Local black, Jewish leaders vow to continue coalition

In the wake of this week's Million Man March, black and Jewish leaders here are pledging to continue the coalition building they say defies Louis Farrakhan's separatism.

"I think basically and fundamentally, we need to continue to do what we have been doing," said the Rev. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco.

Pointing to black-Jewish dialogues in the Bay Area, as well as to joint efforts in such areas as inner city education, he said, "The world needs to see this model of communication, dialogue, working."

This week, much has been made of Farrakhan's hate-filled rants against Jews and others. While Brown condemns such rhetoric, he also urges people not to let it obscure the pressing factors that inspired so many black men to converge on the National Mall.

"We must keep in mind that for the most part, these men were driven to that setting because of the difficult socioeconomic, educational and political issues that burden them greatly," Brown said.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, who has worked closely with Brown on black-Jewish issues, agreed.

"Clearly, the vast majority of people who attended did not go because they subscribe to Farrakhan's message of hate, and I am convinced that they left the march not subscribing to his message of hate," said the executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

Kahn pointed to messages emanating from the march that were not hateful. A range of voices reverberated from the podium, he stressed, including those that spoke of the importance of collaboration between blacks and whites.

"People like Rosa Parks went out of their way to talk about blacks and whites working together, which I interpreted as a message that the separatist and anti-white agenda of Louis Farrakhan was being repudiated by a number of the speakers," Kahn said.

At the same time, Kahn did not downplay his profound concern over Farrakhan's message, or his fear that it will spread.

"As the master organizer, he is [likely] to now use the march as his launching pad for organizing around the country," Kahn said.

Should that happen, Kahn said he hopes that "the years of strong black-Jewish relations in San Francisco" will help counteract Farrakhan's divisiveness locally.

Rabbi Allen Bennett, Kahn's counterpart at the JCRC of the Greater East Bay, shares a deep distrust of Farrakhan, who he said "continues to be a wolf, whether in sheep's clothing or not."

But Farrakhan's presence was not enough to dissuade much of the Jewish community from supporting the goals of the march, he said.

"At least intellectually, I understand the pain and the fear in the African-American community," Bennett said, "and I have seen virtually nothing from any politicians in this country of any race or any political persuasion who [have] said anything that makes anything better for the people who were there."

In Rev. Jesse Davis' eyes, if it takes a Farrakhan to affect such change, so be it.

"Maybe God raised up a Farrakhan because people like me and Jesse Jackson and other preachers have been too light on the issue," said the leader of Shiloh Baptist in Hayward. "If he is in fact truly a prophet who is to deliver the message that will cause the people to be delivered, we just have to accept that."

Davis, who has held formal dialogues on the subject of black-Jewish relations with several local rabbis, said he acknowledged the pain that Farrakhan's words have caused Jews. "He has hurt me too by the things he has said," Davis stressed.

Still, Davis said he believes all people, including Farrakhan, have within them the capacity to change. At the same time, he does not believe the Nation of Islam leader will alter his attitudes until white America does.

"He sees the white man as the oppressor; it's the same thing Moses saw when he went to Egypt," Davis said. "Until the white man includes the black man, I don't think we can expect Farrakhan to change."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.