Jewish, Black coalitions in Charlotte partner to bring community tasty history lesson

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It’s said food can be the way to one’s heart, but for the Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance, it’s the bridge between two cultures.

The alliance is a coalition of Jewish and Black young professionals dedicated to building community through honest conversations. As part of this mission, the group on Friday will host Soul Food Shabbat, to open discussions to the public on the shared history that Jewish and Black communities have over cultural food.

Soul Food Shabbat began seven years ago by students at Queens University of Charlotte. It originally brought together the Queens Black Student Union and Queens Hillel, the school’s Jewish student organization.

This year’s program explores connections between Jim Crow Laws and the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, said Rabbi Judy Schindler, Sklut professor of Jewish studies at Queens University.

It also will include a panel that discusses race as a social construct and its impact on Black and Jewish people, she said.

“The most powerful, impactful programs are when we build bridges and educate each other,” Schindler, a moderator for the program, said. “We share our stories, our struggles and our celebrations.”

The program also invites attendees to dine on Jewish cultural foods such as noodle pudding, challah and rugelach alongside soul food, such as fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens and fried green tomatoes.

The program’s panelists are Aya Marczyk, associate research scholar at Yale University, and Jennifer Dixon-Mcknight, assistant professor of history and African American studies at Winthrop University.

“We are all feeling the rise of both racism and antisemitism,” said Melvin Herring, director of the master of social work program at Johnson C. Smith University. “We’re feeling it, but some may not know the connection.”

Herring, a moderator for the program, said connecting people through food is a conduit for powerful conversations. Through understanding history, both groups can move towards the future, he added.

Jewish and Black people worked alongside one another in the fight for civil rights, he said. But to build upon this work it’s important each group understands the oppression the other faces, Herring said.

“We have to truly understand the lens from each other’s community,” he said. “We have to have those true, transparent conversations.”

Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance

Zoe Kronovet, co-chair of Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance, said her organization was inspired by the Atlanta Black/Jewish Coalition that began in 1982. The Charlotte Black/Jewish Alliance includes young professionals ranging from social workers to lawyers.

Last year, the alliance journeyed to the deep South and visited historical landmarks, including the King Center in Georgia and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama. They also met members of the Atlanta Black/Jewish Coalition.

“It was a bonding and educational experience,” Kronovet said. “As a Jewish individual or as a Black individual, I think we realized the commonalities we had together.”

Kronovet said this type of experiential learning strengthens relationships.

The historical lessons that will be discussed at the Soul Food Shabbat builds upon that work, she said. Discussing and learning the commonalities makes it harder to divide Black and Jewish people, she added.

“When we’re joined together we become much stronger,” Kronovet said.

The Rev. Terrell Hamlet, co-chair of the Charlotte Black/Jewish alliance, said the Soul Food Shabbat allows people to learn from one another in a safe space.

“To bring us together with food in fellowship can open up our eyes and hearts to receive from one another,” Hamlet said.

These type of programs alongside the alliance unites people from different backgrounds with different stories, he said. Joining the alliance also broadened his world view and sparked a hunger to do more, Hamlet said.

“Being a part of this group made me realize I don’t have to be president, notarized, or recognized to be at the center of change,” he said.

Want to go?

What: The Soul Food Shabbat

Time: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10

Where: Claudi Belk Room in the Levine Center for Wellness at Queens University, 1900 Selwyn Ave.

Cost: Free for Queens’ faculty, staff and students. Tickets are available for $23 for all others and may be purchased by following this link.