African American and Jewish American relationships discussion leads to partnership



By Karolyn Benger, Executive Director

PHOENIX, AZ – We are pleased to announce a collaborative effort to showcase the history and connections of African American and Jewish American Relationships through a screening of the documentary Strange Fruit followed by a meaningful dialogue about these relationships. This event will take place on Martin Luther King Day at 7 PM at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center located at 122 E Culver St, Phoenix, AZ 85004.

“Strange Fruit” is a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish American teacher in New York in protest of racism and the lynching of African-Americans. This poem emerged as an iconic song among African American singers, its most famous performers including Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.  

“This effort began as a conversation between myself and Andre Ivory formerly of the Bureau of Jewish Education. We have since invited Larry Bell of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society for ideas of films to best bring out a dialogue on this topic. He immediately thought of Strange Fruit and as a co-sponsor the event suggested Dr. Lester of ASU Project Humanities to facilitate the discussion and who has joined as a co-sponsor it as well. We are very excited to partner with everyone to present this film and facilitate a much needed discussion on race, and we look forward to future collaborations,” says Karolyn Benger of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We live during a time of rising hatred and intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy are re-emerging in our streets and in our universities. We need to come together and build community with each other. Through events like this the Jewish Community Relations Council is building community together with our non-Jewish friends and allies and we are standing united against hate,” she added.

“There is so much racial, cultural, and political division at the current moment in America that I see this film as a way of connecting groups to a shared struggle. Here’s an opportunity not only to talk, listen and connect, but also to understand the ties that bind us to the good, bad, and the unpretty that is America,” says Dr. Neal Lester of ASU Project Humanities. “Project Humanities always welcomes new community partnerships, and we are particularly excited to partner with these Jewish community entities to explore this important moment in our American history,” Lester added.

“The Arizona Jewish Historical Society is pleased to host this program on the connections between Jewish Americans and African Americans, and the ways in which members of both communities have sought to struggle against the terrible tragedy of racism in America,” says Dr. Lawrence Bell of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. “We strongly believe that the best way to combat racism and anti-semitism is to create a positive dialogue between people of different races and religions, based on mutual respect and common understanding. We are thrilled to partner with the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and Project Humanities on Martin Luther King Day to remember the horrible history of lynching in America and the little known history of a song which involved both Jewish and African Americans” he added.

The evening will begin at 7:00 pm with a screening of the documentary followed immediately by a co-facilitated conversation led by Dr. Neal Lester, ASU Foundation Professor of English, and Jay Roth formerly of ASU’s Jewish Studies Department.

This event is free and open to the public. Feel free to introduce yourself to our partnering organizations:

Jewish Community Relations Council,, contact

Bureau of Jewish Education,, contact

Arizona Jewish Historical Society,, contact

ASU Project Humanities,, contact



For more information regarding this event please contact:

Karolyn Benger, Executive Director

2701 North Scottsdale Road #203

Scottsdale, AZ 85254

480-481-7149 (Office)

404-660-4306 (Cell)



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