Rabbi Enlemayer speaks at a discussion about Jews and the Civil Rights Movement held by BCC's Hillel//Ari Lopez Wei

Rabbi Enlemayer speaks at a discussion about Jews and the Civil Rights Movement held by BCC’s Hillel//Ari Lopez Wei

By Carolina Estrada, Staff Writer

Bergen Community College’s Hillel sponsored a discussion about Jews and the Civil Rights Movement with invited guest speaker, Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, on November 12. In modern times, Jews and Black people themselves do not know that Jews have always been prominent members in the battle for civil rights in the U.S. and are also one of the most discriminated groups of people after black americans.

Starting off talking about his own experience as a young jewish student, Rabbi Engelmayer got a great job opportunity at a big corporate law firm as a law librarian for the summer.

“I had a wonderful time,” he said. After summer ended, he was taken in permanently, but in September, he asked for the rest of the Friday afternoon off because it was Kippur, a Jewish holiday. And when he came back on the next monday his manager told him he was fired. When he asked why, he was told, “We don’t actually hire your kind here.” And one year later, the same thing happened to his future sister-in-law at a banking job she had because they eventually found out she was jewish.

Proving his point, “We’re not white, period…The hatred of the Jew and the hatred of the Black have gone hand in hand in this country for a very long time.” Whiteness to many is defined as white Christians. In this way of defining whiteness, according to Rabbi Engelmayer, a Jew is no more white than someone who is an African American, Hispanic American or Asian American.

Jews have been involved in the Civil Rights Movement since the beginning. An example mentioned was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Who, if you see in the popular Selma March photos, was in the front row with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., next to Dr. Ralph Abernathy. But this has been in excluded or not mentioned in mainstream culture like in Selma which came out in 2014, where there are also no Jews really seen or properly represented throughout the film. But Rabbi Heschel wasn’t just some random Jew that showed up in the march, he was a very close friend and ally to Dr. King and was very active in the civil rights movement.

They were so close that, “Reverend King called him my Rabbi,” Engelmayer said. Engelmayer said the film ignored all Jewish roles in the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s upsetting because Blacks and Jews today both ignore our shared history in the struggle in the civil rights.”
During this era, there were many signs of anti-semitism. Leo Frank, a Jew, was falsely accused of murdering and raping a 13 year-old-girl. This prompted anti-semitism attacks and he eventually was publicly lynched by a mob. Among the mob were government officials and no one was convicted in his murder despite an entire town witnessing his death. Others store signs throughout history had ‘No Jews, Blacks, or Catholics allowed; No Jews, Blacks, or Women allowed; No Jews, Blacks, or dogs allowed; No Jews, Blacks, or Orientals allowed.

Jews were so involved that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights organization, was partly founded in 1909 by Jews who also helped to fund it. Among them was Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears, and he was Founder of the Rosenwald Fund, who donated millions of dollars in support to the education of African-American children from the rural south.

Jews were so active in the movement that in the 1960s, nearly half of the civil rights lawyers were Jewish. Many Jewish lives were lost during the civil rights marches and protests. Rabbi Engelmayor did recognize that the Civil Rights Movement worked a lot faster for the jews than for black people.

“Not because the white world likes us better than they like black people, but because as I said earlier, we can pass for white, blacks can’t pass for white,” he said.

Presently, the Jewish and Black relationship isn’t as strong as it once was, but Black and Jewish people still fight for a common cause and still have a common enemy.

“We cannot allow ourselves to forget that. We dare not forget that and while we’re at it, do not let others of any color influence us, forget that.”