Sept. 22, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
Two communities with long histories of persecution are linking arms to push for a better future.
The deal, signed in a special ceremony Sept. 16 in Toronto, commits both groups to share their knowledge and strategies for attacking their common problem.
“It is easy to get swept up in the divisiveness rhetoric that that often accompanies political discussions,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “We are coming together today to reject divisiveness and together forge an uplifting, positive and concrete path for the future of our communities.”
Andria Barrett, president of the two-year-old Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), said B’nai Brith’s long history of advocating for the Jewish community will help her organization in its struggle.
“We see B’nai Brith as an ally in our quest for equality, equity and opportunity,” she said. “This is an important partnership that will amplify the efforts of both organizations.”
B’nai Brith, Barrett said, “has demonstrated time and again that [it is] skilled at advocacy.”
Canada’s Black and Jewish communities have a long history of working together. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed in 1909 in Niagara Falls, Ont., and in the infancy of the 1960s civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish groups marched with their Black neighbours.
“For generations Jewish Canadians and Black Canadians have stood side-by-side in our efforts to oppose discrimination and build a brighter future,” Mostyn said.
That support famously included Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm-in-arm with King. Another involved Hamilton Rabbi Eugene Weiner, who organized a group of local clergy to fly to Selma, Alabama, where images of white police attacking peaceful protesters ignited a wave of protest.
Despite sharing goals and methods, the relationship between the communities has always been informal. Now, the leaders said, swelling anti-Black racism in the United States and antisemitism growing around the world made a formal alliance important.
“After the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we realized we were at a turning point in our history,” said Aubrey Zidenberg, chair of the Special Advisory Committee to the League for Human Rights.
“Both the Jewish and Black communities have suffered through years of racism, injury and exclusionary policies,” he said. “Together we can collectively achieve great things in this magnificent country of ours.”
Beyond protest marches and briefs to government, both groups hope to use their shared skills to foster positive growth in the country. A special focus will be on efforts to improve the economic situation of marginalized communities.
“It is far too easy, especially in these troubling times, to complain and yell and scream and sometimes to bring things down without having answers for some very serious societal problems,” Mostyn said. “We are both looking to make a real difference across this country.”