A model of Black-Jewish relations grows in Philadelphia

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and its Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) have created a meaningful model for strengthening Black-Jewish relations.

Earlier this year, together with Culture Changing Christians, they launched an initiative known as New Golden Age aimed at strengthening ties between the Black and Jewish communities, combating hate, and strengthening the community’s social safety net.

The initiative was born over one year ago when JCRC Director Jason Holtzman had a five-hour-long meeting with Pastor Carl Day, a prominent interfaith leader in Philadelphia and the president and founder of Culture Changing Christians. The two met to discuss security concerns and the issue of gun violence, a focus area that the JCRC had added to its portfolio in 2023. However, the conversation expanded to embrace the shared history of the Black and Jewish communities. The pair committed to creating a forum for leaders from the two communities to come together in dialogue. Since then, sixteen Black and Jewish leaders in the city have gathered for monthly meetings centered on shared values and interests, such as violence prevention and communal security.

Immediately following the Hamas massacres on October 7, Pastor Carl reached out to Holtzman to express his support. He also spoke two days later at the Jewish community’s solidarity gathering and brought several Black leaders from New Golden Age to join him. When the City Council president proposed a resolution condemning Hamas that was criticized by many community activists and pro-Palestinians, Pastor Carl spoke at a city council meeting in favor of the resolution. The Federation also showed the IDF film of the Hamas massacres to a group of press, community leaders, and elected officials; a few members of Pastor Carl’s community attended the screening.

In November, members of New Golden Age traveled to the Pennsylvania State Capitol for an advocacy day where they met with leaders of the Black-Jewish Caucus and advocated for legislation important to both communities, including curbing violence and passing a hate crimes bill.   

In January a group of Black pastors penned a letter to President Joe Biden demanding an immediate ceasefire. Shortly after the letter was sent, Pastor Carl spoke on CNN about the importance of pressuring Hamas to release the hostages and about the pain his neighbors in the Jewish community - including a member of the Jewish community whose 85-year-old stepmother was kidnapped by Hamas - have experienced since October 7th.   

Last month, the group traveled together to Washington DC to learn more about each other’s histories and shared struggles.  They visited both the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They also met with Members of Congress to lobby for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program (which benefits trauma survivors of all backgrounds), legislation to curb gun violence, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and the Antisemitism Awareness Act.

The multi-day trip spent immersed in each other’s history and cultures further strengthened the bonds shared between members of the group.  Holzman explained that even though not everybody sees eye to eye on all the issues, the value of honest dialogue and deep-dive learning into each other’s stories has helped both communities understand more deeply the concerns and priorities of each. “I only want to partner with people who are willing to listen to me and even if they are not willing to fully agree with me, they are able to see my perspective and acknowledge that it is legitimate,” he said. “They don’t need to be the biggest supporters of Israel, but they need to understand the deep ancestral ties we have there and believe that Israel has a right to exist.”

Looking ahead, Holtzman is focused on growing the leadership group, with an emphasis on finding strategic influencers from both the Black and Jewish communities. He plans to work with Terrence Johnson, a professor at Harvard Divinity School who wrote a book entitled Blacks and Jews in America, to expand this model of a Black-Jewish alliance to college campuses across the US. He is also working to leverage New Golden Age to mobilize thousands of Black and Jewish residents of Philadelphia to engage in grassroots advocacy.

One of Holtzman’s major visions is to run a mission to Israel for members of New Golden Age. “We are going beyond allyship - we are creating a family,” Holtzman said. 

He added, “It’s a moment of crisis for both our communities with the rise of racism, the rise of antisemitism. We’re going to stand up for one another, stand up for our communities and strive to make the world a better place.”

Pastor Day echoed these sentiments. “We’re just going to keep building the momentum and doing everything we have to do to become allies, friends, and brothers and sisters to each other. I’m looking forward to what's ahead. This isn’t a moment; this is a movement.”