Black-Jewish magazine probes racial woes, alliances

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The publication was unveiled earlier this month at the AJCommittee's annual meeting.

"We're looking for lively writing about the changing character of race and ethnicity in America, with a primary focus being that of black and Jewish cultures," said managing editor Larry Moffi. "It does include religion because religion is a part of both cultures."

In his introductory letter in the premier issue, AJCommittee President Robert S. Rifkind wrote: "We will ask our contributors to illuminate the real conflicts that exist but also to identify fruitful fields for cooperation between blacks and Jews in advancing a common agenda."

On the same page, Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert said the new publication is "a sincere and open effort to recognize and discuss some of the problems as well as some of the prospects for solutions to the issues, concerns and differences between the African American and Jewish communities."

The magazine initially will be mailed to approximately 10,000 people on a list of names compiled by both AJCommittee and Howard, according to AJCommittee regional director Jeffrey Weintraub.

"We are trying to achieve a broad cross section of both communities — not just a small, elite group of people who talk the same language and speak about this in more or less a closed circuit," he said.

"I see the publication as a conversation," Weintraub said, "and it's a conversation between the people in both communities, and beyond, who are trying to look for ways to resolve some of the obvious tensions between the communities and to also bring the communities together for more constructive interaction.

"It will be a polite and respectful conversation, but that doesn't mean that the conversation will shy away from difficult and painful subjects," Weintraub said. "If it did that, it would be a waste of time."

Moffi reports to two co-editors: Russell Adams, chairman of Howard's Afro-American Studies Department, and Jonathan Rieder, a Barnard professor best known for his book "Canarsie," an ethnographic study of an Italian and Jewish New York neighborhood. Rieder has covered black-Jewish relations, including tensions in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, for The New Republic.

Stephen Steinlight, director of AJCommittee's national affairs department in New York, is senior adviser for the magazine.

Funding from the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation made possible the publication of CommonQuest.

The magazine's editorial advisory board lists members of Congress, rabbis and well-known African Americans and American Jews — from Rabbi Irving Greenberg to Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Gerald Early.

The cover of the inaugural issue features a Jewish man, Sam Freedman, and a black man, Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, smiling and looking up as if to a photographer on a ladder. Freedman's left hand is on the minister's shoulder, and a robed choir surrounds the two men.

Freedman, a self-described "secular humanist," wrote an article for CommonQuest about his experiences conducting research for his book, "Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church." In the book, Freedman discusses New York's St. Paul Community Baptist Church.

In the article, Freedman recalls visiting the church, and muses about a New York Daily News photograph in which three men from St. Paul Church are enroute to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March in Washington, D.C.

"The question was whether, with my heritage on the white side of the divide, I could ever bear witness to life on the black," writes Freedman.

In the piece, he identifies strongly with black America. He describes a trip with Youngblood to Ghana, where he walked through a former prison and slave-shipping station that he calls "the African Auschwitz."

But the "moral" of his story, as he tells it, seems to be: "We are both tribal peoples. We have both faced the forces of extermination. That terrible history has taught us never to completely trust anyone outside the tribe."

The magazine's first issue also contains a piece titled "Beyond the Million Man March": essays about the event's "implications for black-Jewish relations" written by 10 prominent blacks and Jews.

The inaugural issue also has an excerpt from Melissa Fay Greene's book "The Temple Bombing." Greene details the Oct. 12, 1958, bombing of Atlanta's oldest synagogue, and explores Rabbi Jacob Rothschild's notion that keeping a low profile would eradicate anti-Semitism.

The magazine's backers hope the publication will turn up in "black barber shops, the Hillel group at Boston University and at Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner's office," Adams said.

"We would hope that it would lead to a lowering of voices on all sides and an increase in rational reflection."