Two men separated by generations and ethnicity but who shared a commitment to racial justice and harmony between blacks and Jews in Newark and beyond were honored Feb. 11 in Cranford.
One was Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who fled Nazi Germany as an outspoken opponent of Hitler, then moved to Newark and became a strong advocate of civil rights in America. He died in 1988.
The other was Clement Price, a Rutgers University history professor and African-American scholar who maintained close ties with New Jersey’s Jewish community.
In a strange twist of fate, Price died of a stroke last Nov. 5, a few days after presenting the documentary Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent, at the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival in North Brunswick.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Dist. 20), and Prinz’s successor at Temple B’nai Abraham — Rabbi Clifford Kulwin — were among the speakers at a screening of the film on Feb. 11 at the Richel Student Commons at Union County College, part of the school’s celebration of Black History Month.
“Clem was a prisoner of hope and Rabbi Prinz was a prisoner of hope, and I think Clem’s hope would be justified by having all of us here today, engaging in dialogue and talking to one another about the important issues raised by the film,” said its producer, Rachel Fisher, as she introduced it to the audience of 100.
The 53-minute documentary was made by Fisher and her partner, Rachel Pasternak, through their R Squared Productions company with financial support of private individuals and foundations, the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, and supporters on kickstarter.com.
Sensing strong parallels between Nazi genocide and American racism, Prinz became a forceful advocate of civil rights; he invited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to address B’nai Abraham in Newark in January of 1963.
Eight months later, the rabbi preceded King on the podium of the March on Washington.
In his speech, Prinz moved the 250,000 people assembled at the Lincoln Memorial with a declaration: “Bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence.”
At the UCC program, the rabbi’s words were echoed in different ways by five panelists from diverse backgrounds.
“My father was something of a rock star,” said his daughter, Deborah Prinz of Maplewood. “Famous people came to our home as guests for dinner,” while others came as his congregants.
“I was aware that he was a well-known person and I was very proud of him,” she said.
Baraka said that he grew up in Newark, a few houses away from B’nai Abraham’s Clinton Avenue building, which, after the congregation relocated to Livingston in 1973, became the Deliverance Evangelistic Center.
“The remnants of the Jewish community are still there. The star of David is at the top of the building,” said Baraka. “The time will never pass when there is not a dialogue around the civil rights movement and the issues of integration.”
Moderator Nancy Giles of CBS News asked whether religion can be a divisive force between communities. Kulwin replied that he did not believe that “Judaism creates divisions. I think what Judaism provides is a moral system about how we are to act, and Rabbi Prinz was the epitome of how we are to act.”
In the early 1960s, Kulwin said, “the Jewish community was very much in the shadow of the Holocaust in a way that is not the case today…. Today we have to continue that dialogue in order to best determine how we can best be supportive of one another.”
Asked by Giles “whether there are any rabbis or Jewish congregations who would stand up to the injustices these days in the black community like police brutality,” Kulwin replied, “Absolutely.” He pointed to Jewish organizational support for gay rights and the rabbis who joined protests after the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo.
“The Jewish community to a large extent embraces and supports” efforts to fight injustice, he said.
Citing Rabbi Prinz, Mohamed Jalloh, chair of the Union County Board of Freeholders, said that people must not just understand but identify with one another’s problems.
“I just imagine what type of world we would live in if people truly identified with the plights and situations of our neighbors as if they were our own,” said Jalloh. “It’s like Dr. King said — ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ To truly put yourself in another person’s shoes is an amazing thing.”
Lesniak praised Joachim Prinz “for bringing together people of all faiths. It wasn’t a black-and-white issue; it was a human issue. We have so many human issues that we need to deal with today.”
“When people feel they must act is when they take it personally,” said Deborah Prinz. “My father’s message is we should be taking all of this personally, because it is really not about justice for African-Americans. It is about what this country is supposed to do…. When terrible injustice happens, it happens to our whole country and the fabric of our entire society.”