Allen S. Maller

Could a Black Jewish Jazzman have reduced anti-Semitism?

A Grandson of slaves, born in a poor area of New Orleans, whose father abandoned the family when he was just an infant, had a great gift for music. With three other kids, he sang in the streets of New Orleans for coins.

A Jewish family named Karnofsky, immigrants from Lithuania, had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home.

There he remained, sleeping in this Jewish families home where he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnovsky sang him a Russian Lullaby that he would sing with her.
Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Yiddish songs.

In time, the boy became an adopted son of the Karnofsky family who gave him the money to buy his first musical instrument, for they sincerely admired his musical talent.

Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Yiddish melodies in compositions, such as St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

As an adult he wrote a book about his life and the Jewish family who had adopted him in 1907.

Throughout his life Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong wore a star of David and proudly spoke fluent Yiddish.

It probably never occurred to these Yiddish speaking Russian immigrants to encourage their adopted son to become Jewish: Jews just do not do that sort of thing.

But if they had, and “Louie” Armstrong had indeed become Jewish, who knows how many others might have been inspired to become Jewish.

With a noticeably active group of Black Jews in the Jewish community. who knows how that might have improved relations between the two groups in the days of black power politics.

After all, it was the influence of black children who attended Catholic parochial schools, and black Protestants who became Catholic, that was one of the reasons many black activists in the 1970’s never turned anti-Catholic.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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