By Nicholas Sauma, Reporter
The Black-Jew Dialogues fused personal experiences, theater and comedy to boldly and absurdly tackle issues of hatred and prejudice. The show primarily focused on Ron Jones and Larry Tish describing what it meant for them growing up and living as a black or Jewish American. However, through video and a discussion at the end of the show, the themes of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry as absurdities flowed through and reached out to all types of people.
The show, held on Jan. 23 in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom, was co-sponsored by the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies and the Department of Black Studies at UNO. Moshe Gershovich used the event as a the first real university event for the Schwalb Center, and invited much of the Jewish community from Omaha to attend. Faculty, students and community members of all ages and ethnicities were in attendance to share in a unique experience of race, religion, gender and orientation prejudices.
“Every group has been stepping on the necks of another before, and every group has had their necks stepped on as well,” said Jones, who explored his experiences of growing up black in America.
The show started with an exploration of the history of oppression and violence each group experienced, with Tish referencing the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, the Holocaust and anti-semitism in America. Jones spoke of the slave trade, poverty and crime in urban areas, and the stereotypical view of blacks in America. Throughout the show, they presented each as a sort of “one-upper” on the other, but as Jones and Tish concluded in the show, both groups had horrible times, and nothing is accomplished when comparing who had it worst.
Within these very serious discussions were plenty of things to lighten the mood. An interactive game, “Jew or Not a Jew,” placed pictures of celebrities up on the projector, and people tried to guess whether they were Jewish. Perhaps the most amusing moment was when Jones, dressed as a woman, caught somebody in the audience on his phone, ran over and proceeded to dance on him. Overall, there were many stereotypes and jokes put on display that can be used offensively, but everyone felt comfortable laughing along because it was done in a safe environment.
David Swiercek, a 2004 UNO graduate, read about the show in The Reader. During the discussion period after the show, he spent some time describing his personal journeys towards acceptance as he matured and traveled.
“I spent time overseas in Guatemala, on a fair trade coffee farm, as well as at an ashram in Mumbai, India,” Swiercek said. “I enjoyed the discussion period of the show the most because we all got to hear people’s perspectives.”
Also during the discussion period, a focus was placed on the different generations present in the room. Members of the Jewish and black communities were closer to the Holocaust or pre-Civil Rights Movement, while the young have been free of those experiences just by time.
One attendee expressed how she was brought up to feel guilty about not finishing food because her grandparents didn’t have any in Auschwitz, and asked Jones if it was a similar experience for African-Americans who were born after the Civil Rights Movement.
“There is no guilt for me. I don’t feel any of it,” Jones said. “But there are people, even in my own family, who don’t trust white people because of it, and while it’s understandable, it’s sad that they can’t get past it now.”
This story reinforced a concept Tish and Jones introduced early-“feareotype.” Many people do fear or distrust others, often based on personal experiences, but sometimes just based the differences alone.
“When you see a man from the Arab world, on an airplane, what are you thinking?” asked Tish, “Only a handful of people hijacked the planes on Sept. 11, but we have profiled everyone who looks or believes like they do.”
While hailed as a comedic show and certainly quite funny, the Black-Jew Dialogues were a serious discussion of hatred and prejudice. Tish and Jones put their own stories, families and histories on display for a large audience, then listened to the stories audience members shared during the discussion period. If you missed the show, you can still connect with the Dialogues on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.