Black History Month: Orthodox Jews Build Bridges In Community
As NY1’s Black History Month coverage continues, Cheryl Wills visits a Queens community where African Americans who happen to be Jewish are building bridges in their predominately black Christian neighborhood.
When the late entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., announced that he had converted to Judaism in the 1960’s, he became the butt of jokes in Hollywood.
His appearance on Norman Lear’s sitcom, “All in the Family” is still talked about.
But some African Americans in Queens don’t understand what’s so funny about someone being black and Jewish.
Orthodox Members of the Beth Elohim congregation on Linden Boulevard in St. Albans gather weekly to celebrate their religious heritage which extends back nearly 100 years in New York City.
Rabbi Shlomo Levy Ben Levi ? whose father was a prominent rabbi ? is the spiritual leader of the Queens synagogue.
“For us, from the founding of our community, we’ve embraced both our African-ness and our Jewish-ness, because we don’t see a contradiction in them,” he says.
“We do have a culture, and we do have longevity,” says senior member David Lee. “And I feel that this should be known worldwide.”
And his fellow rabbi’s are very busy in the community, working at the grassroots level to improve conditions in the African American neighborhood.
“We have to work out with the people in the community; now is the time to roll up the sleeves,” says Rabbi Eliyahu Yehudah.
And the task before them is to continue fostering good relations in the predominantly black Christian neighborhood on Linden Blvd.
Members of the synagogue also collaborate with organizations like the local NAACP to help build community relations so that all religious groups can live side by side in peace and understanding.