Opinion: A Jewish Response to Racial Tensions: Harriet Tubman

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Ezra Friedlander with Civil Rights Icon Congressman John Lewis; you can see then Congressman Mike Pence in the background

NEW YORK (VINnews/Ezra Friedlander) – In neighborhoods where two of the most persecuted peoples in all of history live side-by-side, harmony and mutual appreciation should be a given. Our historic relations have admittedly fluctuated in this measure.

However, while there have been reasons for strife on both sides, now is not the time for blame; rather it is the time for action.

Mutual understanding and appreciation is the first step in this process. As an Orthodox Hasidic Jew, Harriet Tubman is a relatable character that can act as the foundation of this understanding. Through the lens of a Moses like-character, to which she has often been likened by those in the African-American community, educational material and sessions in the Orthodox Community surrounding Harriet Tubman and slavery would be the optimal breaking-ground to begin such reconciliation programs.

As the bicentennial of Harriet Tubman’s birth approaches us in March 2022, it is an auspicious time to educate through her history to foment change for the greater good.

For those who are unaware of Harriet Tubman’s role in history allow me to elaborate. Harriet Tubman was born into an enslaved family and suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of her oppressors. She escaped slavery at the age of 27 and returned to free not only her family but many others.

She was often likened to Moses by those in her community, highlighting their shared strives in freeing their peoples from the bonds of slavery. Harriet Tubman herself is reported to have even invoked Moses’s name in song while leading her escaped brethren in the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a covert network of safe-houses maintained by abolitionists, providing slaves with an arduous yet viable path to freedom. At the onset of the Civil War she began covert intelligence operations for the Union, connecting with slaves in order to reveal Confederate war plans.

In the heat of war in 1863, she led the Combahee Ferry Raid in which she successfully liberated over 700 slaves. This is recorded as the first American military operation led by a woman, foreshadowing her dedication to the Suffragette Movement.

Hate is the deformed bi-product of ignorance. To ensure our joint communal safety and prosperity we must educate ourselves on the struggles our neighbors have encountered. There is no better way to learn than to relate the new information to information close to our communal heart and deeply ingrained in communal memory. For this reason, we must fulfill our obligation to learn about and love our quite literal neighbors through a figure our community can easily understand: Harriet Tubman.

The time has come when we must educate our Yiddish speaking populations and the Jewish community at-large of the trials and tribulations our African-American neighbors have endured. We must produce adequate Yiddish and English language materials suitable for our yeshivas and day schools in order to do so: an unprecedented project of societal acquaintance.

Learning her history should not only be completed in order to fulfill an American History requirement. As Jews we should take such education upon ourselves whether compulsory by the State or not.

Harriet Tubman is such an ideal role-model because of her bravery choosing to re-enter hostile territory to save others despite the risk of enduring more of the same tremendous suffering she experienced in her youth. Our community was built and flourished by the hands of heroes who too overcame terrible suffering to save the lives of others and build the vital community infrastructures that allow us to live our current lifestyles.

Additionally, Harriet Tubman was a religious woman. She appreciated the values and lessons of the Bible and used them as inspiration for her actions.

This makes her an even more relatable individual to our community. In fact, she is so highly revered by her community that she is often also likened to Miriam. The African-American community has compared her leadership of slaves to freedom in song as Miriam led the Jews from Egyptian slavery to freedom in song. Historians point to evidence of Harriet’s religious upbringing influencing her so deeply as to compel her to act, risking her life in the name of her people and G-D.

Her story may not only serve as inspiration for how to treat our fellow humans who may not look as we do, but also as how we should truly be inspired by our faith to the point of Mesirus Nefesh.

Ultimately, while understanding and appreciating the struggles and accomplishments of our neighbors is exceedingly important, achieving an in-depth understanding of the history of this nation (of which we are certainly a part) and its implications on modern life is the end goal.

As we grapple with the racial tensions plaguing our nation and as we desire a better solution than simply allowing the status quo to endure, it is vital we do our part in manifesting a better world absent of such hate. As humans our reaction to our fellow human’s yearning for equality and yearning for justice should resound within us.

As Jews who are commanded to pursue justice by a Higher Authority, this should not just resound within us, it should push us to action.

Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of The Friedlander Group a public policy consulting group based in NYC and Washington, DC

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, so Harriet Tubman is compared to Miriam? Ezra, you’re losing it. Just put Rebbitzen Tubman on the $20 bill, like Obama/Holder wanted. Kick off that privileged WHITE racist Andrew Jackson and be yotzie zein.

  2. Maybe the democrats should stop supporting and defending Jew haters and you should stop supporting them until they condemn the anti Israel Jew haters among them including in Congress. Of course you won’t because you are a paid democrat party shill.

  3. Nice monologue, not sure what he’s trying to do, impressing the African Americans?
    We have no problem with them. It’s they, who don’t tolerate us, hate us! He should be focusing his op ed to them, teach them our history!

    • Eli you said exactly what I wanted to write, bit I will add, I taught for many years in various chasidishe yeshivos. The day they add history to their curriculum in general and black history in particular you’ll know that AOC became president. It’s not to far fetched anymore.

  4. Did all our community finish learning our own history in tnach. Do they know all the neveim and kings. Of course not. First learn jewish history. Your own.

  5. Hypocrisy, thy name is Friedlander.

    “The time has come when we must educate our Yiddish speaking populations and the Jewish community at-large of the trials and tribulations our African-American neighbors have endured.” … “We must produce adequate Yiddish and English language materials suitable for our yeshivas and day schools in order to do so: an unprecedented project of societal acquaintance.”

    This from people who fought against the city’s oversight of school curriculum! The Yiddish speaking schools barely provide for competence in literacy. How many of them actually take the Regents’ exam? (Does Friedlander have a high School Diploma?) . Also perplexing is why “we must produce Yiddish language materials ” ??!!? FIRST TEACH ENGLISH !!!then worry about Harriett Tubman.

    Vote the Freeloader OUT !!

  6. Ezra:

    You are a huge part of the problem. Too many in the frum community allowed you to share your forecast with us, as to which politicians we should vote into office. Your Dems have fared well inthe polls, but horribly on the job. The mayor and governor have turned out to be so distant from the moral values that we and much of society hold dear. But oilem goilem followed you. And we are ashamed of you – a gross understatement.

    This monologue is just more of the drivel you heaped on us by kissing the feet of one of the most anti-semitic politicians. You really believe that the African American community will check our curriculum before deciding who to mug, maim, murder, or whose store to burn down and loot? Really? I would have hoped that a measure of saichel would be a requirement for the position you occupy, but it seems that not.

    We know that blacks hate us, and have done so for generations. Slavery has nothing to do with it. Many of the blacks committing crimes are not avenging slavery, and many lack the basic knowledge that they ever had slave ancestors. They are ghetto raised, with zero family structure or unit. Education is rarely given much seriousness, and crime is lauded. Except that a normal country has laws and polices its population to maintain law, order, and safety. And these rioters and criminals want what they want, and believe they can can just take it, no matter who owns it. The moral misfits of the world, like De Blasio, the Squad, and the Dems believe the world owes it to them. And fools like you shake your head, and dismiss crime, police, and anything that sounds moral.

    Well, I never owned a slave, and none of my ancestors were in America to own one. And if one of your De Blasio supporting animals wants to victimize me, I will blame you. Meanwhile, You should be so ashamed of yourself that you either change your political push, or find a different line of work. You have been nothing less than a hazard to our community.

  7. Ezra, instead of teaching about Harriet Tubman, teach mussar. Mesilas yesharim. Shaarei teshuva. Chovas Halivovos and others. When u are a better man and act in the image of G-d the. These issues don’t exist. However, when you publicly lobby for politicians such as Jerry Nadler, Etc. Whose moral compass cannot her lower than the floor we tread on, then we have these issues. In the last few months, instead of showing leadership, the Schumer’s and the likes hav yelled about social justice, but instead of talking about change they have done childish things like painting streets and backing a political organization called BLM that has and an agenda that has nothing to do with social justice (as per their own website). By taking money from these politicians rather than calling them out, Ezra, you are basically supporting people that continue to push a divide in this country, just to use the so called oppression for their political gain. The proof is they usually use the race card only during election years, but where were they when they had power to enact change. Obama was in charge for 8 years with Dems in charge and they did nothing.
    Ezra don’t lecture us what to teach our children except if the lectures pare part of our TORAH. Thank you.

  8. One more thing. Ezra in the last few years when you have taken to the web to lecture in what in your opinion you feel the community should be headed. However, have you ever lectured the politicians that you have pushed for us to vote for in how to relate to our community, to the black community, to the Hispanic community? Isn’t it interesting that the politicians that you have been pushing are all screaming for social reform, but have all been in power for years and did nothing? Ezra how about educating these politicians about Harriet Tubman, the Holocaust and other racial tragedies, you might actually accomplish something. Out community, encourage them to follow the Torah and they will automatically become better people.

  9. Wow, what a great idea.

    There are nine days of Shabbos left before Rosh Hashana, then Shabbos Rosh Hashana, then Shabbos Shuva, before Yom Kippur.

    Friedlander should give drushos on all of those days at his Liska shtiebel, and other Hasidic shtiebels. Also prepare Yiddish language printed matter for each one of those days about the big aveiros of racism among his fellow Hasidim, as well as about gedolim such as Mrs. Tubman and Mr. Lewis. Videos and Zoom sessions can also be made available before and after Shabbos for people who can’t attend in person.

    The opening session should be preceded by a lecture at the Liska shtiebel in B.P. on Harriet Tubman by first lady of NYC Chirlane McCray, with her husband in attendance, before the series is opened by Friedlander.

    If a real effort is made, maybe some teshuvah can be attained by Yom Kippur.

  10. “Hate is the deformed bi-product of ignorance.”

    the expression is “by-product”, not “bi-product”

    Did you mean to be advertise for YAFFED with that?

  11. When six million blacks are killed by their neighbors, we can compare racial backgrounds. Otherwise, we have two distinct American subcultures, and one political hack with a hat.

  12. Laughable drivel. Perhaps we should learn about famous Germans and Palestinians as a reaction to their Jew hatred. What a chosid shoteh mamash. Harriet Tubman? Naarishkeit.

  13. Ezra Friedlander is 100 percent Right! You know why? because he gets it! he innately understands how to create the bridges necessary for the community to thrive. Years ago, we were smarter. Since Talk radio became the BIBLE for the heimisha yidden we lost our sense of BINAH!

    • Let’s see Friedlander do this among Yiddish speaking Hasidim.

      Writing pieces like this in English, promoting himself and his business with free advertising, is easy.

      Where are his Yiddish opinion pieces in the Hasidic Yiddish press advocating same?

  14. Speaking of “harmony” and “MUTUAL understanding and appreciation”….

    (1) Those racist signs posted on businesses all over the “Jim Crow” South, and still there in the 1960’s, didn’t say “No Blacks allowed” – they said “No Blacks, Jews, or dogs.”

    (2) Thousands of years before Jim Crow, Jews were enslaved by a (black) pharoah. “People of color” were the cruel slave-masters in Egypt-land. The Quran calls that pharoah and his people “wicked and arrogant.”
    And yet, after the Holy One, Blessed is He, liberated the Jewish people from 210 years of brutal slavery, when we had to endure even our newborn boy-babies being murdered in the Nile, the Torah commands us “do not abhor an Egyptian” (Deut. 23,8).
    For us, remembering our own slavery experience is a Torah mitzvah — a source of empathy and compassion for understanding why HKB”H commands that workers, even work animals, get to rest from work like we do on the Shabbat day (Deut. 5,15).

    (3) Jewish people are NOT the ones who have been targeting their neighbors with sucker-punches, bricks, beatings, machetes, racist tongue-lashings, bullying intimidation, pogroms, malicious tropes (sic), “tough love” rebukes, false accusations. The victimized Jewish community is hardly the one needing a lecture about learning to understand and appreciate “the trials and tribulations their [violent Jew-hating] neighbors have endured.”
    Respect is a two-way street.

    Much hatzlacha to Ezra Friedlander with his efforts to negotiate security and peace iy”H between minority communities in NYC.

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