Night of Stories From the Jewish and Black Experience raises over $10,000 for Ukrainian aid

Storytellers Corinne Stavish and Reverend Robert Jones Sr. as well as event organizer Steve Merritt.

Everyone involved said it was entirely appropriate to tell the stories of Jewish and Black struggles for freedom while keeping in mind the ongoing struggle for freedom in Ukraine.

NOTNationally acclaimed storytellers Corinne Stavish and the Reverend Robert Jones Sr. offered an evening of stories and songs on the theme of freedom while drawing on Jewish and Black experiences on April 20 at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield .

The program was a fundraiser for displaced refugees in Ukraine’s current freedom struggle. The artists waived their fees and all proceeds, over $10,000, were donated to HIAS, an international refugee aid organization.

Stavish performs nationally and specializes in personal, historical and biblical narratives. She was named Jewish Artist of the Year in Detroit in 2001 and received the Circle of Excellence award from the National Storytelling Network.

Jones is a singer, songwriter, storyteller, and self-taught on many instruments, which he uses to play folk, blues, spirituals, and other American Roots music. He has performed professionally in the United States, Canada and Europe.

The program was led by Temple Kol Ami and co-sponsored by 21 organizations, including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)/AJC, and numerous other synagogues and other Jewish and Black organizations. .

Gathered during the Passover holy week, everyone involved said it was only fitting to tell the stories of the struggles of Jews and blacks for freedom while keeping in mind the ongoing struggle for freedom in Ukraine.

Stavish told the story of visiting the now closed Friheds Museum on a trip to Denmark and discovering how the majority of Denmark’s Jews escaped capture by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Although Sweden’s king initially aligned the country with Nazi Germany, Danish physicist Niels Bohr persuaded him to allow Jews from Denmark to seek refuge in his country. When Nazi forces took control of Denmark in 1943, approximately 7,200 Danish Jews were safely transported to Sweden by Danish fishermen over a three-week period, saving 95% of the country’s Jews.

“I’m so gobsmacked at some of the stories,” said event organizer Steve Merritt. “Denmark’s story shocked me. I found myself crying. We’re not so used to this kind of decency …and be exposed to an entire society working together as we navigate such a divisive time.

A group of more than a dozen people from the First Congregational Church in Detroit came to witness the stories and songs expressing the connection between the black community and the Jewish community in their historic struggles for freedom.

Merritt wants to see more connections between the two communities. Its goals include doing a black Jewish seder and Temple Kol Ami to build a relationship with an African American congregation.

“I love bringing people together with others who aren’t like them,” Merritt said. “A lot of times we ourselves choose to be with people who are like us and who we feel comfortable with, but I like events where people are around others who are different from them.”

A poignant quote from Yehuda Baeur, an Israeli historian and Holocaust scholar, was featured on the event flyer. “You will not be a victim, you will not be a perpetrator, but, above all, you will not be a spectator.”

“And I think that was kind of the theme here,” Merritt said. “That it’s up to us to stand up when we see what’s happening in Ukraine, and it’s up to us to stand up when we see things in the black or Jewish community and talk about it.”

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