Friday evening, Oct. 6, at 7:30, Dr. Michael L. Sanow will speak about “Why Race Matters: A Historical, Sociological and Jewish perspective” at Adat Chaim Synagogue’s 15th annual Rabbi Seymour L. Essrog Memorial Lecture.
A local and national leader in the Conservative movement, Rabbi Essrog, who died in October of 2002 at age 68, was the spiritual leader of Adat Chaim, which is located in Owings Mills. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native also served at Beth Israel Congregation, then in Randallstown, for nearly three decades, as well as at Beth Shalom of Carroll County.
Dr. Sanow is a sociology professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville. He said he has spent a lifetime exploring issues related to racial relations and the Holocaust.
“[Race] speaks to who we are as Americans today,” Dr. Sanow said. “If racism against African-Americans continues to be woven into the fabric of our society, how do we move on?”
Racial disparity was a source of conflict in the United States even before the country’s founding, he said.
“The invention of race came at that time when the permanent state of servitude was established for African-Americans,” Dr. Sanow said. “From the late 1600s, since we separated indentured servants from African-Americans, the institution of slavery created whiteness and blackness. … The social construct of race continues.”
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Dr. Sanow said he first became aware of discrimination and the ramifications of hatred at age 9 when his favorite religious school teacher accidentally revealed the numbers tattooed on her arm. Dr. Sanow said there was little consciousness about Holocaust survivors in those days.
Some of the other children, he said, pointed at the teacher’s arm and asked what the numbers meant. Unable to speak about her experiences, Dr. Sanow said his teacher ran out of the room crying and was absent for weeks.
Dr. Sanow went on to study European history at the University of Rochester, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. He earned a master’s degree in sociology and anthropology at Northwestern University and a doctorate in sociology from Ohio State University.
Dr. Sanow, who originally came to Baltimore in 1974 to teach in the sociology department at Loyola University Maryland, began teaching at CCBC in 1993. In addition, he led Holocaust Remembrance Day programs in the 1980s for the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Since 1995, Dr. Sanow has taught the primary diversity course titled “Racial and Cultural Minorities” every semester at CCBC. He also developed a course on the Holocaust in 2003, taking faculty and students to Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
As a Jew, Dr. Sanow said he seeks to raise consciousness about the lasting effects of such historical injustices as slavery, discrimination and genocide.
Toby Elster Essrog, the widow of Rabbi Essrog, said Dr. Sanow’s talk would resonate deeply with her husband.
“This is an opportunity to reflect back on the things my husband advocated as a rabbi,” she said. “He was creative, took risks, and many of the things he advocated we see today in the changes happening in the Conservative and Reform communities.
“Dr. Sanow has traveled with his classes, has taken them to see what has happened since World War II, has taken them to see the concentration camps, and has encouraged them to see and question whether many of the areas have changed,” Mrs. Essrog said. “He has taught on race issues in his classes, and based on what we are seeing in our own society, it seems appropriate for us to look at those issues.”
Dr. Sanow’s talk will follow Shabbat services at Adat Chaim, which is located at 10989 Red Run Blvd., suite 109, in Owings Mills. For information, visit adatchaim.homestead.com or call 410-833-7485.
Top Photo: An African-American man drinking at a “colored” drinking fountain in a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City in 1939. (Public Domain)
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