A small group of Jewish and African-American leaders from around the country gathered in Philadelphia for three days of dialogue about race and ethnicity as part of an effort to find more ways for the two communities to work together on common issues.
The “Mission to Philadelphia” took place Oct. 1-3 and was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national umbrella for local Jewish community relations councils.
The group heard a presentation from Rabbi Lance Sussman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park on Jews in the civil rights movement. Participants also toured historic local Jewish and African-American sites, volunteered in a church soup kitchen and heard from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
The group was exposed to the city’s NewCore (conversations on race and ethnicity) program, which was created after then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 speech on race, which he delivered at the National Constitution Center as his candidacy became jeopardized by his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a controversial pastor.
That same year, Nutter called together a number of local leaders — including Rabbi David Straus, current president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia — to come up with a model that fostered candid dialogue about identity. Since then, NewCore has co-sponsored dialogues in numerous communal settings, with programs that emphasize personal stories.
During the mission, participants from Harford, Conn., Milwaukee, Wisc., San Jose, Calif., northern New Jersey, southern New Jersey and Philadelphia engaged in dialogue using the NewCore model, sharing stories about events in their lives that had shaped their view or self-conception of race and ethnicity.
Adam Kessler, director of the local JCRC, said the gathering energized many of the participants, but it will be up to them to go back to their own communities and follow-up. Kessler said he’s planning to hold subsequent meetings with members of the black clergy from Philadelphia and Camden.
There’s been preliminary discussions, he said, about working together on projects related to gun control, immigration reform and the high rate of incarceration among African-American men.