Trayon White meets the Jewish community

D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. speaks to Jewish community leaders and other council members Tuesday, as Council member Mary Cheh listens. (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

District of Columbia Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) reaffirmed his commitment to personal education and community outreach at a meeting Tuesday between D.C. Jewish community leaders and his fellow council members.

The meeting, organized by the Jewish Relations Community Council of Greater Washington, followed White’s posting a video on Facebook in which he attributed a light snowfall to Jewish banking family the Rothschilds.

Held at the Wilson Building, the meeting was meant to be the start of a dialogue among Washington’s African American and Jewish communities about anti-Semitism, participants said, as well as build better relations between the two groups.

It was also a chance for those in attendance to react to White’s Facebook video and share personal reflections.

White had apologized for the video and for a similar claim last month at a council breakfast with Mayor Muriel Bowser, in which he claimed the Rothschilds controlled the World Bank and federal government.

He apologized again on Tuesday.

“Some people say, ‘Trayon, you shouldn’t keep apologizing.’ And I say different. If I have hurt someone, I should apologize as long as necessary,” he said. “As a leader, I should be held accountable.”

White went on to say that he has already learned so much about Judaism and the Jewish community and looked forward to learning more with a planned visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, attendance at a Passover seder and more events in the works between the community he represents and the Jewish community.

The Jewish leaders in the room represented a majority of District synagogues, plus the heads of the JCRC and Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center.

D.C. Council members Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who are Jewish, spoke about their “hurt, shock and sadness,” as Nadeau put it, at White’s comments and disappointment that the D.C. Council did not respond more quickly. They said they had been criticized by some of their Jewish constituents for being “too forgiving” of White.

Both also shared stories of anti-Semitism they, or their families, had faced.

“This episode has made me reflect a lot,” Silverman said. “I was at the Mayor’s breakfast [last month]. And Trayon’s remarks didn’t register with me. I didn’t hear them. And this might be a very Jewish thing to say, but I feel guilty about it.”

She recommended a workshop for the D.C. Council and staff related to anti-Semitism, similar to one they had recently on racial equality.

Silverman said she had also heard from constituents of Ward 8 who agreed with White’s initial remarks and told her it was what was being said behind closed doors anyway.

“I think we need to wrestle with this and we can’t just say platitudes,” she said.

Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of Adas Israel Congregation said that there are members of her synagogue who are afraid to go attend funerals at the Conservative congregation’s cemetery in Ward 8. She said she wants Adas Israel to be a part of renewed relationships between the two communities.

“We talk about a lot of social justice over the years, but it’s been a long time since our two communities have walked into each other’s lives,” she said. “We would like to see an outcome of this meeting … where we can come and see your pain and you can come and know us.”

She asked White if he would join them. “Absolutely,” he said.

Another step offered at the meeting was to update a 2017 D.C. Council resolution that condemned racism, bigotry and discrimination to include anti-Semitism.

Though White was the impetus for the meeting, he was mostly silent after his initial remarks. After the meeting, he told WJW that he thought it was a good beginning. It was uncomfortable, he said, but also an opportunity.

“I think it’s humbling and intriguing at the same time,” he said. “You never really know a person until you hear where they come from. [My takeaway] is that a lot of members of Jewish leadership have a social activism agenda. And we are going to build on that.”

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