As conversations about race, social justice and American history dominate headlines, a small group of teenagers are putting aside their differences to forge an alliance.
An ensemble of Black and Jewish teens met with the outspoken and provocative U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida, to discuss civil rights injustices.
This meeting was co-hosted by Ward AME, McCarthy Memorial Church and the Jewish Center for Justice.
Jordan Lawrence Tuchin, 17, a member of the Jewish Teen Leadership Initiative, proposed and succeeded in bringing a national political figure into the group’s dialogue with teens from Ward A.M.E.
According to Tuchin, Hastings has “dedicated his life” to advancing the relationship between Blacks and Jews.
Hastings spoke to the intimate group of mostly African American and Jewish teens just before morning worship at Ward AME church last Sunday.
The breakfast session resembled a grade school history lecture as the Florida congressman acknowledged familiarity of Jewish culture and his willingness to blur the boundaries of religion, race and ethnicity.
Hastings spoke briefly about his parents move to Bel Air during the 1950’s, as domestic servants while working for the Landis family. “Long before the Fresh Prince of Be Air,” Hastings joking recalls. He remembers babysitting Hollywood producer/director John Landis too.
Hastings, 81, the longest-serving democratic member of Congress from Florida, was somewhat of an unknown to the Jewish and Christian worshipers.
Shortly after his opening acknowledgements and two jokes, he quickly captured parishioners attentions.
He promised not to preach, however, his poignant remarks could be compared to a campaign stump speech.
His message pointed out that countless African Americans and Jewish people sacrificed their lives for the civil rights movement.
Hastings’ example included the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers— 21-year-old Black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two White New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
“The work isn’t done. We saw evidence of that a few weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA,” says Hastings.
Hastings exhibited the fire and brimstone delivery many political observers say democrats lack in their messaging.
“If any of y’all see Donald Trump and he says we are gonna take our country back, tell him I ain’t going back,” said Hastings, as worshipers clapped and cheered.
Hastings also took issue with the President saying neo-Nazis marching with torches are good people.
“Ain’t no good people marching with torches.”
The President’s actual remarks were, “You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and White nationalists,” Trump said. “You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
Churchgoers did not seem bothered by this Sunday’s departure from scripture by the Florida congressman.
Tuchin, who is a member of University Synagogue, says it’s important to build coalitions in the face of adversity, “especially as it relates to racism in this country.”
He and others from his synagogue are working with Ward AME to form an alliance between African Americans and Jews.
The Teen Leadership Initiative cultivates and trains the next generation of Jewish activists while establishing relationships within the Black community.
Tuchin says Hastings explanation of how Jews and African Americans have worked together to advance civil rights causes was enlightening.
While Hastings’ message had something for everyone, in his closing remarks, he enlisted Black people to offer a warning.
“To my Jewish friends, [there’s something] you must understand. There are those who claim evangelism. Many of them love Israel. But a lot of them hate Jews. Be very cautious. There are White evangelicals in this country, including President Trump, who support White supremacy. It’s a paradox. What part of moral clarity and economic dysfunction do these White people not understand? They claim they have been left behind. If they have been left behind, Black people never got started.”