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April 27, 1973 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1973-04-27

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Southern Jewish History, Civil Rights
Struggles, White-Black Confrontations
Magnify Paige Mitchell's 'The Covenant'

Several chapters in Ameri-
can Jewish history, the tense
period of civil rights, ten-
sions which marked the con-
tests between the ultra-lib-
eral forces and the inheritors
of animosities towards the
Blacks, and much more even
in retaliation against whites
who held the cudgels in the
struggle for equality among
the races, the story of the
Jew as pioneer in the South-
ern states—there is a combi-
nation of these in a very
great novel that is already
hailed by the publishers as
a "spellbinding best seller"
for this spring.
Atheneum is not exagge-
rating the importance of
"The Covenant," and the
historically informed will
marvel at the all-inclusive-
ness of the factors that have
been accumulated by Paige
Mitchell in the writing of
this impressive narrative.
"The Covenant" is the
story of the South in 1968—
in the period when whites
marched to demand just
rights for Blacks, when any-
one in the legal profession
hailing from the North was
rejected as a Yankee parti-
san, and a Southerner taking
up a case in defense of a
civil righter was considered
a traitor to his environment.
Because Jews had played
their roles in the civil rights
movement, they were as
much if not more so the tar-
gets of the bigots. It is all
imbedded in "The Covenant"
in which the Jew is chief
among the cast of characters
involved in the struggle that
created so many tensions.
And because the opposi-
tion stemmed from the old-
est and ugliest in the ranks
of the bigots—the Ku Klux
Klan—it is the Jew and the
KKK who predominate in the
Historians, especially in
this period of preparation for
the celebration of the Amer-
ican Bicentennial, will have
occasion to point to the pio-
neering of Jews in the Amer-
ican South. Jews came early
to the South. They helped
build and create, and many
acquired wealth. In the
course of time, they assimi-
lated. Some vanished. Those
who carried on the works of
their grandparents became
staunch Southerners.
Came the challenge of the
1960s, and some were re-
minded of their ancestral
heritage, while under attack
by the KKK. This confron-
tation finds its roots in the
Paige Mitchell story.
The hero is a Jewish law-
yer — Reuben Buchman. A
dentist who befriended Ne-
groes, at whom some vile
charges were preferred, in-
cluding homosexuality, was
forced to escape to New
York. There was need for a
defense attorney. The Civil
Liberties Union pressured
Reuben into the case. It was
a dangerous task because it
invited the neighbors' and
fellow citizens' angers. In the
process of accepting the case
other incidents occurred. The
KKK went into action.
They bombed the syna-
gogue and the rabbi's home.
They bombed the temple
again. Reuben went into ac-
tion. It was not a mild epi-


sode. The FBI was called in,
and in the process of devel-
opments, in preparing for the
case, Reuben learned that
the FBI pays for informers,
and the payoff had to be
provided for ,.)y the Jewish
This is whey e the inner
struggle developed—the sup-
port that came from many
Jews, the objections from
the dyed•in-the-wool South-
erners who refused to sepa-
rate from Southern thinking
of being a part of the defend-
ing inheritors of the anti-
black ranks.
This is where Southern
justice is developed in the
Mitchell story—the ideology
of exacting 'vengeance, of
killing if necessary, and
Reuben and another of the
Jewish members of the com-
munity set out to murder the
chief inciter to anti-Jewish
actions, the bombing of the
temple, the threat to Reuben
Buchman himself.
Reuben and his friend lo-
cate the villain, but when it
comes to pulling the trigger
Reuben is unable to kill. Im-
plied is the heritage inherent
in the covenant that is also
so vital to the story.
The informers were paid
off by the FBI with Jewish
money, and the Kluxers were
caught in the act of attack-
ing the Buchman home. Reu-
ben does shoot to kill—and
the victim is his young son's
woman public school teach-
er! This is a factor that the
author does not ignore—that
a woman, too, becomes a
party to KKK actions.
In the course of the nar-
rative, Reuben's grandfather
and father are described at
length and their lives are
intertwined. After all, this is
the story of the South, and
the author traces the back-
ground — the pioneering and
the fearlessness and t h e
strength of character of three
generations. M i s s Mitchell
links Reuben with the pio-
neering Buchmans, Joseph
and Jesse, she brings into
proper focus the family heri-
tage, the Jewish legacies
and the traditions which
make them one. There is
rooted into this tale the cov-
enant of indestructibility that
lends courage to Reuben
Buchman's law career and,
while apparently forgotten,
the idealism of a Jewish past
emerges anew.
This inseparability from
the past becomes apparent
also when Reuben learns that
his non-Jewish partner, Jus-
tin Woods, as well, may have
given him courage to take an

unpopular case because he,
too, stemmed from Jews.
There is the covenent, indeed,
a sort of indestructibility.
Very late, in the midst of
the crisis c r e a t e d by the
bombings, Reuben learns that
his college classmate and
now the partner in the law
firm of Buchman and Woods
had not been molested as a
youngster for his meticulous
clothes but because he was
part Jewish.
In the developed theme, the
author has drawn upon a long
history of Jewish experiences
in the South. It begins with
the assertion, which had been
heard so often: "We ain't got
to worry about bein' Jews
in the South, they got the
nigger to lynch."
But when it comes to a
showdown, "Reuben's n i g -
ger." who is a v i c t i m of
KKK's attacks — as the
watchman who died in the
wreckage when the temple
was bombed — is the one to
warn him through his
mother: "He said to tell you
as far as them Klan bastards
is concerned — a Jew ain't
nothin' but a nigger turned
inside out!"
Old Southern history is re-
called. At one point Reuben
"wondered if Simmons (the
police sergeant in the story)
knew that there were Jews
in the Confederate army, and
after that there were Jews
wearing those vigilante white
sheets."' He wondered about
the violence of history.
When the ACLU attorney
called Reuben from New
York to induce him to take
the case of the white man
who was accused of frater-
nizing with Negroes and of
having been a homosexual,
the Book of E s t h e r was
quoted. Reuben was warned
by the ACLU spokesman to
learn the lesson of Mordecai
to Esther: 'Mink not that
thou shall escape in the
king's house, more than all
the Jews . . . " Perhaps in
this as well is implied in the
author's title of her powerful
story: the covenant.
It is not the story of the
Jew alone that makes the
Mitchell story so effective.
The tragedy of the black man
is not ignored. In the cove-
nantel narrative is included
emphasis on the guilt of the
white man, the indecencies
in dealing with the black, the
persecutive element that im-
poses a covenant upon decent
people to correct the error.
Reuben is influenced — the
legacy is the teacher.
Ruben's handling of the
case to disprove that his
client was homosexual, his
cross examination of the
chief witness against the cli-
ent he is defending without a
fee, becomes a classic in
court procedure. While "The
Covenant" is primarily the
story of a Jew — of Jews —
in the South, lawyers will be
enchanted with the chapter
in which one of the most
dram a tic descriptions of
court experience is presented
with utter brilliance.
The chronicled events that
link the three generations of
the Buchmans are offered as
a climax to a great book. It
is marked by several family
affairs, Reuben's and his
wife's infatuations, the near-

Soviet Emigres
Get Magazine

18—Friday, April 27, 1973

new Russian-language maga-
zine called Menora, aimed
at the growing number of
Jewish emigres from the So-
viet Union, is being publish-
ed here with the backing of
the ministry for religious af-
fairs, its editors announced.
The magazine, to appear
quarterly, will sell for IL 5
(over $1) per copy and the
publishers hope to distribute
it eventually to Russian-
speaking Jews overseas, its
editor, Moshe Bar Sela, told
the Jewish Telegraphic
Bar Sela, the Russia n-
born -executive director of
the Yad Maimon Research
Institute, said that the maga-
zine is designed to bridge
the cultural gap felt by Jew-
ish immigrants arriving from
the USSR.
Bar Sela contributed an
article on Jewish holidays.
Meanwhile, it was reported
that six Jewish immigrant
families who arrived in Is-
rael three months ago have
left for the United States.
The families departed af-
ter receiving airline tickets
from relatives in the U.S.
Israeli absorption ministry
officials stressed, however,
that the number of Russian
immigrants who leave Israel
for other countries is negli-
The officials said that the
six families had intended all
along to go to the U.S. They
said that two other families
who planned to go to the
U.S. changed their minds at
the last minute and will re-
main in Israel.

JOHANNESBURG (JTA)— so that all could ventilate.
Rabbi Bernard M. Casper, their views and examine the
chief rabbi of the Federation facts fairly.
of Synagogues of South
Africa, has reacted sharply
here to an attack on South
African Jewry by a group of
Jewish students at Cape
Town University in their
Jewish campus newspaper,
The journal blasts the at-
Invites you to hove the greatest
titude of South African Jews
experience during your visit in
as "racist and un-Jewish,"
because they do not take a
communal attitude against
We assure you that you will
It includes the board of
deputies, the Zionist federa-
tion and the rabbinate in its
Exceptionally well organized
criticism, saying that Rabbi
and Complete Tour —
Casper's reply to 23 Johan-
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evades the basic issue.
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In an interview, Rabbi Cas-
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per expressed his abhorrence
the Patriarchs, Mother
at Jews applying the word
Rachel and other Holy
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Rabbi Hits Attack on Africa Jewry

Dissenting Army MD
Released on Bail

mer Army doctor Howard
B. Levy, who was sentenced
for refusing to give medical
training to combat troops on
their way to Vietnam, was
released on bail pending ap-
peals in civilian courts.
Levy, 36, then an Army
captain stationed at Fort
Jackson, S. C., was convict-
ed on three military articles:
refusing to obey a lawful
order, conduct unbecoming
an officer and a gentleman
and conduct which brings
discredit upon the armed

divorce, the reactions of the
children. The rabbi and his
wife are part of a cast of
interesting Southern charac-
ters. The entire story is re-
plete with action that is so
certain to inspire a long last-
ing best selling status for
"The Covenant." The reader
will wonder at the skill of an
author who was able to com-
pile so much in a story that
called for immense research.
Paige Mitchell's efforts have
earned her enjoying best
selling status for a great
work. —P.S.












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