Sudden passing of congressman Gray leaves void in black-Jewish relations

By Bryan Schwartzman

William Gray sovietPHILADELPHIA (Jewish Exponent) — In the 1980s, when the historic relationship between Jews and African-Americans appeared to be coming apart at the seams in Philadelphia and other cities throughout the country, William H. Gray III worked steadfastly to preserve the alliance.

Now the Jewish community is mourning the loss of the 71-year-old former congressman from Philadelphia, who died suddenly on July 1 during a visit to England. He represented the city in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991, rising through the ranks to become chairman of the influential House budget committee.

Broadly speaking, he’s being remembered as a titan of Philadelphia politics and a mentor to a generation of African-American politicians and civic leaders. But Jewish leaders are also remembering Gray — the longtime senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia — for his steadfast support of Israel. Gray was also honored by the Jewish Community Relations Council in the mid-1980s for his activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

“Bill was a real friend to the Jewish community,” said Burt Siegel, who spent 35 years at the Jewish Community Relations Council and remained friends with Gray long after he left Congress.