Growing Tensions in Israel-Palestine Spark Conversations During Charlotte Black Jewish Alliance’s Deep South Pilgrimage

Deep South Pilgrimage 2024

CHARLOTTE, N.C./APRIL 3, 2024 – For the past three years, two JCSU professors have embarked on a Spring Break trip to Jewish Temples and historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement with a group of diverse Charlotteans. The event is called the Deep South Pilgrimage and is a trip planned by the Charlotte Black Jewish Alliance (CBJA). 

The group's mission is to learn more about the intersectionality of the history of violence toward both the Black and Jewish communities. 

Kistenberg introduced Tyran Green ’13, a JCSU Criminology graduate, to the CBJA. He attended his first Deep South Pilgrimage this year and said the experience was eye-opening.

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Deep South Pilgrimage Group 2024 on Stairs
The group poses for a photo at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Photo by Tyran Green.

“Upon joining the group, I discovered something previously unknown to me: both communities have endured centuries of persecution and discrimination rooted in their racial or ethnic identities,” said Green. “Additionally, they have faced dispersion from their ancestral homelands. People of color were dispersed through the transatlantic slave trade, while Jewish people experienced multiple diasporas, including the Babylonian Exile and the dispersion following the destruction of the Second Temple.”

This year, the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine sparked conversations during the trip that the professors say will offer a unique opportunity to bridge gaps through open and honest communication.

“The beauty of this group is that we have established relationships where people feel comfortable enough to think about and question things,” said Dr. Cindy Kistenberg, professor of Communication and Theatre.

Kistenberg is Jewish American and noted that she has always articulated the significance of helping Palestinians who are facing humanitarian crises. But she also recognizes Israel’s right to exist. 

According to Reuters, U.S. anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim discrimination has risen by 180 percent in the months after the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel. Alternatively, the American Defamation League reported that U.S. antisemitic incidents had risen by 360 percent since Oct. 7, 2023.

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War in Israel and Palestine.jpg

So, when the Israel-Palestine conflict naturally progressed into a conversation during a Shabbat dinner, she was initially worried, as was her fellow JCSU faculty member, Dr. Melvin Herring, director of the Master of Social Work program.

“Rabbi Judy was active on the ground in Israel after Oct. 7, and we had a Sudanese person on the trip,” said Herring. “There are a lot of really strong feelings on both sides.”

Sudan and Palestine share close cultural ties. Herring said that the Sundanese member of the group seemed to feel isolated because he wasn’t aware of everyone’s perspective. 

The conversation reignited after the group visited Temple Mishkan Israel in Selma, Ala. During the visit, one of the four remaining members discussed the divide the temple experienced when the Civil Rights Movement came to Selma.

While the congregation had the opportunity to join Black Americans as they marched and protested for equal rights and treatment, it stayed silent. Some people, according to Kistenberg, stayed quiet out of fear that the Jewish people would again be targeted, but this time for supporting another marginalized group of society. Others remained apathetic. 

Some in the group noticed parallels between this history and the current humanitarian crises in Israel-Palestine.

“I honestly think what we’re seeing in Israel-Palestine has ripped off the scabs of history in our own country,” said Herring. “We are seeing horrific things happening over there on both sides, and we see it happening here, too. We have to center this on morality. Morality is a problem on both sides of this issue.” 

Ultimately, a smaller group was able to meet to work through the emotions. Herring and Kistenberg agree the group will revisit the conversation in a more structured format with a facilitator present. 

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Photo courtesy of The Legacy Sites

Another notable point of the trip was a visit to the Legacy Museum, which brings to life the 400 years of Black American history, specifically centered on enslavement, racial terrorism, segregation and mass incarceration. 

According to Kistenberg, the group has visited the museum for the last three years. However, she is always able to find something new that catches her attention and pulls on her heartstrings.

“The museum is the place on our Pilgrimage that stimulates the most emotion,” she said. “The detail that they crafted when they developed the museum is just amazing.”

The museum features holograms of actors portraying real accounts of slaves. After walking through exhibits that highlight the true horrors of slavery and racism in America such as lynchings, mass incarceration and the enactment of Jim Crow laws, visitors are greeted with a mural depicting the contributions Black Americans and Africans have made to American society.

Kistenberg and Herring are excited to continue the mission of the CBJA by engaging in difficult conversations on both shared and conflicting cultural experiences with kindness.

“I am more excited than ever to see what this cohort of the CBJA comes up with after this trip,” said Herring. “This is the most impactful trip of all three cohorts.”

“I don’t think our country has ever been as polarized as we are now,” said Kistenberg. “I’m scared to death about what will happen in November and what is happening now, not only in this country but in the world. We’ve got to find ways to bridge gaps because these gaps are so deep. The only way to do that is through open and honest communication.”
 

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