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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: There’s no need to question Jewish support for the 1960s civil rights movement

Rabbi Joachim Prinz with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., from left, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, A. Philip Randolph and President Kennedy on Aug. 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington.
(Three Lions / Getty Images)

To the editor: Rabbi Clifford M. Kulwin believes the assumption that there was a “special black-Jewish bond so significant to the civil rights era” is mistaken. As evidence, he cites the ambivalence of Southern Jews whose choice was usually to shut up about anti-black racism or leave the region (or worse).

Would that Kulwin had a bit more empathy for Southern Jews who faced that dilemma.

He also quotes historian Cheryl Lynn Greenberg’s conclusion that “most Jews were white people, and held white people’s attitudes.” If Greenberg believes that “most Jews” shared the racially insensitive attitudes of other white people, she is not basing her belief on public opinion polls because virtually none asked about this.

One exception was a New York Times poll in 1964, just when the “white backlash” was gaining momentum. It found that 46% of the city’s Jews wanted the pace of the “Negro movement” to “slow down,” while 45% were either satisfied with the pace or wanted “more speed.” This may seem disconcerting, but it must be viewed alongside the 63% of the city’s Catholics who wanted the pace to slow down.

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Kulwin is certainly correct that back then most Jews were not civil rights heroes. But as a historian who has studied African American-Jewish relations for 40 years, I am confident the suggestion that “most Jews” harbored the racial insensitivity typical of whites who were not Jews is dubious.

Harold Brackman, San Diego

The writer is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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To the editor: Kulwin courageously steps up and tells the hard truth about the American Jewish community of the 1960s in recognizing that support of civil rights within it was nowhere near monolithic.

Yes, the recent attacks at Pittsburgh and Poway have shaken our complacency and privilege, but Kulwin mirrors the same idea that my father would discuss at our Sabbath dinner table during that turbulent decade that we were (and really still are) extremely lucky to be white in America.

Thanks to Kulwin for his honesty.

Ted Perle, Lake Forest

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To the editor: My parents survived the Holocaust and arrived in the United States without a racist bone in their bodies.

Kulwin’s analysis of Jewish attitudes towards blacks is so full of misleading conclusions, I feel I could take it apart paragraph by paragraph. It infuriates me.

I don’t know what he hopes to accomplish by belittling Jewish support for civil rights in this country. But drawing an imaginary wedge between African Americans and Jews will beget bad feelings and less cooperation between them, helping to create a destructive rather than constructive relationship.

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Nancy Flesh Brundige, Los Angeles


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