Orthodox rabbi, hip-hop mogul join forces to fight Islamophobia

As part of an effort to further break cultural and religious barriers for students and people throughout the borough, Queens College held a talk between hip-hop pioneer and newly appointed U.N Goodwill Ambassador Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier.

Rabbi Marc Schneier and entertainer Russell Simmons discuss relations between African American and Jewish communities at Queens College.
The discussion took place Monday afternoon, where students and people from the community gathered in Queens College’s Goldstein Theater to hear from and talk with both men on the relationship and unification between the African American and Jewish communities.

The discussion opened with Rabbi Schneier speaking about the celebration of the alliance between the African American and Jewish communities. He highlighted the support that African Americans and Jews shared during President Barack Obama’s campaign. Simmons quickly added to that, noting that more than 80 percent of the Jewish community voted for or supported Obama.

The discussion then turned to the similarities between the struggles of social, political, and civil equality that both groups have historically dealt with. Schneier spoke of the struggles that African Americans faced during the Civil Rights movement, and how for much of it, the Jewish people supported them in their fight for equality.

One of the most memorable Queens examples of that solidarity was in the actions and eventual murder of Jewish Queens College student Andrew Goodman, who went to Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964 to help register black voters and was killed by the Ku Klux Klan.

When speaking about strengthening ties between the African American and Jewish communities, both Simmons and Schneier agreed that it is important that both sides help fight each other’s battles.

The pair spoke about their hope to strengthen ties between all races including Latino and Asian Americans and foster cooperation and understanding among the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths. When asked by an audience member of what they felt causes anti-Semitism, Simmons replied with “people are too quick to judge and that is a tremendous problem.”

Schneier then directed the attention to the problem of Islamphobia and how much it has grown in recent years. It was then that both men took time to address how everyone needs to unite so that we can stop Islamphobia and put an end to racism all together.

Although Schneier said he believed that racism is starting to die out, and the new generation is less racist, he conceded there are still some radical racists around.

“I do believe people want to change and get along,” Schneier said when asked is he thought people genuinely wanted change.

“It is something critical that has to happen in culture,” Simmons added.

The discussion was co-sponsored by Queens College Hillel’s Center for Diversity and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Hillel works in conjunction with Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic students to celebrate and understand each diverse religion and ethnicity. The Foundation of Ethnic Understanding was founded by Schneier and promotes understanding and tolerance of one’s religion as well as others.

Simmons closed the talk with what he felt was important advice:
“It’s up to you. each individual has the power to be the change that we need,” he said. “Go out and experience the excitement that diversity brings.”


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