Boro Park Forum Highlights Multicultural Cooperation

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Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World

By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

Deborah M. Lauter, Chaskel Bennett, and Governor David Paterson at JP Updates forum
Deborah M. Lauter, Chaskel Bennett, and Governor David Paterson at JP Updates forum

A third community forum hosted by JP (Jewish Political) Updates was held on Wednesday, July 15, at the upscale Loft restaurant in Boro Park. This was the third event in a series of bimonthly meetings on Jewish issues. The discussion forum, titled “From Selma to Sabbath: Parallel paths to civil and religious rights in the United States,” had the participation of Jewish community and media leaders from the New York City metropolitan area, including that of 5TJT founder and editor Larry Gordon. The event was coordinated by Ezra Friedlander and the Friedlander Group.

The JPUpdates.com website was launched in 2011 by the StarLight Media Group to provide the Jewish community with a website dedicated to reporting all political and breaking news and updates relevant to the greater Jewish community. Traffic on JP Updates, thousands of hits per day, is accelerating at an incredible pace. That growth is attributed to the Orthodox Jewish community’s increasing use of the Internet as a main source of news, as well as their increasing involvement in the political process. Recently, the Orthodox Jewish community was profiled in the New York Times, gauging the community’s Jewish news sites and social media, identifying the Orthodox Jewish community as a growing political force. The JPUpdates.com news team members are Jacob Kornbluh, political correspondent; Suzanne Vega, staff writer; Mark Hirshberg, crime and local breaking-news correspondent; Eliyahu Berkowitz, Israel Bureau; and Sol Rieger, contributor.

JP Updates has gained credibility as a news source on Google News, as well as with general and Jewish media outlets. JP Updates has been cited countless times by more than 250 media outlets, and it appears to be popular with the Jewish community in general and with elected officials, political operatives, junkies, and knowledgeable insiders.

Reports in the New York Times and elsewhere highlight the Jewish vote, and particularly the Orthodox Jewish vote, as being a strongly courted demographic in all city elections, as the members tend to vote in blocs. As a result, the JP Updates website has become the place to get the Jewish take on many issues. Since JP Updates is based in New York, local elected officials and candidates who are running in New York State elections, or any candidate targeting communities with sizable Jewish constituencies, look to JP Updates for insights.

As political campaigns intensify, JP Updates is intensifying efforts to become a primary Jewish information outlet for the 2016 presidential election, with a present focus on primaries in the Democratic and Republican parties, with a Jewish-angle perspective. The Jewish vote may not weigh heavily in the early stages of the primaries; however, the Jewish vote in the battleground states, Jewish influence, and campaign funding will have a strong impact on who will become the next president of the United States.

The JP Updates forum event in Boro Park focused on the historical alliance between African-American and Jewish leaders in the battle for civil-rights legislation dating back to the historic march in Selma, Alabama in the 1960s. On that “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, some 600 civil-rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They just barely reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma.

Distinguished forum panelists included former New York governor David A. Paterson and Deborah M. Lauter, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League. The panel was moderated by noted community activist Chaskel Bennett, member of the national board of trustees of Agudath Israel of America. Bennett is president of a maintenance, building-supply, and consulting company. He also serves on the boards of several communal organizations; as a respected political activist and advocate, his advice and counsel on Jewish communal issues is often sought.

As moderator, Bennett touched on the travails that his parents underwent upon their arrival in the United States. His father would not work on Saturdays. The direct result of being Sabbath-observant at that time was being fired every Friday and having to look for a new job every Monday. Bennett asked, Is Sabbath that far from Selma? Is discrimination under any guise anything other than discrimination? The black experience and the Orthodox Jewish experience have many similarities, stressed Bennett.

Governor Paterson astutely recognized a growing discomfort in the Orthodox Jewish community with the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, seeing it as a threat to individual and institutional religious freedom. Paterson, the first and only black governor of the State of New York, had a popularity rating of 91 percent when he became governor in 2009. However, after he proudly signed marriage equality into law, his popularity rating dropped to 54 percent. The governor attributes that dramatic drop in popularity directly due to his recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states, which was vehemently opposed by black clergy.

In California, a referendum in 2008, known as Proposition 8, in which almost 80 percent of eligible voters participated, legalization of same sex marriages was voted down by a considerable majority. More than 70 percent of African-Americans voted against the legalization of same-sex marriages. The results of the referendum were reversed by California’s Supreme Court.

Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of civil rights since 2006, stated that ADL’s mission is to fight the growth of anti-Semitism and to fight for the civil rights of everyone. Based in New York City, she previously served as the League’s regional director in Atlanta, Georgia. She oversees domestic policy, programs, and staff in monitoring hate and extremism. Her office serves as a resource for law enforcement, media, and policymakers. Lauter supports the marriage equality laws and rulings, seeing this as a civil-rights issue. Nevertheless, she is concerned that these decisions should not come to trample upon religious freedoms.

Among the several participants who were invited to comment, the first was Mark Meyer Appel, founder and director of The Bridge Multi-Cultural Advocacy Project. The Bridge Project has held more than 40 major events since its establishment in 2014. Appel was recently honored in the U.S. Congress at a Jewish Heritage Month event for his laudable efforts in building multicultural communication and cooperation. Participating in the presentation was Congressman John Lewis, who 50 years ago was part of the “Bloody Sunday” march.

Appel views the year of 2015 as one of strife and emphasized that the Orthodox Jewish community must reach out and work with other communities to achieve success. Support for public-school education does not negate supporting yeshiva, parochial, and private schools, Appel exclaimed. The black and the Orthodox Jewish communities have much in common. We must work together to achieve benefits from which we will all gain.

Governor Paterson’s acknowledgment that his efforts at achieving civil rights and equality by recognizing same-sex marriages was strongly opposed by black clergy is a clarion call for Orthodox Jewish leadership to work together to maintain family values in the political arena.

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at yeshiva613@aol.com.

 

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