Living the Legacy

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Jews and the Civil Rights Movement: the Whys and Why Nots

Unit 1 , Lesson 3

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

http://jwa.org/LivingtheLegacy

Jews and the Civil Rights Movement: the Whys and Why Nots

Handouts: 

Fictional Scenario

Temple Ohev Shalom is an old congregation in Mississippi. Its members represent a cross-section of the community. Some of the wealthier members have made it possible in recent years to build the synagogue's current building, which includes a beautiful sanctuary, a spacious social hall, and an expanded school wing.

A few days ago a group of Northern civil rights activists, including a number of rabbis, arrived in town. Word on the street is that the group is planning to protest the segregation of lunch counters in town. One of the rabbis traveling with the civil rights activists has also been in touch with the congregation's rabbi and president and is hoping that members of the congregation might provide housing for some of the group, since local whites-only hotels haven't been very welcoming. The president and rabbi agree that this is a matter for the temple board and have called an emergency meeting to decide what the congregation should do.

Board Meeting Outline

(to be led by Temple Board President)

  1. Call Meeting to Order
    1. Bang gavel and say: I'm calling the Temple Ohev Shalom Board Meeting to order at { time } on { date }.
    2. Read the Temple Ohev Shalom Board Scenario (above), which explains the situation before the Board.
  2. Sharing of Opinions
    1. Ask anyone who wants to share their opinion on this issue to raise his or her hand.
    2. Call on board members one at a time, in any order you wish.
    3. You may ask questions of the board members to help clarify their opinions.
    4. Make sure that everyone has a chance to share his or her opinion.
  3. Counter Points: Provide an opportunity for board members to counter the opinion of anyone who spoke earlier.
  4. Motion/Vote
    1. Ask someone to make a motion. The motion could be to:
      1. Support the activists
      2. Not support the activists
      3. Other (suggestions from Board—perhaps a more specific action)
    2. Ask someone to second the motion.
    3. Vote on the motion by calling for those who are in favor of the motion to raise their hands and then those who are against the motion to raise their hands.
    4. Count the votes for and against.
    5. Announce whether the motion passes (majority votes for the motion) or not (majority votes against the motion).

President

You grew up in this town, went away to attend college and earned your law degree, and then returned to practice law. While you and your family have been members of Temple Ohev Shalom for a long time, this is only your first year as president of the temple. You want to do the right thing for both your community and your temple. Realizing that the issue of supporting these Northern civil rights activists is one with far-reaching implications for you, your family, and your temple, you don't want to make this decision by yourself. You are relying on the good people on the temple board to help you make the right decision.

You see your role as judge and/or moderator. You will run an organized board meeting (see the Board Meeting Outline) and try to get the best information and opinions from your board members, while trying not to inject your own opinion too much. Of course, as an attorney you're good at asking questions to get the clearest picture possible.

Preparation for running the Board Meeting:

  1. Review the Board Meeting Outline and be sure you understand your responsibilities.
  2. Review the documents the class studied earlier.
  3. Review the lists made by your group after discussing the documents.
  4. Make a list of issues that you think would be important to deciding whether or not to help the Northern civil rights activists.

Rabbi

You grew up in the North, where you also attended college and rabbinical school. This is your first pulpit and you have been with the congregation for five years. You believe in the prophetic tradition of Judaism that teaches Jews to be a light unto the nations and to care for those less fortunate than themselves. At the same time, you are concerned for your congregation's safety, both individually and as a whole. This is especially true having recently read about a synagogue which was bombed in another Southern community. You’ve also heard that in some communities, rabbis and their families have been specific targets of violence.

You believe it's your role at temple board meetings to both listen to what your congregants have to say, but also to be a teacher and leader, sharing with them relevant teachings from the Jewish tradition.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Jaimie Greenbaum

You grew up in the South, though not in this particular community, and actually only moved here a couple of years ago. Your oldest son was in high school at the time and was not very happy about having to move and leave all his friends behind. Maybe that's why he chose to go so far from home for college. Now he's a student at a fancy Northern college. He and his friends from college have become involved in the Civil Rights Movement and are coming to town to participate in the protest. The last time he was home, over the Jewish holidays just a couple of months ago, you had a long discussion with him in which he shared many of his reasons for becoming involved in the fight for African American equality. You are impressed by your son's resolve and have sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement, but also are concerned for his safety. You feel it is your duty to represent your son's reasons for protesting.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier, develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Abe Rosenberg

You grew up in this town and at this temple. In fact, your family has belonged to this temple since it was founded a few generations ago. You have known many of your neighbors since childhood. A number of years ago you started your own business. It's not very large, but it serves the white community well and supports your family (including two young children). You work very hard to make the business successful. You joined the local community civic organization when they invited you because you think membership will be important to growing your business. You are one of only a few Jewish members, and you try to keep a low profile. Recently, this organization honored you as Businessman of the Year.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Alex Stern

You grew up in this town, and at this temple. Your family was never very religious, but you learned many Jewish values at home by watching your parents support the Jewish community and help those less fortunate than you, both African American and white. As a teenager, you helped out in your father's dry goods store, sometimes working at the register and sometimes helping out behind the lunch counter. When your father could no longer run the business, he sold it to you and your spouse. You've continued the store's tradition of serving both white and African American members of the community, many of whom also knew your father. Continuing the family business is a matter of pride, as well as your own family's means of financial support. You think African Americans should be treated fairly, but recently, you've heard rumors that the African American community is planning to boycott all white businesses downtown. You have heard that this has happened in other communities with devastating results for Jewish businesses. You hope that your store's reputation for being fair to all shoppers will keep it from being boycotted along with the other merchants. You also hope that the store's reputation for serving African Americans won't cause white customers to boycott your store.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Sarah Goldsmith

You and your husband moved to this town soon after you married. Your husband works in town, making a modest salary, but enough so that you can stay home to take care of your children. You're president of the temple Sisterhood and teach at the temple's Sunday school, where your three children attend classes. During the week, your children attend the local public school. One of the reasons you chose a house in your neighborhood when you moved to town was because the schools were so good. Recently, you've been reading about how Northern civil rights activists want to integrate Southern schools. Your sister, who lives in Chicago, has told you about the integrated schools that her children attend and how the quality of the education dropped when African American children began attending the school. You're concerned that the same thing might happen here if the civil rights activists get their way.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Jess Martin

Your family has lived in this town for generations and done very well for themselves. With such deep roots in the community, you travel in many of the same social circles as your wealthy Gentile neighbors, though you remember a time when your family couldn't belong to their clubs due to "restricted" membership rules. As a child, you had a nurse. The family also employed a maid to help your mother and a driver for your father. All of these workers were African American. Even today, you employ an African American couple who take care of your home and drive you where you need to go. This makes you feel that you have connections to the African American community and understand their needs and desires. Your family has always been a big supporter of the local Jewish community – chairing various committees and auxiliary groups, contributing generously, and participating in services and special events. In this you have tried to set an example for the younger generation, but it seems that rather than support the Jewish community many younger Jews are supporting causes outside the community and you're concerned that civil rights will become just one more cause that prevents local Jews from taking care of their own people. You consider yourself a good Jew and a good Southerner.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Martha Tannenbaum

You grew up here and then moved to New England when you went to college. After college, you stayed up North and became a school teacher. You did your part to support the war effort during WWII in the hopes that the war would be won quickly and your family members trapped in Nazi Europe would survive. Unfortunately, at the end of the war, you found out that your mother's entire family had died in the concentration camps. About five years ago, since you had never married, you moved back to town to take care of your aging mother. Fortunately, you were able to find a job teaching in the local public school. You see similarities and differences between public education in the North and in the South, but what's most important to you is that every child gets a good education. You belong to Temple Ohev Shalom because it's the temple your family belonged to when you were a child and your roots are very important to you.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Jews and the Civil Rights Movement: the Whys and Why Nots." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/jews-and-civil-rights-movement-whys-and-why-nots>.