By Alicia Garnes
Special to the TJP
The David Project hosted 28 students at its first Black-Jewish Summit in Washington, D.C., Nov. 3-5.
Eight students representing the pro-Israel community and 20 students representing the black community participated from eight college campuses. The summit was organized in conjunction with AJC and the Greater Washington Urban League, and held at Hillel International’s Schusterman International Center.
The goals of the summit were to bring together black and Jewish leaders from all over the country to identify mutual concerns and cultural understanding, learn best practices in bringing together the Jewish and black communities and plan new initiatives to bring back to their campuses. Over the weekend, participants heard from experts in the fields of relationship building, advocacy and storytelling.
Students were also trained on tools to help build strategic, cooperative relationships between black and Jewish students. As one of four University of Texas-Austin representatives at the summit, attendee Caleb Hurd, a sophomore finance major from Houston, said, “The summit was a first step in re-establishing a long forgotten alliance between the black and Jewish community. I gained a new perspective on the issues facing both of the communities. I also learned a great deal about the historical significance of the relationship, especially during the civil rights movement.
“For me, the summit was like putting two parts of myself together. I am in the process of Orthodox conversion and also African-American. I spend a lot of time in the Jewish community and consider it home, but I’m also a part of the African-American community. These two communities seem completely different, but they have much in common. I realized this at the summit when I participated and observed interactions between Jewish and black students.”
Jason Epstein, a former intern at The David Project and an active Texas Hillel participant, also attended as a representative from The University of Texas. Jason, a senior from Dallas, majoring in accounting and Plan II, went to the summit to gain a greater understanding of what other communities are facing, improve leadership skills and learn how to inspire others to continue building black-Jewish relationships on college campuses.
The weekend schedule was packed with experiential activities, speakers and one-on-one dialogue opportunities, including the Fishbowl, where members of one community sat together in front of the other community and spoke about perceptions of both communities and leaders of their communities. After hearing other students’ stories, Jason “recognized that differing backgrounds don’t define you and not everyone fits a mold. You can’t go in with a blanket statement (that) there is one mold that fits each community.”
At UT, Jason, whose senior thesis is a viable model of black-Jewish relations for college campuses, has worked hard to build relationships and community between the Black Student Alliance and Texas Hillel. As a graduating senior, Jason hopes that the other participants walked away from the conference inspired to get involved and take leadership roles in continuing to build relationships with the black community.
Jason says, “The conference was a great opportunity for blacks and Jews to come together, learn shared experiences and prompt more people to get involved to build more black-Jewish relationships on college campuses.”
Alicia Garnes is a development associate with Texas Hillel.