Black, Jewish students find link after epithets

Miki Johnson

What do Northwestern’s black and Jewish communities have in common?

Before both groups were targeted Winter Quarter with racial and religious vandalism, the standard answer across campus might have been “not much.” But since then both communities have led a universitywide push to increase cooperation between diverse student groups.

For black and Jewish groups, this effort has culminated in the joint planning of three events in the last three months.

A week after racial and religious slurs were written on Jewish and black students’ doors early last quarter, Hillel Cultural Life, For Members Only and historically Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi co-sponsored a unity march against the acts.

Hillel and FMO then coordinated efforts twice more in April for a black-Jewish seder and a viewing of the documentary film “From Swastikas to Jim Crow.” These events actually were planned before the epithets were found but coincidentally showed groups the need for unity and more co-sponsorship.

Richard Goldberg, Hillel’s executive vice president, said working together to plan the events has helped the groups form a positive relationship — even if it stemmed from acts that hurt many people.

“As horrible as the events were, it’s times like these that people come together and get to learn about each other and to know each other,” said Goldberg, a Medill sophomore.

He said group leaders have set an example of cooperation that will help destroy any animosity that previously existed between the two groups by “breaking down the initial barriers.”

Taking down walls can be as easy as walking through a door, as Goldberg learned when he attended several FMO board meetings in the Black House after the slurs and swastikas appeared.

Goldberg had never been inside the Sheridan Road building that houses the Office of African-American Student Affairs, but the warm welcome he received caused him and other Hillel members to second-guess themselves.

“We all had a thought, like, ‘Why hadn’t we ever done this before?'” Goldberg said. “Why did it have to take a crisis to bring us together?”

Jennifer Hoskins also was impressed by her first visit to the Fiedler Hillel Center.

Hoskins, the FMO vice-coordinator of satellites was invited to the center by Hillel member Shira Bergstein, and the two of them organized the joint film viewing.

“I felt so welcomed there,”said Hoskins, a Weinberg sophomore. “It gave me an opportunity to go somewhere I never would have gone under normal circumstances.”

And Hoskins hopes the relationship that grew from the collaboration now will go in a new direction.

“This will hopefully start a working relationship with (FMO and Hillel) to do more co-sponsorships concerning larger issues, Hoskins said, “not necessarily ones so heavy and loaded.”

Carretta Cooke, director of African-American Student Affairs, said she would like to see an initiative supporting event co-sponsorship through the Student Activities Finance Board’s funding process.

Increasing co-sponsorship is one of Cooke’s major goals this year, she said, and FMO and Hillel are leading the way. “They are a good example as to how easy those collaborations can occur.”

African-American Student Affairs made their own contribution to co-sponsorship Monday with a graffiti wall in Norris that brought members of several student groups together to respond to Winter Quarter’s incidents.

Cooke emphasized that the co-sponsorships did not start with the incidents, but they are getting more attention because of them.

David Newman, Hillel’s Jewish life coordinator, said he hopes the black-Jewish events will encourage cooperation among other types of groups.

“Once people see that these two communities have so much of a bond, they may realize they have a bond with someone they don’t even know,” Newman said. “It forces people to think about what other communities they could learn something from.”