September 19, 2017 •
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The Oranges and Maplewood Unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted its 104th Annual Freedom Fund Gala on Sunday, April 30. The Oranges and Maplewood Unit of the NAACP represents Essex County towns including Belleville, Bloomfield, The Oranges, Maplewood, Millburn, Livingston, Nutley and Verona.

Among the  2017 honorees was Temple B’nai Abraham in partnership with the Elmwood United Presbyterian Church. I represented the congregation and received the award on its behalf at this event.  The other honorees were Judge Theodore Stephens, Essex County Surrogate; Gail Velox, President, Orange Education Foundation; Maurice and Daneen Cooper of The Jaguar Track Team; Sarah Jones, Manager of Government Affairs, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ and Kevin West, Superintendent, East Orange School District.

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As part of the program, I appeared in a  pre-recorded, two-minute video. Below is a summary of what I said.

It is especially meaningful for the Temple to be honored by the NAACP because, in American history, when we think of struggles for equality of all types,  the NAACP is probably the organization we think of first.    For over a century, it has set the standard for insisting upon a just and equitable society.

We have partnered with the local NAACP chapter on a number of initiatives; this honor came specifically through the NAACP bringing us and the Elmwood Presbyterian Church together for the Café 5000 soup kitchen at the church’s East Orange campus.  Dozens of our members have participated in the effort, and we are about to expand the number of days each month on which we serve.  The honor was given us by NAACP chapter president Tom Puryear, with whom I have become friends over the last few years.  More than simply giving our members an opportunity to assist some in need, these efforts remind us, through first-hand experience, of the needs which exist in our greater community.  Equally important, the African American community understands – as this award indicates – that the Jewish community’s concerns extent to all who live where we live.

Sometimes I have the feeling that I talk to many Jews who feel that we still in some way deserve “credit” for so many Jews having supported the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s.  There were many Jews involved in the movement – there were also many who were not! – but that was over fifty years ago.  We can take pride in that aspect of our past,  but today is a different day.  If we want the support of the African American community on issues of importance to us, we have to show that we are genuinely concerned about issues of importance to them:  poverty in the black community, school achievement gaps, voting rights, and the like.

I believe Temple B’nai Abraham embraces these concerns seriously and with commitment; the validation signified by this honor is what made the ceremony especially moving for me.

Rabbi Clifford Kulwin

photo courtesy TBA President Bruce Greene

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