…[T]he new Negro assertiveness is, in its best versions, an audacious effort to force America to come to grips with real diversity. That is an effort we ourselves have not had the nerve to undertake. If the effort is now successful, we ourselves are likely to be among its unintended beneficiaries, for in an America prepared, at last, for pluralism, there will be more elbow room for Jewish assertiveness. Lest you think this entirely hypothetical, I enter into evidence the fact that at Cornell University, not many months ago, a thousand of the Jewish students on campus demanded a department of Modern Jewish Studies; the fact that at a dozen high schools around the country, students are complaining that their ancient history courses omit all mention of Palestine; or, more broadly, that the fundamentally patronizing character of the radical Jew who urges the black man to assert his identity but who is utterly uninterested in his own is so patent as to make that position simply not viable. The first hints that Jewish students, and radical Jewish students in particular, were coming to this recognition began to reach me some months ago. By now, the signs multiply almost daily, leading me to suggest that around the country, we have turned a corner, that Jewish students are learning to respect themselves as Jews by listening with care to what their black peers are saying. The lesson they are drawing is a lesson they did not, and, in fact, could not have learned from their own fathers, who have been so wrapped up in making Judaism easy that they have, on the whole, made it trivial as well. Accordingly, it is a most serious error to confuse the ideological implications of the new Negro cohesiveness from its occasional anti-Semitic manifestations. There is no necessary linkage between the two, and to reject the one because of the other is to throw out the baby with the bath. Rights Owner: American Jewish Historical Society Description: On March 12, 1969, Leonard Fein addressed the Synagogue Council of America (an organization of American Synagogue associations) at Columbia University. His basic message was that the Jewish community had overreacted to black anti-Semitism. In this excerpt Fein encourages what he calls "Jewish assertiveness."
Suggested Discussion Questions:
For discussion questions and related lesson plan, visit http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/moving-inward-bringing-liberation-movements-into-jewish-community
Time Period: Modern (Spinoza through post-WWII)