Jewish people have an extremely well documented history of discrimination throughout Europe and in America. Hundreds of Jews who had escaped the Holocaust, for example, were denied entry into America and sent back to Europe knowing what the consequences could be (see: Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence
of this Government in the Murder of the Jews
At the turn of the 20th Century, Jews in NYC like the Irish were not even considered 'official' White people yet. Scholars such as Karen Brodkin remind us that American Jews did not really become accepted as White People until after WWII. (5)
When these NYC CORE memebers were just kids in the 1950's, it was still a time when Jews faced discrimination in society specifically in terms of jobs and housing.
Jews in New York City, however, at the time were doing relatively well. Eli Lederhendler argued, "At the end of the 1960's, it has been claimed, Jews still owned about 80 percent of the small business and manufacturing firms in the city." and were well represented among the city's municipal employees. In t he public schools for example, "Jewish teachers accounted for 45 percent of the faculty".(6)
Other reasons for the high percentage of Jewish membership in the NYC CORE members had to do with the influence of the parents. Many Jewish members were 'red diaper babies' meaning they were the children of parents who were either communists and/or communist sympathizers. Others were children of socialists and/or parents who had a general history of left wing political and intellectual activity and a strong interest in issues of social justice.
In many of these families was an open admiration for Paul Robeson. Music and culture was a big factor in Blacks and Jews coming together. Just as there are a great many Jewish people who are involved in today's rap culture, these were the Jewish members who threw their hands up to a Ray Charles record at the party or were in the club with the real jazz.
The 'good Jew'?
In Judaism, the idea of being 'a good jew' revolves around 'the golden rule', a concept which also exists in Islam and Christianity: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Even though they tended to be mostly a secular lot, the values and religious teachings of the Jews were an influence on many of the NYC Jewish members of CORE. Brooklyn CORE's Arnie Goldwag
joined CORE because he saw it in line with his religious teachings. He was led to the movement when he attended his Yeshiva. Rabbi Kurt Flascher, also of Brooklyn CORE, cited the teachings of his religion, that all men were created equal and discrimination was sinful, as a primary reason for his joining the movement. This does not mean they were any more influenced by their religion than the Christians of CORE but they were clearly bringing their experiences as Jews to the table including the values found in Judaism.
There are a number of stories of Jewish members of CORE in NYC calling out other Jews, specifically landlords, for their racist behavior against Blacks. When interviewed, many of them expressed they felt a need as Jews to stand up to it for all other Jews. They wanted it known that not all Jews were like that.
New York CORE's Joanne Shane
when interviewed by fellow member Sheila Michaels
was very explicit. In talking about a New York CORE demonstration against housing discrimination in the Bronx, she remembered "... and it was a Jewish landlord... Levine, or something, something like that... and I was outraged, because it was a Jewish landlord... and a lot of us felt that way because a lot of us who were in the movement, the White people, were Jews."(7)
Some Jewish members were so outraged apparently that they instigated a tenant revolution in New York City, the rent strikes of the 1960's, in which thousands of New Yorkers refused to pay rent until conditions were improved. It was the largely Jewish NYU CORE, led by Joel Freedman, demonstrating against Jewish landlords on the Lower East Side that started it.
It was not just the militant Black activist, often tagged as anti-semitic, who was saying that racism existed in the Jewish community. It was the Jewish members of CORE in NYC who were saying the same exact thing and in some ways even louder. Arnie Goldwag's protest inside a local synagogue against a Jewish landlord is a great example.
The critics explanations of Jewish partcipation in the movement and CORE could often be crude. According to some White critics such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the Jews specifically from New York, like Downtown CORE's Mickey Schwerner
, were manipulating Blacks as part of a communist plot to destroy country from within. The problem with that argument is that CORE was an anti-communist organziation and restricted Communists from membership (even though a few existed).