The recent prolonged firefight in Jersey City left six people dead and raised again the ugly specter of anti-Semitism in America. One of the two assailants who attacked a kosher supermarket was said to have written anti-Semitic posts and has been part of an organization known as the Black Hebrew Israelites that spreads anti-Semitic teachings.
This is the second time this year when the group has come to public attention. The first occurred when a video went viral showing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann in conversation with Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, at the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Post eventually discovered that both Sandmann and Phillips had been goaded and preached at by “a small band of Hebrew Israelites.”
This group, despite and perhaps because of their hate-filled rhetoric, reveals some of the complexity of black-Jewish relationships in America today. My own Christian faith and black identity have made me grasp these tensions even more deeply. And it’s not just me. A recent study conducted by Lifeway Research shows the same.
A Common Heritage—and Divergence
I appreciate the common ground my black community shares with the Jewish community. Both have endured a history of oppression and a history of resisting the evils of prejudice and discrimination. In many ways, the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and the Holocaust, as well as the racist and anti-Semitic narratives that drove them, frame our imaginations. In addition, black Christians resonate with the God of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) and hope in the same stories of faith and liberation.
Years ago, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I participated ...1
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