In a curious yet obvious decision, the JCC (Jewish Community Center) has announced the January opening of a new facility named JCC Harlem, on the upper west side in a neighborhood commonly known as Morningside Heights. Located on West 118th street, in proximity to Columbia, Barnard, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Bank Street College of Education, Teachers College and the Manhattan School of Music, this JCC is in a neighborhood with a majority white population of 46%, followed by 23% Hispanic and 13% African American (2010 census). Though it is technically within the geographic borders of Harlem, this neighborhood shares little to nothing with the majority black community commonly referred to by that Dutch name, an enclave we associate with the Apollo Theater and Sylvia’s restaurant, among other icons of black cultural references.
I said that this decision is an obvious one since according to Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of JCC Manhattan, a)this neighborhood differs from the upper west side with its large Jewish population and b) the JCC Harlem intends to participate with other civic groups in joint social justice programs. (Jewish Week Sept 30)
I said curious because there is a 67% majority of whites on the upper west side followed by 15% Hispanic and 7% African American (all percentages are rounded out since fractions are meaningless for the purpose of this article) The demographic in both neighborhoods is that whites predominate while blacks are in the distinct minority. Considering the number of universities and other educational institutions, there is a significant Jewish presence in Morningside Heights that may exceed its residential population Also, many Jewish families have moved into the neighborhood because the cost of real estate is marginally lower than the extremely expensive neighborhood below 96th street, so it’s not clear how significantly this neighborhood differs from the upper west side.
As for joining with black social justice groups, the JCC must know that Black Lives Matter has deemed Israel an apartheid state that practices genocide and that Jewish groups that are pro-Israel are automatically excluded from joining in solidarity with BLM which stands together with Students for Justice in Palestine and supportive of the BDS movement against Israel. Of course there will always be Jews who will bow before their enemies and blame themselves or their brothers for this irrational anti-semitism. By identifying their group with a ‘black’ pedigree, the leadership of JCC hopes to curry favor much as the Jews who marched for civil rights expected to be appreciated for their front line solidarity with black leadership. Yet the lessons of black hatred of Jews were manifest in the platform of the Black Panthers, in the race riots of Crown Heights, in the sermons of the Reverend Wright and in current BLM policy and propaganda.
The JCC sponsors an annual film festival known as “The Other Israel” in which movies that are critical of mainstream Israeli policy find a friendly home. There are no films that are critical of Arab states or policies nor is there any participation by Arab directors since Arab states boycott Israel and its proponents. It will certainly be interesting to follow the participation of the black population with JCC Harlem and whether, despite its “racial” name, that will ever extend to anything that is reciprocal and supportive of the Jews of Morningside Heights or their relatives in the state of Israel.
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