2010-03-17 / Features

Queens College Hillel Hears Russell Simmons, Rabbis

(L. to r.): Queens College President James L. Muyskens, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding Founder Rabbi Marc Schneier, Chairperson Russell Simmons and Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Moshe Shur joined in a panel discussion on African-American and Jewish relations in the United States sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Hillel of Queens College March 15. Photo Jason D. Antos (L. to r.): Queens College President James L. Muyskens, Foundation for Ethnic Understanding Founder Rabbi Marc Schneier, Chairperson Russell Simmons and Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Moshe Shur joined in a panel discussion on African-American and Jewish relations in the United States sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Hillel of Queens College March 15. Photo Jason D. Antos A panel discussion with Rabbi Marc Schneier, hip-hop founder Russell Simmons, and Rabbi Moshe Shur was held at the Goldstein Theater at Queens College in Flushing on March 15, sponsored by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Hillel of Queens College. The group talked about the relations between African-American and Jewish communities and their effect on the world.

“There is no question about the well documented history where Blacks and Jews have stood together in their fight for civil rights, equality and political power,” Simmons said.

Many examples exist of how African- Americans and Jews have come together to fight against hatred and bigotry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an ardent supporter of Israel and the Jewish people, including taking part in efforts to ease discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union and the safety and security of the state of Israel. King also spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism in the United States. Jews and African-Americans also marched together in the streets of Birmingham and Washington, D.C. during the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Ku Klux Klan during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 murdered two Jewish men from New York, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and African-American James Chaney. Their bodies were found just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

“The Jewish community has been able to sympathize with the struggles facing African-Americans because we too were once enslaved,” Schneier said.

The Hollis-born Simmons recalled the days when white gangs like the infamous “Green Ways” would chase him home from school. “I would run to a white and Jewish housing development where the kids and mothers accepted me,” Simmons said. “It was here that I learned the difference between the various whites in Queens.”

“There is good in all of us,” Shur said.

Schneier, with the late Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, founded the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in 1989. Simmons is its chairperson. Schneier is a leading spokesperson for the Jewish community. In its annual survey of Jewish leaders, The Forward newspaper named Schneier one of the 50 most prominent Jews in the United States, and Newsweek Magazine named him one of America’s top 50 rabbis.

Schneier and Simmons travel the country, visiting synagogues and churches as well as colleges and universities, sharing their stories and discussing the positive relationship between African-Americans and Jews and how it will continue to play a positive role in America’s future. In February 2009 the NAACP gave Simmons, who is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador, its Vanguard Award, in part for the hip-hop impresario’s work in leading black and Jewish relations.

For more information, visit www.qchillel. org. –Jason D. Antos

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