As the Black-Jew Dialogues discussed the serious topics of racism and diversity, the audience reacted with something unexpected- laughter.
Comedy infused with the topics of racism and diversity at Quinnipiac University on Sept. 25 to create an educational and thought-provoking evening that caught QU students’ attention.
Jokes about fried chicken, yarmulkes, President Barack Obama, and bar mitzvahs were all part of Larry Jay Tish and Ron Jones’ show in Alumni Hall. Through wise-cracks, sketches and cross-dressing, the duo taught the history of black and Jewish peoples’ relationships. The pair discussed the current climate between the two groups and how it can be improved.
“Our great hope in writing the show was to use it as a catalyst to reunite our cultures,” said Tish and Jones on the show’s Web site. “The black and Jewish communities in America share a history of pain, oppression, pride, and a deep commitment to civil rights and justice. In the past several decades our communities have slowly drifted apart.”
An estimated 70 people showed up to watch the two-man play about race relations and prejudice. The show, hosted by the Student Programming Board, Hillel and the Black Student Union was the last event of QU’s Diversity Week.
“It’s a three-day weekend, and I’m told that this is a normal turnout for an SPB event,” Adjunct Associate Professor of Journalism Kenneth Venit said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well wait a minute, if this is the same number you get and there are so many fewer people on campus percentage wise, I think this was a phenomenal turnout.'”
With an 80 percent Caucasian population according to Collegeboard.com, and a history of hate crimes, the message of, “turn off all cell phones, beepers and prejudices,” was especially significant here at Quinnipiac.
With costumes, puppets, videos, cross-dressing, dancing and audience participation, Tish and Jones spanned their ancestors’ histories.
“I still remember seeing pictures of black soldiers helping Holocaust survivors out of death camps at the end of World War II,” Jones, an African-American, said. Tish, a Jewish man, explained his ancestors were some of the first to take up the cause of civil rights here in America.
Jokes lightened the mood throughout the evening while simultaneously raising serious questions.
“See now here’s the problem in America, 21st century,” Jones said. “Black folks are still getting beat, still going to jail and still dying in numbers like we’ve never seen. Where are the Jews now?” Tish answered, “Uh, Long Island?”
In Ronald Takaki’s book “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural American,” he discusses the historical reasons for this broken alliance between blacks and Jews. In the North, he said, “Jews owned about 30 percent of the stores in Harlem, Watts, and other black communities.” During the Harlem riot in 1964 blacks looted Jewish-owned stores and eventually a class divide came to separate the groups.
“The cry of black nationalism was for separatism rather than integration, and there was no place for whites, including Jews, in the movement for black liberation,” Takaki wrote.
Tish and Jones’ combination of historical fact, comedy and serious issues provided for a deeper understanding of the relationship between blacks and Jews today, as well as the racism and stereotypes that are still out there.
“I was watching the people and I saw a lot of people thinking really hard,” Venit said following the performance. “And there were reactions, and some of the stories that the people shared were very enlightening. I counted 70 people, and these 70 people defy the stereotype that some people may have about Quinnipiac students caring.”