports of death. I have torn off the doors
of the creamatorium. I have rejected "strange fruit."
I have abolished "whites only" facilities. I
have ended oppressive relationships. I have melted all
engines of destruction, abuse, repression, scorn, ridicule,
insult, ignorance and insensitivity. When will you?
G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the
A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue and coauthor,
with Jacqueline Winston, of Parables In Black and White.
Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz
continues to write. His new book, Midrash
and Working Out Of The Book
* * * *
Westover: Giving Girls a
Place of Their Own
Westover, a girls' school in Middlebury,
Connecticut, was founded in 1909 by
emancipated "New Women," educator Mary
Hillard and architect Theodate Pope Riddle.
Landscape designer Beatrix Farrand did the
plantings. It has evolved from a finishing
school for the Protestant elite, including
F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love, to a
meritocracy for pupils of many religions and
races from all over the world. The
fascinating account of the ups and downs of
this female community is the subject of
Laurie Lisle's lively and well-researched
book. The author describes the innovations
of the idealistic minister's daughter who
founded the school in 1909, her intellectual
successor who turned it into a college
preparatory school in the 1930s, the quiet
headmaster who managed to keep it open
during the turbulent 1970s, and the
prize-winning mathematics teacher, wife, and
mother who leads the high school today. This
beautifully illustrated book tells an
about female education during decades
of dramatic change in America.—Publisher, Wesleyan
The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells
Mary Helen Washington. Afterword by Dorothy Sterling
makes it possible to look back in a new way into the
character of wells, and, more than that, into the daily
life of African-Americans a century ago.—Chicago Tribune
DeCosta-Willis join together across time in a scholarly
collaborative dance of sisterhood to produce a work that
not only holds an insightful mirror to the past, but
could be used as a guidepost for African-American and
other women today in living totally self-defined lives.—Tri-State Defender
A unique look
at the life o an independent, unmarried African-American
woman coping with financial hardships, romantic
entanglements, sexism, and racism . . . A substantial
contribution to African-American Studies—Publisher Weekly
* * *
* * *
Incognegro: A Memoir of
Exile and Apartheid
B. Wilderson III
Wilderson, a professor,
writer and filmmaker from
presents a gripping account
of his role in the downfall
of South African apartheid
as one of only two black
Americans in the African
National Congress (ANC).
After marrying a South
African law student,
returns with her to South
Africa in the early 1990s,
where he teaches
Johannesburg and Soweto
students, and soon joins the
military wing of the ANC.
portrait of Nelson Mandela
as a petulant elder eager to
accommodate his white
countrymen will jolt readers
who've accepted the
usually accorded him. After
the assassination of
Mandela's rival, South
African Communist Party
leader Chris Hani, Mandela's
regime deems Wilderson's
public questions a threat to
national security; soon,
having lost his stomach for
the cause, he returns to
America. Wilderson has a
distinct, powerful voice and
a strong story that shuffles
between the indignities of
Johannesburg life and his
early years in Minneapolis,
the precocious child of
academics who barely
tolerate his emerging
about love within and across
the color line and cultural
divides are as provocative
as his politics; despite
digressions, this is a
riveting memoir of
apartheid's last days.—Publishers
* * *
Becoming American Under Fire
Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship
During the Civil War Era
By Christian G. Samito
In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race. For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad. / For Love of Liberty
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 31 March