Black-Jewish relations flourish in Broward

On July 11, 2021, 100 Black and Jewish community members gathered for a film screening of Summer of Soul, a documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that had just been released. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Broward County marking the launch of the Federation’s Alcee L. Hastings Broward Black-Jewish Alliance, founded by the Federation’s Executive Director of Public Affairs, Evan Goldman, in memory of his mentor, the late Congressman Alcee L. Hastings. The Alliance was launched to continue the congressman’s proud legacy of advancing shared values between the Black and Jewish communities.  

Three years later, the Broward Federation has emerged as a model for flourishing relations between the Black and Jewish communities at a time when these two groups are experiencing strained ties in other communities. 

Congressman Hastings was a champion of nurturing Black-Jewish ties and was a staunch supporter of Israel. He spearheaded efforts to replant a forest in northern Israel; the forest, which was named for the civil rights icon Coretta Scott King, had been destroyed by Hezbollah in 2006.  Goldman’s final conversation with his mentor took place shortly before he passed away in 2021. The congressman left Goldman with a vow to keep the Black-Jewish Alliance alive.  “He told me, ‘I have worked too hard to have Black-Jewish relations die.’ So at that moment I dedicated myself,” Goldman said.  Goldman partnered with JCRC chair Denise Lettau and the congressman’s son Alcee Hastings II to launch the Alliance shortly after Congressman Hastings passed away in 2021.  

One of the Alliance’s flagship initiatives is an annual program that brings together Black and Jewish students from Greater Fort Lauderdale to explore each other’s cultures, histories and shared struggles and to learn about the common threads of antisemitism and racism. The program includes a series of group discussions and visits to local sites of historical importance for the Black and Jewish communities and culminates with a visit to Washington DC where students meet with Members of Congress and visit both the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of African American History and Culture.  

Through the Alliance, the Federation regularly convenes Black and Jewish community members for educational and social events and sponsors trips to sites of historical and cultural importance to each group. The groups also meet periodically with key stakeholders and elected officials, including the Broward County Hate Crimes Task Force led by State Attorney Harold Pryor and Broward Social Justice Task Force spearheaded by Sheriff Gregory Tony, both Black leaders. 

This intensive relationship-building bore fruit in the days after the Hamas massacres. On October 11, over 1,000 residents of Broward County gathered for an emotional community-wide solidarity gathering in support of Israel. Scores of Black elected officials, leaders and community partners stood arm-in-arm with the Jewish community. State Senator Rosalind Osgood addressed the audience as “family” and praised the Black-Jewish unity in Broward County. “Those of us who are leaders have to raise our voice and support Israel from whatever platform we have,” she said.  

Goldman explained that these relationships did not happen overnight. “We have each other’s back, but it did not happen by accident. It happened because of careful planning and partnership and because we don’t shy away from courageous conversations.” He added, “In Broward County we believe the best way to combat antisemitism is to partner with other historically marginalized communities and to lift up their priorities. If history has taught us anything, it is that to have a friend, you must be a friend.”  

During Black History Month, Broward Federation partnered with the National Newspaper Publishers Association-Black Press of America for an event on "Reaffirming the Black Jewish Relationship" as part of the organization’s national conference in Fort Lauderdale. Two days of programming at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale and the Holocaust Education & Documentation Center in Dania Beach celebrated the historic bond rooted in the shared struggle for civil rights and freedom.  

Bobby R. Henry, Sr., Publisher of The Westside Gazette and Chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, noted, “What the Broward JCRC is doing couldn’t be any more important at this moment in time. Collaborations like this one will lead our community into the future. I know Alcee Hastings is smiling down on us and pleased with the tremendous progress that has been made.”   

In March, the Federation brought a multiracial, interfaith delegation to Tallahassee to support the passage of HB 187 to help law enforcement prosecute crimes against Jewish people by codifying into law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The bill was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate and House. 

Lay leaders and community activists have played a significant role in advancing this inter-group work, leveraging their relationships and knowledge. Denise Lettau, who chairs JCRC of Broward County and the Alcee L. Hastings Black-Jewish Alliance, said, “I am, at my core, a bridge-builder, creator of new relationships, and nurturer of old ones. I feel every minute, of every day, that the survival of the Jewish community depends upon this work. As of Jew of Color, I am especially sensitive about my role and my contribution to the community and society.”  

For Goldman, this work has just begun. “We are setting the stage for a new grand alliance between the Black and Jewish communities that people like Hastings, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Heschel would have been proud of,” he said. 

Jewish Federations around the U.S. and Canada are deeply invested in creating a culture of belonging for all Jews and our loved ones while building bridges across socially and racially diverse civic and interfaith leaders.