Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin Says Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Could Forge New Black-Jewish Alliances

Adam Driver, left, as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s "BlacKkKlansman." (David Lee/Focus Features)
Adam Driver, left, as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” (David Lee/Focus Features)

by Jeffrey Salkin

What is the best way to remember the victims of Charlottesville?

I would suggest it’s going to see Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” arguably the best movie you will see this year and perhaps Lee’s best film since 1989’s “Do The Right Thing.”

“BlacKkKlansman” tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, a rookie black policeman in Colorado Springs in the early 1970s, played by John David Washington. On a whim, Stallworth calls the local Ku Klux Klan chapter and pretends to be a racist in order to infiltrate the Klan. His race being an obstacle, he sends his white, Jewish partner, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver), into the group of miscreants pretending to be him. The results are gripping, devastating and instructive. (Worth the price of admission is Topher Grace playing David Duke. The resemblance is uncanny.)

In today’s political and social climate, this movie is required viewing for everyone, but especially for African Americans and Jews.

Despite the fact that he casually wears a Star of David, Zimmerman doesn’t consider himself to be “very Jewish.” He has been living as a pseudo-WASP, relishing the “skin privileges” that allow him to pass.

And yet, in the eyes of the KKK (as it is for Nazis and other white supremacists), his attenuated Jewish identity doesn’t matter. He is still Jewish and therefore a potential victim.

In his initiation into the KKK, Flip has to swear that he is a white non-Jew. Nevertheless, a KKK member is suspicious. He hooks him up to a lie-detector machine. Flip almost has to submit to an examination of his penis. (In the early 1970s, circumcision was not yet universal for male babies.)

To invoke the motif of this season, the experience comes as nothing short of a shofar blast to Flip. He embraces his once-peripheral Jewish identity. He wants to be more fully aware of his heritage and of Jewish rituals.

There is no other way to say this: Flip becomes woke.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.