Jewish Political Updates hosted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, its third community forum, a series of bimonthly meetings on Jewish-related issues. The discussion forum – From Selma to Sabbath: Parallel Paths to Civil and Religious Rights in the United States – took place at the Loft in the Borough park section of Brooklyn, with the participation of Jewish community leaders, insiders and members of the Jewish community throughout New York City.
The two-hour event focused on the longstanding alliance between the African American and the Jewish communities over Civil Rights laws going back to the historic march on Selma bridge in the ‘60s.
Distinguished panelists included Former New York Governor David A. Paterson and Deborah M. Lauter, Director of Civil Rights for the Anti-Defamation League. The panel was moderated by community activist Chaskel Bennett.
Paterson, Chairman of NYS’s Democratic Party, addressed the recent Supreme Court ruling on Marriage Equality, urging those who relish the new law of land to respect Orthodox Jews who are opposed to same-gender marriage and take into count the religious views of those who believe in traditional marriage.
The former governor, who became the first and only African-American governor of the State of New York, said he himself was affected by his early support on marriage equality back in 2009.
“My popularity in the black community, when I became governor, was 91 percent and by the beginning of 2009 my popularity in the black community had dropped to 54 percent because there has been a resistance to marriage equality such as there might be right here,” he remarked. “The majority of people, not matter what the issue is, have a point of view and someone is now seen as either not in the majority or not what’s in vogue right now.”
Responding to a question posed by community leader Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Executive Director of the Boro Park JCC,, addressing the anxiety felt by Orthodox Jews as how to strike a balance between protecting religious rights and non-discrimination laws, Paterson said, “There is an ostracization and a sense of degrading of people and a feeling that they are, as was just said, [intolerant] or have some kind of hatred when they’re really just practicing the tenets of their religion. So I made a point in advocating for same-gender marriage after those meetings, of pointing out, should the law ever change, we don’t want to replace a set of oppressed people with a new set of oppressed people because that’s not what America is supposed to be about.”
“If we just say it’s great that we have same-gender marriage and anybody who even voices an opinion in the opposite is shouted down, then we’ve learned nothing. We’ve learned nothing in that process,” he added.
That response earned praise from moderator Chaskel Bennett who noted that real world concerns of Orthodox Jewish organizations such as loss of tax- exempt status or loss of potential future government contracts as one of the motivating factors for Agudath Israel of America to submit an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court against the redefinition of marriage.
Paterson also commented on the recent controversial bill that would install a state monitor at the troubled East Ramapo school district.
“I’d like to see the disenfranchised Jewish members who feel that they were not understood properly by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus make an appointment and sit down with them,” the former governor said. “I’ve seen this in other parts of state where it’s not ethnic such as charter versus private schools. The answer is we are going to all be less myopic and look beyond our backyard and make sure we’re educating everybody because we learned that those that don’t get a good education become a problem to our society.”
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Director of Civil Rights Deborah Laufer stated that the ADL’s mission is to fight the growth of anti-Semitism and for the civil rights of everyone.
Community leaders at the event urged the ADL to show greater concern and speak out with greater force against the spike in anti-Orthodox and anti-Hasidic rhetoric and incidents, as recently seen with the passing of the East Ramapo and the Kiryas Joel Annexation bills, that have led open hostility against the Orthodox Jewish community in Rockland and Orange Counties by elected officials and hateful activists.
By Jacob Kornbluh