A few years ago, Rabbi Marc Israel made his first visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. He recalls how taken aback he was from learning all the history he never knew.
“We often use the phrase ‘those who are unaware of history are bound to repeat it.’ And I think that this is an area of history where understanding Black history from a Black perspective is something that I think very few of us have,” Israel said. “And if we want to be able to really move things forward in society, we need to understand the history of where the community is coming from so that we can broaden our thinking and not rely upon individual experiences or stereotypes, but to really have an experience together and be able to move forward from there.”
Motivated by that realization and by the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Israel decided to immerse his members at Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville in the Black experience. The first class in “Seven Chapters in African History” met online on Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The seven-part series examines the history and culture of the African American experience and is taught by Jerome Price, an African American history teacher at Richard Montgomery High School. Topics will include the history of Africa, slavery, the Reconstruction Era and jazz.
“My goal, as a whole, is for participants to gain a deeper understanding of the history of African Americans,” Price said. “It is a struggle for freedom that stubbornly persists in 2021. We are resilient people. I often tell my students that America was founded on freedom and slavery. That history still lives with us and we have to uncover its devastating legacy. We have to question our institutions and why we do what we do. I remain hopeful. The energy and participation from the Tikvat Israel Congregation is very inspiring and I am thankful to be a part of this wonderful work.”
It was last summer’s demonstrations that brought Price and Israel together. The Conservative rabbi attended a rally organized by students from Montgomery High School.
He was impressed by the student leaders, so he reached out to them on Twitter and asked them to speak to his congregation about what motivated them to organize a march and what they hoped to achieve.
That was how Israel learned about Price, who the students often praised. Price also sits on the Montgomery County Policing Advisory Commission, created in 2019.
When it came to planning an event for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Israel asked Price to speak to his congregation. But the two settled on doing a whole series instead.
But how interested are Jews in delving deep into the Black experience?
Israel said 114 people from 71 households registered for the series. On Monday, more than 100 people were on Zoom for the first lecture.
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando opened the class by commending the congregation “for stepping up and kicking off this social justice series.”
“The fact that you’re actually going to commit to the work of an actual course of study, that’s really important,” he continued. “And I think if we’re going to have a shot at really realizing Dr. King’s dream, realizing the promise of America, the promise of a just and fair and equitable society, we’re going to have to learn.”
All sessions are live streamed on Zoom on Wednesdays from 8-9:30 a.m. $54 for the public, free for Tikvat Israel members. For information, contact [email protected] or 301-762-7338.