The best books on Black-Jewish relations

Who am I?

I am a professor who teaches and works in the field of African American History. Because I am both white and Jewish, I’ve been repeatedly asked to give talks about relationships between African Americans and white Jewish Americans, and about what “went wrong” to shatter the “grand alliance” of the civil rights movement embodied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I had no answer, but I suspected that none of the stories that we had been told, whether good or bad, were fully true. So I went back to the sources and uncovered a complex and multilayered history. Black and Jewish collaboration was never a given, and underlying tensions and conflicts reflected the broader realities of race and class in the U.S. In the book I explored how these historical and political forces operated, and continue to resonate today.


I wrote...

Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century

By Cheryl Lynn Greenberg,

Book cover of Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century

What is my book about?

Was there ever really a black-Jewish alliance in twentieth-century America? And if there was, what happened to it?

My book examines the history and significance of what was less an alliance than a tumultuous political engagement. That engagement advanced the civil rights revolution and helped shape the agenda of liberalism, but it also laid bare the realities of racial and class divisions in our society, which divided the two communities even as they tried to make common cause. These tensions and conflicts persist today; my goal in writing this book was to better understand the past so we may learn how better to move forward with that yet unfinished work.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg Why did I love this book?

There are many wonderful, useful and thoughtful books on the subject from local studies to broader political and philosophical overviews, and while I wish I could recommend them all, I want to highlight Marc Dollinger’s book because he turns so many widely held beliefs on their heads. He argues that far from alienating Jewish allies, Black Power actually animated them and spurred them to rethink “Jewish Power,” revitalizing Jewish political action within a civil rights context. If there has been a divide between African American and (white) Jewish American leaders or agendas, it has at least partly been caused by losing sight of that story and ignoring the impact of white privilege on Jewish communal responses to civil rights challenges.

By Marc Dollinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Power, Jewish Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this provocative critique, Marc Dollinger charts the transformation of American Jewish political culture from the Cold War liberal consensus of the early postwar years to the rise and influence of Black Power-inspired ethnic nationalism. He shows how, in a period best known for the rise of black anti-Semitism and the breakdown of the black-Jewish alliance, black nationalists enabled Jewish activists to devise a new Judeo-centered political agenda and express it in more visible forms of Jewish identity-including the emancipation of Soviet Jews, the development of a new form of American Zionism, the opening of hundreds of Jewish day schools,…


Book cover of Black, Jewish, and Interracial: It's Not the Color of Your Skin, but the Race of Your Kin, and Other Myths of Identity

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg Why did I love this book?

Not all Jews are white. Again, there are a number of wonderful books by African American Jews that remind us of this fact, and how often we use the word “Jewish” to refer only to Jews of European descent. Azoulay insists on confronting this unthinking racism head-on by reflecting on her experiences as a Black woman who struggled to feel at home in the Jewish community. Too often “Black-Jewish relations” as a phrase defines two discrete communities. This book reminds us that this distortion of the truth both erases Jews of color and lets white Jews avoid taking responsibility for challenging social systems that privilege whiteness.

By Katya Gibel Azoulay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black, Jewish, and Interracial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How do adult children of interracial parents-where one parent is Jewish and one is Black-think about personal identity? This question is at the heart of Katya Gibel Azoulay's Black, Jewish, and Interracial. Motivated by her own experience as the child of a Jewish mother and Jamaican father, Gibel Azoulay blends historical, theoretical, and personal perspectives to explore the possibilities and meanings that arise when Black and Jewish identities merge. As she asks what it means to be Black, Jewish, and interracial, Gibel Azoulay challenges deeply ingrained assumptions about identity and moves toward a consideration of complementary racial identities.
Beginning with…


Book cover of How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg Why did I love this book?

Now that I’ve raised the issue of whiteness – ways in which American structures and institutions reflect the agendas and interests of white people, and the role those structures play in shaping opportunity and life experiences -- here I want to bring it front and center. Many white people don’t recognize how they benefit from having white skin (called “white privilege”) and many white ethnic groups, including many white Jews in the U.S., deny their white privilege altogether, insisting that they too have been the victim of white discrimination, and that anti-Black racism is no different. Brodkin offers a powerful counter-narrative, pointing out the many important ways that American Jews of European descent did indeed benefit from their white skin even when they did not realize it. 

By Karen Brodkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The fashion identities in the context of a wider conversation about American nationhood, to whom it belongs and what belonging means. Race and ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality are all staple ingredients in this conversation. They are salient aspects of social being from which economic practices, political policies, and popular discourses create ""Americans."" Because all of these facets of social being have such significant meaning on a national scale, they also have major consequences for both individuals and groups in terms of their success and well-being, as well as how they perceive themselves socially and politically.

The history of Jews…


Book cover of Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg Why did I love this book?

Too often “Black-Jewish relations” focuses on Jewish engagement in the Black civil rights struggle, a largely one-sided political narrative. This book broadens that horizon in two ways. First, it focuses on the Black experience and encounter with the other, rather than the Jewish one. Second, it explores the religious dimension that political discussions often ignore – that the Black experience with Jews and Judaism is as much rooted in religion as in politics.

By Yvonne Patricia Chireau (editor), Nathaniel Deutsch (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Zion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Black Zion explores the myriad ways in which African American religions have encountered Jewish traditions, beliefs, and spaces. The collection's unifying argument is that religion is the missing piece of the cultural jigsaw puzzle, that much of the recent turmoil in black-Jewish relations would be better understood, if not alleviated, if the religious roots of those relations were illuminated. Toward that end, the contributors look a number of provocative
topics, including the concept of the Chosen People, the typological identification of blacks with Jews, the actual identification of blacks as Jews, the sacredness of space and symbols, the importance of…


Book cover of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg Why did I love this book?

“Black-Jewish relations” occurs everywhere African Americans and Jewish Americans engage. Scholars and journalists have considered “Black-Jewish relations” in music and film, in economic and social spheres, in education and housing. Sundquist offers an incredibly rich exploration of this broad cultural landscape shaped by African and Jewish Americans. He explores the ways both groups struggled to understand themselves and engage with each other through literature and other forms of cultural expression and in legal, intellectual, and political forums. Black and Jewish authors and thinkers struggled over issues from the nature of citizenship, liberalism, and community to the challenges of racism, anti-Semitism, and historical reckoning. In this extensive and wide-ranging conversation, Sundquist frames the central concerns and beliefs that underlie the complex political relationship so many of us are trying to understand.

By Eric J. Sundquist,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Strangers in the Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a culture deeply divided along ethnic lines, the idea that the relationship between blacks and Jews was once thought special-indeed, critical to the cause of civil rights-might seem strange. Yet the importance of blacks for Jews and Jews for blacks in conceiving of themselves as Americans, when both remained outsiders to the privileges of full citizenship, is a matter of voluminous but perplexing record. It is this record, written across the annals of American history and literature, culture and society, that Eric Sundquist investigates. A monumental work of literary criticism and cultural history, Strangers in the Land draws upon…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

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