BLEWS Try to Strike the Right Note

July 05, 1992

The Black/Jewish Forum of Baltimore, also known as the BLEWS, received special praise in a major study released late last year by the Marjorie Kovler Institute for Black-Jewish Relations. The study said the BLEWS exemplified how black and Jewish Americans can overcome old antagonisms to promote understanding between the two groups.

Several months ago, however, the 14-year-old organization hardly seemed the epitome of racial harmony. In February, the BLEWS board dismissed the black woman who had served as its executive director for only 3 1/2 months. The woman's fiance then wrote a scathing article about the firing for a local black newspaper. In the piece, black clergy were said to be having second thoughts about their ties to the BLEWS.

Also around that time, a BLEWS symposium on the Middle East was to include a Palestinian speaker, but the man reportedly was taken off the program by BLEWS officials. This action buttressed the suspicion among some black members that the forum's leadership maintains a pro-Jewish, pro-Israel bias. They have claimed that black concerns are relegated to the back of the agenda.

Thus, the new BLEWS officers named last month come aboard && at a difficult time. To wash away the bad blood, BLEWS members will need to summon the spirit of their founding ideals. They will have to re-dedicate themselves to the stated purpose of the BLEWS by fervently promoting black-Jewish dialogue at churches and synagogues, on school campuses and in the media -- with equal weight given to black and Jewish issues. In fact, the new leadership has pledged to up the ante by making the organization and its programs more visible than ever. Supporters and critics alike will watch to see if this revitalization actually takes place.

Even the most staunch advocates of the BLEWS point out its shortcomings. They admit that the best efforts of a diverse, well-intentioned group of 400 clergy and lay leaders aren't going to solve society's deeply rooted racial problems. As one BLEWS member recently told the Baltimore Jewish Times, the participants might do little more than agree to disagree on many matters. "But," he added, "the BLEWS raises consciousness."

If the BLEWS can continue in that consciousness-raising role, then it will uphold its reputation as a respected and worthwhile local institution.

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