Fried chicken with a side of matzo ball soup might not seem like a typical culinary pairing, but that’s exactly what 23 University of Michigan students ate for dinner Sunday night at a Black and Jewish multicultural dinner hosted by the U-M chapter of the Spill the Honey Foundation. The dinner was held in the Trotter Multicultural Center, with several attendees holding leadership positions in multicultural student organizations across campus.
An organization dedicated to advancing Black-Jewish relations, the U-M chapter of Spill the Honey hosted a screening in October of the documentary Shared Legacies, which tells the story of how Jewish communities supported the Civil Rights movement. Clips from the film, along with U-M student reactions to the documentary, were shared with participants as they enjoyed their meal at Sunday’s event.
LSA junior Julia Plawker, who leads the U-M chapter of Spill the Honey alongside Business senior Blake Weissman, told The Michigan Daily that the organization wanted to create a space for community members to have conversations and enjoy cultural foods from the Black and Jewish communities.
“The main idea was to bring together Black and Jewish leaders on campus in order to have meaningful conversations and get to know each other and build bridges between different communities while getting to enjoy food from both of the cultures,” Plawker said.
At the event, attendees were deliberately paired up with other students they did not know to discuss their cultural backgrounds and their thoughts about the potential for collaborative Black-Jewish relationships on campus.
Business senior Alec Kremins is the co-president of JBiz, a student organization that builds a network for U-M students who identify as Jewish and are interested in business. Kremins attended the dinner and touched on the similarities between and hardships faced by both communities.
“Unfortunately, I think both the Jewish community and the Black community fall victim to a lot of stereotypes, especially in America,” Kremins said. “I think we have a lot of commonalities and similarities, but I would love to learn more about how to work together.”
Kremins, who said he had a culturally diverse group of friends in high school, noted he felt there was a comparative lack of diverse cultural representation among his peers at the University.
“I feel like there’s underrepresentation here at Michigan, definitely in Ross,” Kremins said. “I wanted to learn a little bit more and meet some other kids on campus and just hear about their experiences here at Michigan, and what we could do to improve on that and get a wider range of diversity here on campus.”
Business sophomore Roman Rhone, president of BlackGen Capital, a student investment fund for students who identify as a part of cultural minorities, said he was grateful for the opportunity to meet with people from diverse backgrounds at the dinner.
“It’s great to have a space for this especially since we tend to try and run away from serious topics most of the time,” Rhone said. “We don’t (always) have the opportunity to have these types of dinners and learn more about different cultures. So I think it’s important and something I’m definitely interested in learning more about.”
After attendees had a chance to mingle and enjoy both Jewish cuisine and soul food, Clarence Jones, speech-writer and counselor for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who helped write King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, briefly addressed the attendees over Zoom. Weissman also spoke to all of the participants at the event about the importance of bringing members of the U-M Jewish and Black communities together to encourage collaboration, advocacy and empathy.
Weissman emphasized the academic and individual diversity of the attendees, highlighting the presence of Marshall Scholar finalists, a karate world champion and award-winning filmmakers in the room. Though Weissman did not say which attendees held each title, he said the dinner would give them a chance to meet new faces on campus and connect on a personal level.
“We have karate national champions (at the dinner),” Weissman said. “We have startup creators. We have presidents of groups here for clubs on campus … We have very, very cool people in this room. But who cares? Let’s just meet each other for who we are … that’s what the whole purpose for today is.”
Weissman told The Daily he wants the organization to expand its reach to students, businesses and community members across the nation.
“(We want to) get as many people knowledgeable and interested in Black-Jewish relations as possible,” Weissman said. “It’s not limited to anyone … So ideally, we’d like to see (Spill the Honey’s efforts) everywhere. But we’ve got to start step by step and I think that’s what we’re doing here. We’re going to try with Michigan, all the Big 10 Schools (and) hopefully all the HBCUs.”
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