Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Relations held its kickoff event last month, hoping to raise awareness and initiate measures to combat hate.

Featured photo courtesy of Linda Jacobs

By Mark Jacobs

The Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Relations held its kickoff reception on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., last month, hosted by the American Jewish Committee and attended by a bipartisan team of leading lawmakers and supporters.

The group, the first Black and Jewish caucus in the U.S. Congress, is co-chaired by Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, D-Fla., Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep. Lee Zelden, R-N.Y., and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas. The caucus seeks to raise awareness of each community’s needs as well as to initiate measures to combat hate and stereotypes.

“White supremacy is alive and well,” declared Wasserman-Shultz, warning the crowd that hate crimes against blacks and Jews have spiked in recent years and that the need for the caucus is imperative.

Lawmakers spoke of the current disunity in Washington, D.C., but noted that support for the caucus is widespread and undisputed.

The speakers recalled the historical roots of the two communities uniting during the civil rights movement. Rep. Elliot Engel said this caucus “comes at a critical time, and it is incumbent on both of our communities to act now.”

The full executive committee of the local Detroit group, the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, attended the event. The coalition, a partnership between the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, shares similar goals as the Congressional Caucus.

Coalition Executive Board member Hazzan Dan Gross, along with Dr. Pauline Plummer, an accomplished pastor and singer, capped off the evening by leading the group in an emotional, arm-clinging rendition of the civil rights ballad “We Shall Overcome.”

In what was possibly a first on Capitol Hill, Gross sang the first verse of the song in Hebrew. It was an extraordinarily moving and unforgettable display of solidarity for two communities who now have re-committed to each other through this new Congressional Caucus.

Mark Jacobs is co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.