Blacks and Jews in America

An Invitation to Dialogue

Terrence L. Johnson and Jacques Berlinerblau

A Black-Jewish dialogue lifts a veil on these groups’ unspoken history, shedding light on the challenges and promises facing American democracy from its inception to the present
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A Black-Jewish dialogue lifts a veil on these groups’ unspoken history, shedding light on the challenges and promises facing American democracy from its inception to the present

In this uniquely structured conversational work, two scholars—one of African American politics and religion, and one of contemporary American Jewish culture—explore a mystery: Why aren't Blacks and Jews presently united in their efforts to combat white supremacy? As alt-right rhetoric becomes increasingly normalized in public life, the time seems right for these one-time allies to rekindle the fires of the civil rights movement.

Blacks and Jews in America investigates why these two groups do not presently see each other as sharing a common enemy, let alone a political alliance. Authors Terrence L. Johnson and Jacques Berlinerblau consider a number of angles, including the disintegration of the “Grand Alliance” between Blacks and Jews during the civil rights era, the perspective of Black and Jewish millennials, the debate over Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ultimately, this book shows how the deep roots of the Black-Jewish relationship began long before the mid-twentieth century, changing a narrative dominated by the Grand Alliance and its subsequent fracturing. By engaging this history from our country’s origins to its present moment, this dialogue models the honest and searching conversation needed for Blacks and Jews to forge a new understanding.

Table of Contents

1. The House Is on Fire

2. Finding Our Affinities: An Overview of “Blacks and Jews” Dialogue by Jacques Berlinerblau

3. Liberalism: A Tragic Encounter between Blacks and (White) Jews by Terrence Johnson

4. Teaching Blacks and Jews in 2020

5. Interview with Professor Heschel

6. Interview with Professor Chireau

7. Talking to American Jews about Whiteness

8. The Loop and Minister Farrakhan

9. Secularism and Mr. Kicks

10. Israel/Palestine

11. Afro Jews

12. Outro





About the Authors


"A masterpiece of outstanding scholarship in organization and presentation, Blacks and Jews in America: An Invitation to Dialogue is especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library American Contemporary Social Issues and Political Science/Race Relations collections."—Midwest Book Review

"Blacks and Jews in America: An Invitation to Dialogue arrives at an urgent moment of moral necessity—amidst shocking hate crimes, deepening partisan division, as well as widening fault lines of race and fissures of ethnicity. This powerful, not unduly polite, invitation to dialogue comes through a book that permits the reader to openly eavesdrop on a radically honest, morally blunt, and intellectually nuanced conversation among Professors Johnson and Berlinerblau. This conversation has the incisive candor of the Black barbershop and the discursive breadth of an off-the-record discussion among plain-talking professors. It ranges from Israel and Palestine, Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights Movement, Afro-Jews, Minister Louis Farrakhan, hate crimes, affirmative action, romanticized coalitions, and the harsh realities of allyship, to literary representations of the Black-Jewish relationship. Readers will likely find points of agreement, disagreement, and the unexpected enlightenment of hope—all of which demand to be read. Read the book, accept their invitation, there is no more necessary time than now."—Cornell William Brooks, President of the NAACP

"An engagingly written, clear-eyed conversation about the Black-Jewish 'relationship' in America for our post-Charlottesville, BLM moment, this book offers a smart, fresh take not only on the complicated history of a fraught alliance but also on topics like liberalism, intersectionality, and Israel-Palestine that tend to separate the two groups today."—Maurice Samuels, director, Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism

"Blacks and Jews in America is a penetrating and provocative contribution to the literature on 'Black-Jewish relations.' Its breadth–from slavery to Palestine, from Jews of color to white liberalism–is matched by its thoughtful and thoroughly researched depth. In conversation with one another as well as with prominent thinkers in the field, the authors’ nuanced exploration of the many facets of relationships among white Jews, Jews of color and Black Christians is both a thoughtful work of scholarship and a model for how difficult conversations should be conducted."—Cheryl Greenberg, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of History, Trinity College

"Immensely readable, Johnson and Berlinerblau’s book really does invite readers—even or especially those who have grown weary of decades of Black and Jewish debates—to return to a welcoming and enriching dialogue. Combining a conversational format with succinct necessary background and their own highly sophisticated and original insights, the results are never sanctimonious or simple. Subtle, persuasive, generously challenging, and profoundly honest, the co-authors exemplify co-teaching and co-authorship at their best."—Jane Anna Gordon, author of Statelessness and Contemporary Enslavement

"Blacks and Jews in America is an important and timely book. A series of conversations on the past, present, and future of Jewish-Black relations, it is laudable for its honesty and courage, its willingness to engage both the instances of collaboration and those of friction. It will have an enduring impact on educators and students striving to find productive ways to think and talk about race and religion in the American context."—Sarah Hammerschlag, professor of religion and literature, University of Chicago Divinity School

"Blacks and Jews in America is without precedent. Professors Terrence Johnson and Jacques Berlinerblau, who co-teach an exciting course on the topic from their disciplinary and personal perspectives, explore this complex and often controversial history with candor, expertise, and caring. Among the many pioneering and unusual aspects of the text is its attention to gender and the ways it makes visible effective use of Black feminist intersectional frameworks. Unapologetic in their abandonment of masculinist approaches to the topic, Johnson and Berlinerblau provide a refreshing and compelling portrait, using various methodologies, of relationships among Blacks and Jews across many decades."—Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Terrence L. Johnson is an associate professor of religion and politics in the Department of Government and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. He is an affiliate member of the Department of African American Studies and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. He is the author of Tragic Soul-Life: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Moral Crisis Facing American Democracy, as well as the forthcoming We Testify with Our Lives: How Religion Transformed Radical Thought from Black Power to Black Lives Matter.

Jacques Berlinerblau is a professor of Jewish civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He has published on a wide variety of issues ranging from secularism, to religion and politics, to Jewish American fiction, and higher education. He is the author of ten books, including Heresy in the University: The Black Athena Controversy and the Responsibilities of American Intellectuals, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom, The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously, Secularism: The Basics, and The Philip Roth We Don't Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography. His writings have been featured or discussed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, Washington Post, The Forward, CNN, NPR, and PBS among other media outlets.

224 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-64712-140-2
Feb 2022

224 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-64712-446-5
Feb 2022

224 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-64712-141-9
Feb 2022

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