Two JCSU Professors Connect Through Shared Black and Jewish Histories

Charlotte, N.C./April, 6, 2023 – The Black and Jewish communities have been subject to racism, oppression and genocide for centuries.

Black social worker and Director of JCSU’s Master of Social Work Program Dr. Melvin Herring connected with the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance alongside Dr. Cindy Kistenberg, professor of Communication and Theatre, who is a member of the Jewish community.

Together, and with other leaders aged 25 to 40, they have been exploring the uncanny similarities and stark differences in the experiences of these communities through special events through the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance.

The first event, Soul Food Shabbat, took place in February. Herring co-hosted the event.

“The Soul Food Shabbat is designed to connect the two communities using the history of our respective foods as a conduit to meaningful conversations and immersion,” said Herring. “For example, soul food centers the Black experience in the U.S. and embodies many of the struggles and rituals of our community.”

Soul Food Shabbat is a yearly event held in tandem with Queens University that aims to engage the Jewish and Black communities in meaningful conversation about the similarities in the systemic genocide and oppression they’ve faced respectively.

This year’s conversation focused on the connections between Jim Crow Laws and the Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Nearly 100 people ranging from the ages of 18 to 80 were in attendance.

At first glance, comparing laws in a country ruled by a dictator to laws in America, the self-proclaimed land of the free, seems strange.

Jim Crow Laws were enacted in the Southern United States after the Civil War as an effort to continue to oppress the Black community. These laws, which existed for nearly 100 years until they were outlawed in 1968, denied Black people the opportunity to vote, hold jobs, get an education and use the same doors or water fountains as white people.

The Nuremberg Race Laws were imposed in 1935 when Adolph Hitler took power in Germany. The laws stripped German Jews from public office, radio, teaching and even farming. Soon enough, Jewish people were no longer allowed in places like hotels and public spaces. The Nuremberg Laws would also extended to anyone who didn’t look as though they belonged to the Aryan race.

But when attendees learned that Nazis were inspired by Jim Crow Laws and even studied them to formulate their own form of legalized discrimination, the connections between the two communities became clearer.

“Although Germany ended in a rapid genocide of the Jewish people, the U.S. engaged in a slow and gradual genocide of Black people that continues to produce residual impacts through systemic racism and discrimination,” said Herring. “But the brutality (i.e., lynchings and beatings) and discrimination being inflicted upon Blacks resonated with many in the Jewish community because of their experience with the Holocaust.”

Due to the similarities in their struggles, many Jewish people stood up against racism in the U.S. They showed their support by founding civil rights organizations, participating in marches and establishing relationships with Black leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently, Herring and Kistenberg explored some of the landmark locations associated with the Civil Rights Movement such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma during the Deep South Pilgrimage.

“The Deep South Pilgrimage provides us the opportunity to anchor ourselves in our differences while leaning into our past relationships experienced during the Civil Rights Movement in some of the authentic contexts where they occurred,” said Herring. “This information is really important to know because it allows us to move forward in building stronger relationships across communities by knowing where we have been.”

Kistenberg said the connections between the Black and Jewish communities are not talked about enough, which is why the pilgrimage was so important.

She spoke specifically about hearing from a rabbi who lived through the movement and explained the complexities of getting involved, and the fears they had about potential backlash toward both the Black and Jewish communities.

Overall, the trip allowed members of both of the communities to immerse themselves in the similarities and differences of their unique struggles.

“As a Black man, I will absolutely say that slavery was one of the most horrific things to happen in history,” said Herring. “But I also know antisemitism was high during that time, too. I can support you around your experience of oppression while recognizing that my experience is different from yours. From an equity standpoint, I can acknowledge what you need to address an issue and move forward may be different than what I need.”

Kistenberg and Herring said the Black/Jewish Alliance is setting a potential precedent for having converging conversations about oppression in different communities.

“The Black/Jewish Alliance is a great model for how to engage people and create a dialogue in order to create social change,” said Kistenberg. “It became so clear that everyone was so connected afterwards from learning together and experiencing the pain at the places we visited.”

The Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance is open to young professionals aged 25 to 40, but the alliance hosts events throughout the year that are open to participants of all ages.

Kistenberg said the group is planning to host an event on campus next February which will feature a movie highlighting the shared legacies of the two communities and their history of collaboration during the Civil Rights Movement.

To learn more about the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance, visit