Sybil Kaplan, whose food articles often appear in the Jewish Independent, has a broader life experience than those articles would suggest, of course. In a recently self-published memoir, she shares a little of that experience: her time as a youth leader/advisor with the Black youth group Hatzaad Harishon, which translates as First Step.
Hatzaad Harishon: A “First Step” Love Story is as much a labour of love as was author Sybil Kaplan’s time spent in the group, which started in 1965 and ended in 1969. The group itself lasted only from 1964 to 1972.
Hatzaad Harishon is based on notes and articles Kaplan wrote at the time, newspaper articles from which she cites extensively and other research. Many of the group’s key first members and leaders have passed away, so the contemporary voice of the book is Kaplan, with her perspective on the internal politics and ultimate impact of the group. All the names and the various comings and goings of members will mean little to most readers but it’s good to have them on record.
The publication would be mainly of interest to people who were in or encountered the group in their youth. It also would be valuable for researchers of American Jewish community history. There is published research about the group, but not an abundance of it.
Kaplan became involved in Hatzaad Harishon when she was asked to be a dance leader. The group participated in dance and other cultural events in an effort to increase interaction between white and Black Jews. There were other white Jewish leaders in the organization, including its founding director, Yaakov (or Yaacov) Gladstone, who was a Canadian Hebrew teacher. Internal and external politics contributed to the group’s dissolution, including race issues but also disagreements about how much the youth should be able to direct their own affairs, as opposed to taking direction from the adults involved.
One of the more intriguing – and sobering – aspects of Hatzaad Harishon and the period in history that it covers is how much has changed, and how much has not. Black Jews, and Jews of colour in general, still face discrimination and are still questioned about their Jewishness. New groups have formed in recent years in Canada and, no doubt, elsewhere to try and make the Jewish community more inclusive.
Hatzaad Harishon is available for purchase from Kaplan, at [email protected].