As Black Lives Matter protests grip the city, organizers and activists have found solidarity from an unexpected demographic: Orthodox Jews.
In recent years, relations between New York’s black and Jewish communities have deteriorated. Some black New Yorkers resent their Jewish neighbors for reasons ranging from preferential treatment from authorities to their visible presence among the city’s most exploitative landlords. Much of the Jewish community has become suspicious of black people after some have emerged as suspects in a number of noteworthy antisemitic hate crimes and hostility to the State of Israel in many black activist circles.
Despite these tensions, the Orthodox community has begun to demonstrate solidarity with Black Lives Matter in various ways. Some efforts have been small but significant gestures, as in a viral Reddit video showing a Hasidic man handing out water bottles to marchers.
Meanwhile, former Brooklyn Assemblymember and Hasidic community advocate Dov Hikind (D), who some have alleged promotes racism, announced that he is hosting a Sunday march to honor the memory of George Floyd at 11 a.m. on Ocean Parkway and Avenue J. In a video posted to social media, Hikind explained what motivated him to show such support.
“What happened to George Floyd was an injustice,” he said. “It was unconscionable what happened to him, and I as a Jew feel a responsibility, a moral responsibility to stand up and speak out and address to the family that we care, I care, and my community cares.”
Hikind’s successor Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, a Hasidic Jew, also posted a video calling for justice in the George Floyd killing.
Perhaps the strongest solidarity yet has been at a demonstration in Far Rockaway. There, the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP) actively participated in organizing a protest for the remote Queens neighborhood.
“It’s Jewish tradition to stand up & fight for justice,” said JCCRP Executive Director Moshe Brandsdorfer. “We stood together with our black neighbors and friends to fight inequality and hate. It is our deepest hope that these protests bring about the changes so desperately needed.”
In a video posted to the Instagram page @jews_of_ny, an organizer of the Far Rockaway protest expressed appreciation for Jewish solidarity. “Let me thank the allies who are here that don’t have to be here: the Jewish community. Thank you for being here,” he said. “You didn’t have to stand with us, but you did.”
Also attending the Far Rockaway demonstration was Orthodox Jew Mark Meyer Appel, founder of the Bridge Multicultural Advocacy Project in Brooklyn.
All the Jewish communities are outraged by this senseless killing and we have to deal with it as a united community of Jews blacks and Muslims united,” Appel said.
In response to the protest, Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens,) expressed optimism that a new era of black-Jewish solidarity could be emerging, saying that their struggles are more similar and different and stronger together than apart.
“Black and Jewish communities in America have historically faced similar exclusion and hatred. There can be no denying that,” said Richards. “The support of our Jewish neighbors shows that they can empathize with our plight and highlights how we often face the same overwhelming hate and hurt in our communities. We all want to be able to live our lives free from threats of violence and systemic oppression. We must stand united to overcome these challenges.”
Despite these reasons to hope, some key figures have been quiet about these new opportunities. City Council Jewish Caucus Chair Chaim Deutsch (D-Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest, Midwood), along with Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills, Forest Park, Kew Gardens, Rego Park, Richmond Hill), the caucus’ vice-chair, both declined to comment.