September 2, 2020
For #BlackJewishUnity Week, September 6-11, AJC and the National Urban League created resource lists to provide each community with films, articles, and books about the American Jewish and Black experiences, respectively.
- School Ties (1992)
This film is chock full of young but familiar faces – Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, Ben Affleck, and Chris O’Donnell. It may have been released more than 25 years ago, but it has taken on new significance in the 21st century with antisemitism—that is, hatred of Jews—on the rise.
Fraser plays David Greene, a working-class Jewish teen from Scranton, Pennsylvania who wins a football scholarship to an elite prep school in his senior year. It soon becomes painfully clear that his new buddies don’t like Jews, and Greene becomes the target of antisemitic attacks.
School Ties is set in the 1950s, but high schools and colleges have once again become a fertile ground for antisemitism. According to AJC’s recent landmark survey of American Jews on this topic, young Jews are significantly more likely to have been victims of anti-Jewish hate. Nearly half of those between ages 18-29 said that they have been targeted by antisemitic remarks or have been physically attacked for being Jewish.
AJC offers LFT (Leaders For Tomorrow) to give high school students the tools to talk about the issues impacting Jews around the world today and the confidence to stand up for these issues in college and throughout their lives, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
- The Chosen (1981)
Based on Chaim Potok’s 1967 best-selling book, The Chosen portrays the friendship between two 15-year-old Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn, New York, at the end of World War II. At a baseball game between their schools, Reuven Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jewish teenager, meets Danny Saunders, the son of a Hasidic Rebbe. At first, the meeting is one of enmity, but the teens gradually become friends, despite their differing backgrounds.
The Chosen retells one of the most dependable stories in literature, the story in which two people from different backgrounds overcome their mistrust and learn to accept each other’s traditions. Set against the backdrop of World War II and the formation of the state of Israel, the film tackles many important questions about traditions, faith and beliefs.
- Crossing Delancey (1988)
Crossing Delancey is a New York comedy about Isabella, or “Izzy” (played by Amy Irving), a Jewish woman from New York in her early 30s, who is caught in a romantic quandary when her grandmother hires a Jewish matchmaker to find her a husband. Much like Dirty Dancing, Crossing Delancey — directed by Joan Micklin Silver and adapted from a play by Susan Sandler — is a crowd-pleasing romance that involves a New York love triangle in which the heroine faces a choice between two very different men. One is Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbé), a suave, successful European author who is—it is largely implied—a non-Jew. He wants to simultaneously seduce Izzy and hire her as his assistant. The other, introduced to her by neighborhood matchmaker Hannah Mandelbaum, is Sam “The Pickle Man” Posner (Peter Riegert), a Delancey Street pickle salesman who dotes on her — and is very much Jewish.
Will Izzy go with the guy who represents fame, financial security, and respectability? Or will she choose the Jewish fellow, who offers none of those things but is charming and really likes her? We won’t spoil the ending for you, but Crossing Delancey doubles as a bittersweet ode to the city’s Lower East Side neighborhood, then still ethnically Jewish and full of little old Jewish mom-and-pop shops. It is also an outstanding travelogue of late 1980s New York City and a great look into the meaning of marriage, Jewish identity, and modernity.
- Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
This black-and-white film tells the tale of a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to research antisemitism in New York City and certain affluent Connecticut suburbs. Gregory Peck accepted the role as leading man against his agent’s advice; Cary Grant already had turned it down.
The controversial film was a box office hit and won that year’s Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. But it also caught the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Its director, producer, and two of its cast members were called to testify. The two cast members refused to cooperate and landed on the Hollywood blacklist as a result.
Though no reporters went undercover, the most recent piece of journalism documenting a surge of antisemitism and other dangerous bias in the U.S. has been Documenting Hate, a collaborative project over the last three years by ProPublica and 180 other newsrooms across the country. Journalists tracked underreported hate crimes and white supremacists, leading to arrests and proposed legislation to improve hate crime reporting.
- The Frisco Kid (1979)
The Frisco Kid is a 1979 American western comedy film directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford. Rabbi Avram Belinski, played by Gene Wilder, leaves his native Poland to travel to San Francisco via Philadelphia to serve a fledgling Jewish community. An inexperienced and naïve traveler, Belinski falls in with three con men who trick him into helping pay for a wagon and supplies to go West and then brutally rob him and leave him and most of his belongings scattered along a deserted road in Pennsylvania. As he makes his way westward, he meets and befriends bank robber Tommy Lillard, played by Harrison Ford, who has never seen a rabbi before. What follows are many adventures and a story of friendship between two men who have seemingly nothing in common.
- Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations (2020)
In Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations, filmmaker Andrew Goldberg depicts how the latest wave of anti-Jewish hatred has been impossible to stop as it mutates, moves, and wreaks havoc across borders.
Goldberg travels through four countries – France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Hungary – to interview victims, antisemites, and leaders on the frontlines of the battle against the far right, far left, and radical Islamist instigators. The film features an appearance by AJC Europe Director Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, along with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, a rebellious Holocaust survivor in Budapest, and others.
Hear Goldberg discuss his documentary on People of the Pod, AJC’s weekly podcast.
- Shared Legacies: The African American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance (2020)
Shared Legacies looks at the historic alliance between Blacks and Jews. It begins with the founding of the NAACP in 1909 and showcases the bigotry and segregation that both groups have faced. The documentary grapples with issues of systemic racism, many of which persist to this day, and pursues the aspiration of Dr. King to create a “coalition of conscience.”
Pivotal events for both communities come alive through a treasure trove of archival materials, narrated by eyewitnesses, activists, Holocaust survivors, and leaders of the movement, including prominent figures such as Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, Rabbi Peter S. Berg, Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., members of the King family, and many others. This inspiring story of unity, empathy, and partnership validates the ubiquity of the human experience, and how freedom and equality for all can be achieved only when people come together.
- David Harris, “Confronting Antisemitism: Jews Need Trifocal Lenses” (2017)
AJC CEO David Harris explains in this important essay that antisemitism is an epidemic that stems not from one single source, but rather from the hard left, the far right, and Islamic extremists. Harris contends that we should not allow ideological or partisan thinking to narrow the field of vision when it comes to antisemitism. Instead, he encourages readers to look at the whole picture.
While it is undeniable that acts of antisemitism like Charlottesville emanate from Neo-Nazis, the danger also comes from other sources, such as the hard left and Islamic extremists. As Harris points out, challenges to the Jewish people’s national aspirations and constant singling out of Israel among 193 UN member states for delegitimization and disappearance are also a form of antisemitism. In the final section, Harris notes the most fatal attacks against Jews in Europe in recent years have been carried out by Islamic extremists.
- James McBride, The Color of Water (1995)
This fascinating, superbly written memoir was a New York Times bestseller for two years. To date it has sold more than 2.1 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 16 languages.
It tells the story of James McBride and his White Jewish mother Ruth who came to America when she was a young girl in a family of Polish Jewish immigrants. She was the daughter of an itinerant rabbi and a loving, disabled mother who spoke no English. In 1941, at the age of 17, Ruth fled the South, landed in Harlem, and married Andrew Dennis McBride, a Black man from North Carolina. Ruth converted to Christianity and became very involved with church activities. The couple experienced a certain degree of prejudice as a result of their interracial marriage, but they opened the New Brown Memorial Church together in memory of Reverend Brown, their favorite preacher. They had several children, and eventually moved to accommodate their growing family. Enduring many hardships, Ruth was twice widowed and raised 12 children in New York City. Despite hardship, poverty, and suffering, she sent all 12 of her children to college.
In this memoir, James McBride weaves his own life story into his mother’s story and discusses race, identity, religion, work, and moral beliefs.
- Melissa Fay Greene, The Temple Bombing (1996)
In this book, award-winning author Melissa Fay Greene seeks the truth behind one of Atlanta’s most despicable hate crimes. In 1958, white supremacists bombed the city’s oldest Jewish synagogue, devastating and arousing deep fears in both the Jewish and African American communities, since its rabbi, Jacob Rothschild, was an outspoken advocate of integration. A trial of the accused terrorists ended in a hung jury, and a second trial in acquittal.
The Reform Jewish Temple became a rallying point uniting blacks and Jews in efforts for racial justice, and Rabbi Rothschild—who died in 1974 at the age of 62—befriended Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1960 moved home to Atlanta, the scene of many critical confrontations in the early civil rights movement. Greene recreates these events in a spellbinding narrative written with fierce moral passion and a great sense of historic drama. By delving into the exclusionary policies and attitudes of Atlanta’s white Protestant elite, tensions within the city’s Jewish community, related terrorist incidents, and links among right-wing extremist, racist and antisemitic organizations, she has reclaimed a forgotten chapter of the civil rights era.
- Elie Wiesel, Night (1960)
Written in 1960 by Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Night retraces Wiesel’s experience with his father in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944-1945 with harrowing detail that truly brings the realities of the concentration camps to life.
In 1944, Wiesel, a Romanian-Hungarian Jew, and his family were deported to Auschwitz. There, he witnessed unthinkable acts: his mother and baby sister taken away to the gas chambers, children burned in the crematoria, a young boy hanged while the entire camp was forced to watch. Although he would survive, he would watch his father weaken during their forced labor, a death march through the snow, a bout of dysentery, and a beating by SS officers. Eventually, his father was taken to the crematorium. Three months later, the Allies liberated the camp where they were.
Night is a crucial book that is painful to read, but it has changed the way the world conceives of genocide by putting a face and a name to such terrible suffering. And it displays the beauty in the broken: the fact that Wiesel survived and got a chance to write. It also confronts existentialist questions about God and faith. Sadly, many of the issues of hatred, oppression, and genocide that Night raises remain relevant today.
- Yossi Klein Halevi, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (2013)
Acclaimed journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, an American Jew who immigrated to Israel, interweaves the stories of a group of Israeli paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, tracing the history of Israel and the divergent ideologies shaping it from 1967 to the present.
Following the lives of seven young members from the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade, the unit responsible for restoring Jewish sovereignty to the Old City of Jerusalem, Halevi reveals how this band of brothers played pivotal roles in shaping Israel’s destiny long after their historic victory. While they worked together to reunite their country in 1967, these men harbored drastically different visions for Israel’s future. What the author manages to convey is not only Israel’s reality and its problems, but also the lifelong connections of those who served in the Israeli army.
- Dara Horn, The World to Come (2006)
In The World to Come, Dara Horn interweaves the story of a stolen painting with the story of a Jewish family, theology, and Yiddish literature. Her novel opens the door to “the world to come”—not life after death, but the world we create through our actions right now.
A million-dollar painting by Marc Chagall is stolen from a museum. The unlikely thief is Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy who writes questions for a TV quiz show. As Benjamin and his twin sister try to evade the police, they find themselves recalling their dead parents—the father who lost a leg in Vietnam, the mother who created children’s books—and their stories about trust, loss, and betrayal.
What is true, what is fake, and what does it all mean? Eighty years before the theft, these questions haunted Chagall and the enigmatic Yiddish author Der Nister (“The Hidden One”), teachers at a school for Jewish orphans. Both the painting and the questions will travel through time to shape the Ziskinds’ futures. Throughout this rich, complex and haunting novel, Horn reminds us that our world poses constant threats to the artist and to art, to the individual and the creative spirit.
For the Kids:
- Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family (1951)
All-of-a-Kind Family is a 1951 children’s book by Sydney Taylor about a family of five American Jewish girls — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie — growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1912.
Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa’s shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises. This book is especially great for kids ages 5-12!
- An American Tail (1986)
This American animated adventure film was created in collaboration between Steven Spielberg, Don Bluth, and Universal Studios. Inspired in part by Spielberg’s grandfather, this adorable film tells the story of Fievel Mouskewitz and his family as they immigrate from Russia to America for freedom. However, Fievel gets lost and must be reunited with his family in the vast city of New York, meeting friends and foes along the way.
Related: Click here to for What to Watch in Quarantine: 10 Great Jewish Films, Selected by AJC