Living the Legacy


Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations

Unit 3 , Lesson 2

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations

Lesson plan:
  1. Introduction

    1. If you have not done the lesson Jews and African Americans: Siblings in Oppression?, explain that many American Jews identified with African Americans because they felt both groups shared a history of oppression and slavery. (Think of the song, Go Down Moses, an African American spiritual that was added to the Passover Seder in the 1960s, which became symbolic of that relationship.) Some African Americans, however, felt that there was a big difference between the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt in the biblical period and African American slavery and oppression in more recent times.


      If you already have done the lesson "Jews and African Americans: Siblings in Oppression?" review with your students what they learned in that lesson.
    2. Ask your students:
      • What is powerful about the analogy of Israelite slavery in Egypt and African American slavery in the U.S.? What "works" about this analogy for African Americans? For Jews?
      • What are some limitations of the analogy of Egyptian slavery and the African American experience?
      • Why do you think some African Americans might have resented the comparison?
    3. Explain that latent tensions between Jews and African Americans began to come to the surface in the late 1960's and the Civil Rights Movement began to fracture as African American leaders spoke of Black Power, whites (including Jews) were forced out of many civil rights organizations, Jews accused African Americans of anti-Semitism and saw the meritocracy that had worked for them threatened by affirmative action. (See essay for further details.)
  2. Text Study: Growing Rifts

    1. Divide your class into three groups. Give each group a different documentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocumentdocument to read and discuss. (If you have a larger class, have multiple groups examine each of the documents.)
    2. Have your students read the documents out loud in their groups and discuss the related Discussion Questions. Each group should be prepared to present their document using the Sharing Outline provided in their discussion guide.
    3. After the groups have read and discussed their documents, call them back together. Have each group present its document by sharing its answers to the following questions. (Group members can take turns answering questions; if multiple groups have the same document, ask them to come up together or split the questions below between them.)
      • Who wrote it? What audience was it written for? When was it written?
      • Share a twitter length summary of their document.
      • What was something in the document that seemed shocking?
      • What was something in the document that seems relevant today?
      • What was something in the document that no longer seems relevant today?
      After hearing the presenting group's responses, invite the other students to ask one to three additional questions of the presenting group.
    4. Guide the class in drawing (preliminary) conclusions based on what they have just learned from the three presentations. Review the following:
      • What were the areas of contention between Jews and African Americans and how did they manifest themselves?
      • What historical and social conditions moved Jews and African Americans towards different approaches to civil rights?
      • How did Jewish and African American feelings about their respective roles in the Civil Rights Movement change during this period?
      • Discuss: We have read the opinions of three people so far. Do you imagine these documents represent the majority opinion at that time? Why or why not? How can we know?
  3. "Jewish Americans:" Growing Rifts Part II

    1. Explain that two events that took place in New York City can be seen as a case study of what we have been discussing in class.
    2. Show your students the clip from PBS' Jewish Americans that begins at 54:33 and ends at 1:07:00. (Check your copy of the DVD in advance, to be sure these times correspond to the appropriate clip.) (David Grubin, Series Creator. The Jewish Americans, PBS, 2007.)
    3. This clip of Jewish Americans covers three areas. You may choose to show and discuss each piece separately or show and discuss the whole clip. The clip breaks down like this:
      1. 54:33 – Separation, Black Power, the idea that slavery & immigration are different
      2. 57:06 – The events of the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott
      3. 1:04:00 – Julius Lester's radio show and the poem "Jew Boy"
      Based on the issues that come up during the sharing of the three documents discussed above, choose 3-5 questions from those below to discuss with your students:
      • How would you describe what happened in the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott in your own words? (The teacher should fill in any significant details that the students left out)
      • How did the African American parents feel about the schools? What did they want to accomplish? How did the teachers feel?
      • Black Power moved from a focus on integration to a focus on self-determination. How do you think Black Power influenced the actions taken by the African American community in Ocean Hill/Brownsville? (Note to Teacher: The issues surrounding Ocean Hill/Brownsville had to do with communities taking power/responsibility for their local schools. The School Board described the new system as "decentralization" while the community described it as "Community Control.")
      • Why do you think the African American parents were surprised at being labeled anti-Semitic? Do you think their actions were anti-Semitic? Why or why not?
      • In what ways were the Jewish teachers threatened by the instituted changes? How did they react? Why do you think the Jewish teachers were surprised at being labeled racist? Do you think their actions were racist? Why or why not?
      • Which issues that were raised by the documents you read earlier can be seen in the way the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott played out? If possible, reference specific documents.
      • How would you describe what happened with Julius Lester's radio show in your own words? (The teacher should fill in any significant details that the students left out.)
      • How do you think the student who wrote "Jew Boy" felt? What kind of language does the poet use that makes you think this?
      • What did Julius Lester want to accomplish by broadcasting this poem? Do you think he succeeded in his goal? Why or why not? What might he have done differently?
      • How did Jews feel about "Jew Boy"? Do you think they overreacted? How else might they have reacted?
      • What do you think the author intended with this poem? How do you think having it read on the radio impacted the way the poem was received?
      • We don't have any information on how the author felt about her poem being read on the radio. What do you imagine her reaction might have been?
      • Which issues that were raised by the documents you read earlier can be seen in Julius Lester's radio show? If possible, reference specific documents.
      • How do you think these events and feelings relate to the current relationship between Jews and African Americans today?
      You may want to let students know that Julius Lester converted to Judaism approximately fourteen years after this radio broadcast, and discuss any reactions they may have to learning that. (Note: in the next scene in The Jewish Americans, Julius Lester talks about being Jewish.)
  4. Wrap-up: Poetry/Spoken Word Slam

    1. Have your students come up with one word which comes to mind when they think about the documents they've read and the video they watched today.
    2. Pass out chalk/dry erase markers/markers and have as many students as possible write up their words on the board or butcher paper. If you have time you can create a graffiti wall instead. Rather than adding one word each, invite students to freely write and draw their responses to the documents and video, and then circle key words and images to use in the next part of the activity.
    3. With students' input, choose five words from the list that you think are evocative (without being too provocative).
    4. Have your students write a poem/short story/spoken word piece about the tensions that arose between blacks and Jews at the end of the 1960s. Whatever they write must include the five words from your list, (which remain up on the board/paper). Each student should be prepared to perform their work in a Class Poetry/Spoken Word Slam. (For more information about Slams and conducting one in your class, you may want to check out the following web sites:,,, and
    5. At the end of the Poetry/Spoken Word Slam, you may want to discuss with your class the issues of cultural appropriation. The idea of poetry slams and the type of poetry often performed at such events is based on African American poetry styles. Poetry Slams and Spoken Word Slams have become incresingly popular among teens and young adults of all backgrounds. Here are a few questions for discussion:
      • What kinds of cultural influences do we see in the Poetry Slam or other parts of our everyday life?
      • Where do these cultural influences come from?
      • What does this have to do with race? What does this have to do with power?
    6. Options for your Poetry/Spoken Word Slam:
      1. Depending on time, students may write their poetry/short story/spoken word in one class session and perform at the poetry/spoken word slam during the next class.
      2. Consider making, or having your students make, a Poetry/Spoken Word Slam banner that can be hung in your classroom when you hold the Slam.
      3. Consider inviting other classes and/or parents to attend your Poetry/Spoken Word Slam.
      4. Consider having students judge each others performances based on criteria you provide.
      5. Consider inviting other teachers to judge the students' performances based on criteria you provide.
      6. Students may write their poetry/short story/spoken word in class or as a homework assignment.
      7. Consider using the Poetry/Spoken Word Slam as a transition into the lesson Growing Tensions: Part II, which deals with Affirmative Action.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.