back to top

The Role of the Jewish Community in The Fight For Civil Rights

Now is the time to rise against the hateful rhetoric and actions perpetuated against Jews for simply being Jewish.

The Black and Jewish communities are very intertwined. The Jewish people have a long history of fighting for civil rights alongside others in this country.  “Are you that n—r lover?”

This was the question posed by Alton Roberts of the White Nights of the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964, as he pulled Mickey Schwerner from a car in the middle of the night near Meridian, Mississippi. Roberts then shot and killed Schwerner. A little while later, he murdered Schwerner’s colleague, Andrew Goodman, in the same way.  Another colleague, James Chaney, was also killed, but not before he was beaten, chain-whipped, and castrated.

Goodman and Schwerner were two Jews from New York who came to help Chaney with the Congress of Racial Equality.  The “love” that Klansman Roberts was talking about was in essence a description of a discriminated religious minority, Jews, sympathizing and motivated to advance social change in America for the sake of advancing education in the Black community. Schwerner and Goodman are just two examples of many Jewish community members risking their lives for Black civil rights.

Another example of fighting for civil rights is Julius Rosenwald, the owner of Sears-Roebuck, who gave the matching funds to construct more than 5,000 schools to educate Black children who were prevented from having an education by the white supremacist-inspired states.  These “Rosenwald Schools” provided a classroom for the late great Congressman John Lewis, the iconic poet Maya Angelou, and the American hero Medgar Evers, to name a few.

However, in 2024, Jews across the United States and our Commonwealth are being threatened, like the assault that took place against Matan Goldstein at the University of Virginia. Students at Virginia Tech now have swastikas being painted on their doors.  Even K-12 school environments across the country have seen a 690% increase in hate incidents against Jews since the October 7th massacre.

We are horrified by the uptick in antisemitism rearing its ugly head all around us. This is an egregious First Amendment violation of our students’ freedom. Yes – we have a right to free speech and we also have a right to religious freedom. This is part of our Virginia tradition. Virginia was at the forefront of the fight for religious liberty with the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786, drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

This statute greatly influenced our U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, as well as our Supreme Court’s understanding of religious liberty. Regardless of your faith, you are entitled to religious freedom. The Jewish people’s faith and the right to have a country of their own, without the threat of being deported, are indelibly connected.

The Jewish community needs help. Who better to support them than their long-time partners for progress in the Civil Rights arena?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has now opened dozens of investigations as mostly Jewish students have been facing an onslaught of hate that results in intimidation that prevents them from wearing their Star of David, any attire with Hebrew letters, and even just wearing a kippah. Every week, more and more schools are being added by the OCR, as the Jewish community faces these unprecedented attacks – already more than 100.  The question remains, “Is there a future for Jews in America?”

Joanne Asher’s family lived for centuries in Germany before the Nazis mostly wiped out her family. How long will her family last in America?  Asher picketed Woolworths in Lynn, Massachusetts because their chain down South had separate Black and white counters, of course, based on race. She still remembers the horror of a teacher from her school breaking the boycott.  She also remembers mobilizing for the advancement of Black civil rights with her classmates from Brandeis University in front of federal buildings in Boston, while many of them were arrested.  Now she wonders if her grandchildren will need security personnel to escort them to their lectures, as recently occurred at Columbia University. Jewish students are being blocked from entering their schools. This should not happen in the United States, the land of the free.

The Jewish people in America need everyone’s help.  No one is free if a Jew can’t proudly be Jewish out in the open.  Civil rights are once again being threatened.  It is time to secure a safer future for all – regardless of how they worship.

This is why our Administration made it a Day One priority to fight antisemitism by establishing the Virginia Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism (Executive Order 8).  I (Lt. Gov. Earle-Sears) cast the deciding vote on the definition of antisemitism in our Virginia code. We must continue this work in the Commonwealth. Virginia will lead the way!

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears

Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears

Commonwealth of Virginia
Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears serves as the 42nd Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is proud to have served in the United States Marine Corps. She has served as the Vice President of the Virginia State Board of Education and in the Virginia House of Delegates. She is the first female Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first Black female elected statewide, and the first naturalized female elected to statewide office.
Rabbi Dovid Asher

Rabbi Dovid Asher

Keneseth Beth Israel, Richmond, VA
Rabbi Dovid S. Asher has been the Rabbi of Keneseth Beth Israel since 2011. He is also the author of Outreach in the Torah and serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Executive Board of the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles