I know you’re busy getting ready for Thanksgiving, and maybe even Chanukah, too, but let me tell you a quick personal story about how far we’ve all come in a fairly short period of time.
For nearly two decades (including during World War II), my late father was a Merchant Marine. Only God knows how many ports my dad stopped in during his years as a Merchant Marine, but one of them was Baltimore, on many occasions.
My father told me a story that when he came to Baltimore once in the late ‘50s, he went to the old Greyhound bus station near Mount Vernon Square. He happened to be using the restroom there when he heard the screams of a man coming out of another stall. My father ran out to see what all the commotion was about, to find a cop beating the living hell out of a man. What was the man’s crime? He had the audacity to be African-American and use a “Whites Only” public bathroom in “Charm City.”
My father, a native New Yorker unaccustomed to the harsh ways of segregation, protested, and the cop and his victim piped down and moved on. But my dad never forgot the incident and it stayed with him long after he quit the Merchant Marines, married my mother, relocated in Baltimore and worked closely for years with the African-American community.
Like I said, we’ve come a long way, in barely 50 years.
The journey is not over, not by a long shot, but the stalemate between African-Americans and Jews, in my opinion, has let up a bit in recent years. One piece of evidence of that is the spirit of cooperation that exists between Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and the First Mount Olive Freewill Baptist Church. For the past two-and-a-half years, BHC has provided worship space for First Mount Olive because of a fire that seriously damaged the church at Freemont Avenue and Saratoga Street.
The arrangement has been mutually beneficial, of course, and the two congregations have enjoyed working with and learning from each other. Their spiritual leaders have even exchanged pulpits on occasion.
Next Tuesday night, Dec. 8 (which happens to be my dad’s birthday), the Black-Jewish Forum of Baltimore – the BLEWS – will honor the two congregations at its annual meeting. In a statement, the BLEWS hailed BHC and First Mount Olive as “exemplary models of interfaith and interracial cooperation.”
I couldn’t agree more. We shouldn’t wait for fires or other tragedies to come together as friends.