They've known prejudice and persecution. They've been forced out of their homelands. They've had people reject them on sight.
Now, theblack and Jewish communities in Annapolis have joined to help one another in Anne Arundel County.
Rabbi Seth Gordon of the Kneseth Israel congregation and Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden announced at a news conference yesterday the creation of the first county coalition between their respective groups, the African American-Jewish Coalition of Anne Arundel County.
"We're partners to eradicate bigotry. It's subtle, and it's pervasive in our city and county. This is not an issue limited to African-Americans," Snowden said.
At the height of the civil rights movement, blacks and Jews formed a bond, he said. Misunderstandings and differences have forced them apart in the years since, "but six weeks ago,Israel launched a rescue mission aimed at liberating Ethiopian Jews," Snowden continued.
On July 28, county blacks and Jews will celebrate Operation Solomon, the airlift of black Jews to Israel, as a symbol of the common cause that should bind them together. More than 14,000 black Jews were rescued from a civil war and transported to Israel in one long weekend in May.
County blacks and Jews should followsuit in uniting with one another, Snowden said. "It's a time to turntoward each other, not on each other," he said.
Said Gordon: "Forme, the airlift is the strongest statement to the world that Zionismis not racism.
"There is a polarization of (black and Jewish) communities in this county," he added. "Most members of our communities have never seen a black Jew. But the process of solving problems, of discussion and understanding, has to begin."
This first joint event, to take place at Kneseth Israel a week from Sunday, will feature choral groups from black churches and the cantor from Kneseth Israel. The featured speaker is an Ethiopian Jew who left Ethiopia on the last rescue plane. Members of the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Embassy also will give short briefings.
After the program, the coalition plans to continue to meet, identifying local issues of concernto both groups.
"I've been here four years, and I'm not aware of specific incidents against Jews in the county, although I've heard about problems in the past," Gordon said. "The more understanding we have, the better chance we have to withstand and oppose bigotry when itdoes surface."
The coalition came about when Gordon called Snowden and, he jokes, said, "Take me to your leaders." He asked for a listof prominent blacks who might be interested in gathering with countyJewish leaders. Snowden recommended about 16 people, to whom Gordon sent invitations to an initial meeting.
About 40 people attended the first group, which met six weeks ago, Gordon said.
"I've never participated in a more satisfying series of meetings," he added. "Nobody is skirting problems. I would like to think we will become friends. Sometimes when you shoot an arrow into the air, it lands in a pleasant place. This has landed in a most pleasant place."
Perhaps thegroups won't agree on many issues, the rabbi said, "but we'll agree on some issues, and we may be able to agree later. We want to work together to address problems locally."
When the Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel, many who had never seen a plane reportedly saw the event as the literal fulfillment of God's biblical promise to deliver his people "on the wings of eagles," Gordon said.
A similar faith pervades the new alliance, said Lewis Bracy, leader of the county's Black Political Forum and a member of the coalition.
"I cannot think of a more positive alliance," Bracy said. "We're not here to denounce anybody. We're here to mesh ourselves and come up with positive options."
Bracy said he approved of the way Gordon initiated thecoalition by asking the black community to select its own leaders.
"Too often, people outside our community have chosen our leaders for us," he said. "I've talked to a dozen religious leaders in the black community, and all expressed support for this coalition. We're veryhappy."