Michigan Reps. Elissa Slotkin (left) and Brenda Lawrence (right)
Michigan Reps. Elissa Slotkin (left) and Brenda Lawrence (right). (Screenshot)

The event takes place amidst a rise in hate groups targeting both communities.

As the Wayne County Board of Canvassers was deadlocked over certifying election results in the majority-Black city of Detroit, Michigan Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Brenda Lawrence were speaking to a group of Michigan State University students and faculty about the importance of Black-Jewish relations in America.

Slotkin, of Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, and Lawrence, of Michigan’s 14th District, took part in a virtual Zoom event to discuss the work of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, founded in 2019, and the future of the relations between the two communities. Lawrence founded and currently co-chairs the caucus.

The event was put on by the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, and was hosted by Yael Aranoff, the Director of the Institute. The event was attended by many MSU students and faculty, who had the opportunity to ask both Representatives questions about the Caucus and the future of Black-Jewish relations.

Much of the event centered around Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance, a new documentary from local Jewish director Shari Rogers that highlights the historical cooperation between the two communities in the civil rights movement, and the need to renew that commitment to working together to end systemic racism and growing antisemitism.

Slotkin kept tabs on the events in Wayne County during the event (the county board eventually did vote to certify the election results). With her national security background, she called for more community conversations amidst the rise of hate groups and attacks in the state of Michigan.

“There’s a lot of numbers to toss out there, but I think it’s important that we understand the urgency of these issues and that the work we have to do between African Americans and the Jewish community is not a past-tense ‘let’s just reflect’, it’s figuring out how to protect ourselves in the present,” Slotkin said.

Slotkin stated that as the first Jewish woman to represent the state of Michigan at the federal level, while also representing a sizable African American population in Lansing, she’s been thinking about these issues a lot lately.

“Politically, we are a very interesting state to a lot of people,” Slotkin said. “It means we have a special responsibility to figure out some of these problems because we are literally ground zero in some of them.”

Lawrence, former mayor of Southfield, a city with massive Black and Jewish populations, spoke at length about what leading the Caucus means to her, and also stressed having more community conversations.

“The only way you make transformational change is you have to talk to each other, you have to put the issues on the table, you have to learn about each other,” Lawrence said. “If I know you as a person, it’s hard for me to hate you.”

Lawrence stated that a pivotal conversation which led to the creation of the Caucus was with the late Rep. John Lewis, realizing at the time there was really nothing bringing the two communities together legislatively.

Events promoting Black-Jewish education planned for the Caucus, according to Lawrence, include visiting the African-American History and Holocaust Musuems together, celebrating Juneteenth, and having a Hanukkah reception together.