Meeting soothes tensions between Jewish and black communities

Times Staff Writer

At the end of it all, Daphna Ziman and the Rev. Eric Lee were joking about the good cry they had together, pledging to work together to help children, and hugging each other goodbye Thursday.

The two, who clenched hands at one point during the conversation at Ziman's Beverly Hills home, had clearly gotten over the controversy that erupted around a speech Lee made at a banquet April 4.

"I believe that the incident that occurred was actually divine intervention," Ziman said as she sat at a round table with prominent members of the Jewish and African American communities.

Together, she said, "we are asking every religious leader in the country to demand that no racism will be spouted in any place of worship or public place."

The controversy began when Ziman, a prominent Jewish philanthropist and supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton, e-mailed eight friends about a banquet hosted by the historically black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. She was receiving an award for her work with foster children, many of whom were African American.

She told friends that Lee, the local president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights group, got up to speak and said that Jews have made money on blacks in the music business. She quoted him saying that "they are economically enslaving us."

Ziman's e-mail made its way to millions of in-boxes. She said she had become more sensitive to anti-Semitism since she heard the anti-Israel comments of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Lee has said he never made the anti-Semitic statements Ziman attributed to him and apologized for any pain he may have caused. Ziman accepted his apology by e-mail and the two met for the first time Thursday.

The gathering at Ziman's Tudor-style home started at 11:30 a.m. with Ziman playing a song called "It Just Takes One," which she had composed for a movie. When the singer's plaintive voice asked, "Why can't we rise above all the hate?" Ziman and Lee looked at each other. Lee had tears in his eyes.

Ziman then invited everyone to eat together, and a rabbi who had marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said a blessing.

"Breaking bread together is very important to Jewish values," said Roz Rothstein, who had sent Ziman's e-mail to the 50,000-person mailing list of Stand With Us, an organization that seeks to educate the public about Israel. "If you break bread together, that is a new beginning."

The meeting brought participants from throughout the country, including Rothstein; Charles Steele Jr., who is the national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta; and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York. They took turns speaking soberly as they lunched on goat cheese souffle, omelets and fruit.

They talked about King's legacy of forgiveness. Lee invited Ziman to speak at his church to recruit African American mentors for her foster children. Ziman invited Lee to a banquet where she was receiving an award for promoting Adoption Day.

"We did not talk about the past because it doesn't matter," Lee said after the meeting.

"I believe we've arrived at this place because we are truly well-intentioned people and passionate about justice and passionate about humanity," Lee said. "If you take well-intentioned people, you can only have a well-intentioned outcome."

Ziman said she got over any need to feel right about what she heard April 4. "Eric has suffered a great deal," she said, as workers were laying out tables for a debate she was hosting later that night among the presidential candidates' representatives. "Hurting people is not one of the things I want to do."


For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, May 06, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction Daphna Ziman: A photo caption that accompanied an article in Friday's California section identified Daphna Ziman as a member of the pro-Israel group Stand With Us. She is not a member of that organization.
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