Documentary: A Detroit Garden Bring Blacks and Jews Together

August 28, 2014, 10:20 PM

An interesting relationship is growing on Detroit's east side over a community-run, urban farming project known as Eden Gardens. It's a collaboration between the local African-American neighborhood association and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue on Griswold Street in Detroit.

Martyna Starosta of the Jewish Daily Forward of New York has put together a short documentary, "Scars in the Garden", (posted below) on the garden and the history of Detroit, and the historical relationship -- the ups and downs -- over the decades between Jews and blacks. It also touches on the Jewish flight from the city to the burbs in the 1950s and 1960s.  

On the website of the Jewish Daily Forward,  Starosta writes:

Eden Gardens has two ambitious goals: The garden provides much needed nutrition to a low-income neighborhood, where healthy food options are absent. But the project also aims to build a bridge between two estranged communities: Jews who grew up in Michigan’s affluent suburbs after their families joined the ‘white flight’ in the 1950s and African-Americans who live in the city of Detroit, which has been struggling for decades with record numbers of unemployment and foreclosure.

In the film, Starosta talks to Chava Karen Knox, an African-American woman who converted to Judaism a couple of years ago and is involved in the garden that sits on three vacant lots.  She's also a member of the downtown synagogue. 

“The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood at first because there's so many stigmas connected to the Jewish community and the black community," Knox says.  

Noah Purcell who coordinates the volunteers on part of the synagogue talks about Jews living in Detroit and the challenges of getting some folks to come in the neighborhood out of concern for their safety.

"Jewish people, white people are afraid to go there," he says in the film, even though there hasn't ever been any problems.  

He doesn't share those concerns. He lives on the city's west side in the Woodbridge neighborhood and grew up in affluent suburb in northern Oakland County.

“Working in the garden is a place where I often feel the most Jewish. Let my sweat pants be my tefillin,” says Purcell. Tefillin are black boxes with leather straps that are worn mostly by orthodox Jews during the morning prayer. 

The documentary, which is just over 10 minutes, is well done and worth viewing. -- Allan Lengel

Read more:  The Jewish Daily Forward

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