Randy's Corner Deli Library

16 September 2008

The complex relationship of blacks and Jews

The complex relationship of blacks and Jews

Claires_hirez_300_dpi A few weeks ago, I was among a group of judges for an audio documentary contest. We spent a Saturday sitting in a radio studio listening to hours and hours of documentaries. One really struck me as being extraordinary. It’s called “Can You Hear Me?” Co-produced by Claire Schoen Productions and A Traveling Jewish Theatre, the documentary explores the sometimes-fractious relationship between blacks and Jews. Hours after listening to the documentary, I was on a plane heading to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. I couldn’t

get this wonderful exploration out of my head, so I contacted producer Claire Schoen and asked her if I could include “Can You Hear Me?” in this forum. I also asked her why she took on such a weighty project.

Here’s what she had to say:

I’ve always had a real interest in the subject. I’m a Jew who is 56 years old so during the civil rights era I was in high school in an all-white suburb of Washington D.C. I didn’t realize there were black people in Washington D.C., which at the time was about 80 percent black. And yet when the civil rights movement emerged, [one of the people in the documentary] takes off and goes to Selma, Ala.

I couldn’t do that. But what I could do was organize my high school, which was ironic because we had this civil rights club filled with white people. We created an exchange program between my high school and a black high school in D.C.

We would live with one another in each other’s houses for a week at a time. It rocked my world. Spending a week with this girl, living with her and going to her school changed my perspective in the midst of what was going on in 1968. I was in the 11th grade. We made sandwiches for the people in the tent cities that year. It was the Poor People’s campaign. Still, I was on the periphery of it all.

When I began to do the interviews for the documentary, I thought I knew the history. But I didn’t. Our story, the story of blacks and Jews, is about a history of brotherhood and the commonality of purpose. Yet we’ve gone through periods of alienation. Today we don’t think about one another very much outside of the struggles in the Middle East. I think it’s hugely important to find a common cause.

The documentary combines interviews with a theatrical performance from a play. It’s an hour long, but it’s worth every minute. I’d love to hear what you think.

Here's the link:


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