Editor’s Note: This article is also available at https://jweekly.com/2023/03/17/bay-area-jewish-and-aapi-leaders-talk-shared-concerns-at-white-house/.
Congregation Sherith Israel, a historic Reform synagogue, and the Japanese Community Youth Council, a nonprofit serving kids and teens, sit mere blocks from one another in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. But until this month, their leaders had never met.
“[We] walked away with the same sentiment,” said Jon Osaki, executive director of the JCYC, speaking about the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area’s first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander-Jewish solidarity trip. “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”
Co-organized with the API Council (a coalition of nonprofits serving San Francisco’s Asian and Pacific Islander population), the trip brought together 22 leaders from the Bay Area Jewish and AAPI communities for a five-day tour of New York City and Washington, D.C., beginning March 9.
JCRC CEO Tyler Gregory and API Council executive director Cally Wong developed the idea for the trip after they met at JCRC’s annual Israel seminar. The tour aimed to build bridges between two communities that Gregory said face many of the same challenges.
“We think it’s an important time to build a coalition with another community that feels largely the way that we do,” he said.
The trip’s participants toured cultural and historical landmarks of both communities, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II. In New York, the group visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which featured an exhibit on German-Jewish immigrant Natalie Gumpertz and 20th-century Chinese immigrant Mrs. Wong, who lived 100 years apart but had similar struggles.
The experience was enlightening for both groups, API Council’s Wong said.
Participants connected with each other in new ways. Watching the documentary “Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066” by Osaki, a filmmaker as well as head of the JCYC, the group learned about Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Sherith Israel Senior Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf called the experience “eye-opening.”
“The parallels between their struggles and ours were apparent to everybody,” Graf said.
Osaki said he gained a greater understanding of the nature of antisemitism in America. He came to see how the impact of events in Israel on Jews is similar to his experience of how events in Asian countries affect Asian Americans.
“I really did not understand fully why the Jewish community is so often targeted,” he said. “I learned a lot about some of the misperceptions of how people view the Jewish community in this country.”
While in New York, the group met with representatives of Mayor Eric Adams and the city’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes to discuss the rising rates of anti-Asian and antisemitic hate crimes in the U.S.
“The New York City mayor’s office is doing a lot of work to bring different communities together,” Gregory said. “It’s really about exploring what opportunities might exist for us to work more closely together and bring back to San Francisco.”
The trip ended with a stop at the White House to meet with Shelley Greenspan and Erika Moritsugu, the Biden administration’s respective liaisons to the Jewish and AAPI communities.
Participants voiced their concerns about the issues each community faces and discussed President Biden’s plans to address them through policy. The group brought up questions of immigration, hate crimes and community building, Gregory said.
The JCRC and API Council invited Greenspan and Moritsugu to visit them in San Francisco and hear directly from the communities on issues that concern them most.
While the trip marked the first official meeting of the two organizations, Wong said it won’t be the last. Going forward, both Gregory and Wong hope the communities will join together on more initiatives.
“We really believe that communities that know what it’s like to be at the margins should commune together in order to build coalitions. Because it shouldn’t be something that when we reach out to each other, it’s too late,” Wong said.