A little more than a week ago, people came together for a day of service to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. In East Baltimore, resident Walker Marsh saw the potential for a flower garden in a vacant city-owned lot. Marsh, an African-American, was joined by dozens of volunteers — many from Chevrei Tzedek Congregation in Park Heights — to make that vision a reality. Similar scenes played out in other neighborhoods as well.
Given the history of friendship between Jewish and African-American communities, such ventures shouldn’t surprise. And yet, in the years since the two groups partnered so effectively on behalf of civil rights, there have been tensions. So much so, in fact, that the closeness that was once assumed is no longer taken for granted.
That’s what makes Olam Ubuntu so special. As you’ll read in our cover story by Andy Belt, the youth group out of Beth Am synagogue in Reservoir Hill brings Jewish and African-American kids together in an effort to build lifelong connections.
Jewish co-founder Gabe Pickus notes that meeting twice a week in a traditionally black neighborhood is just one way to create a context for integration. Next on the agenda for Pickus and co-founder Ras Tre Subira: an opportunity to join Congressman Elijah Cummings’ youth leadership trip to Israel, which should add another layer to the work they both do. It is, says Pickus, all about uniting.
The problem of black-Jewish tensions is one of those uncomfortable truths that many of us would rather ignore. This week, unfortunately, the JT finds itself grappling with some other uncomfortable truths, namely that two Beth Tfiloh employees have been fired due to allegations of misconduct.
The allegations against Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky — detailed in a recent investigative piece by The New York Jewish Week — include claims that he sexually assaulted three children at Camp Shoresh in Frederick County in 2015. In the wake of that piece, Beth Tfiloh fired Krawatsky, who denies all charges against him. In addition, Beth Tfiloh has fired Dr. Jonathan Lasson, a teacher at the high school who was sanctioned in 2017 by the Maryland Board of Examiners of Psychologists for having behaved inappropriately with a female patient.
In addition to writing about these personnel decisions, reporter Susan Ingram has spoken with the parents of one of the children who made the allegations against Krawatsky.
Of course, we wish we could simply tell heartwarming stories, like the one on this week’s cover, that make our community proud. But as journalists, it is our job to not only celebrate our victories, but confront our challenges and hold institutions accountable if need be. In the end, we hope this creates a stronger community overall.
Liz Spikol is editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media, the Jewish Times’ parent company.