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Blacks, Jews Meet to Do Networking, Renew Ties
Organizers of an Oct. 28 Center City networking event for Jewish and African-American young professionals fretted over whether anyone would show up; the start time was just hours before the first pitch of the World Series.
In the end, more than 200 people packed into Restaurant 13 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, swapping business cards and sipping drinks.
The hobnobbing was the first public event put on by the Idea Coalition, a group of about 40 black and Jewish professionals, many whom are in their 20s and 30s, and work in law, business, the arts and politics.
"We want to work together. We want to bring together the black and Jewish communities, and also do things that can help the city," said Kory Grushka, 29, a Jewish attorney in Center City who founded the coalition.
Grushka, who moved from Washington, D.C., three years ago, said that while professionals in both cities have a great deal in common, social networking largely tends to take place along racial lines.
Carl Jones, the 28-year-old African-American co-founder of the group, said the idea for the coalition was born over lunch. Jones, also a Center City lawyer, pointed to the historic connections between blacks and Jews, and said that coalition-building during the last election cycle was the impetus behind the effort.
The fragmenting of the storied black-Jewish alliance has been well-chronicled, as historians and pundits have postulated what exactly led to the rift. Some have even questioned whether the communal relationship had ever really been all that close.
In Philadelphia, as recently as the 1990s, organizations representing both communities put a high priority on joint programming, such as dialogue sessions and Passover seder celebrations. These events, however, have decreased over the years.
Anecdotally, it seems that the candidacy of President Barack Obama -- who stressed the historically strong ties between blacks and Jews -- sparked some interest in reconnecting. For instance, the American Jewish Committee's regional office began a black-Jewish women's dialogue group in June 2008.
The coalition's first major project is a planned February exhibition at an Old City gallery. The group is seeking submissions from black and Jewish artists from across the country to create pieces related to both slavery and the Holocaust. (The deadline is Dec. 15. For details go to: www.ideaarts.org.)
Also in the works are saloon meetings, discussions and film screenings around the exhibition; an exact schedule has yet to be worked out.