2 Friday, May 14, 1982
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Testing Time for the
Powerful in This Nation
Testing Time for a Nation Challenged on Sancity
of Separation Principle, Applause for President
in Prayer as Long as He Utter It in His Own Privacy
yarmulka and peyes, and shrei gevalt overnight.
When I entered HUC in 1911, I was still in the
throes of traditional Judaism, the result of filial
Ronald Reagan was a marvelous, successful candidate
devotion to my father. I loved my Orthodox
for this nation's leadership two years ago. Now he is fulfil-
ling his pledges: what he propagated is now on the agenda
In 1935 or 1936 the college brought over five
of the fundamentalists, soon to be debated by the supreme
kids from Nazi Germany, all of whom have be-
legislative body, and eventually to be tested in the courts.
come very important: Herman Schaalman,
He advocated prayers in school, and now he is personally
Gunther Plaut, Leo Lichtenberg, Wolli Kaelter,
formulating a resolution to enforce it.
and Alfred Wolf. These boys created a revolution
It is indeed a testing time, but the lessons and experi-
at the college, unwittingly. They marched into the
ences of the past don't augur well for the President of the
Rockdale Temple on Saturday morning wearing
hats or yarmulkas. After the service was over,
The spirit of James Madison persisted for so long, the
David Philipson, in those days the dean of the
Constitution has retained such a firm hold on the Separa-
Reform rabbinate and a vigorous anti-Zionist,
tion of Church and State ideal, that even the power of the
called them up and told them that under no cir-
White House can't help its occupant.
cumstances could they wear hats or yarmulkas in
Perhaps such a resolution can pass in the U.S. Senate.
There is a strong support there by upholders of the hands of
You see, American Reform Judaism grew up in
the President as he raises them in prayer. Even there it is
the Protestant image. We had to be like other
doubtful whether the legislators will succumb to the mil-
people. A great change came when those five boys
lion signatures on a petition for prayers. The legislative
from Germany moved to the college dormitory.
bodies will surely take into account the multiple millions
After meals they began to bench, to say grace, in
who do not sign petitions for the abandonment of a sacred
the old fashioned way. Benchen had probably
American principle and instead do their praying in
never been heard at the college. For some crazy
churches and synagogues and make the home the chief
reason, it stuck. And now we have benchen all the
edifice for sanctimony. They hold fast to a school system
that must not be split into religious cliques mobilizing for
The greatest change in Reform came around
prayer when there should be unity in studies and associa-
1950. Prior to that, the Reform movement and its
tions without divisiveness based on differing faiths.
leaders were in the vanguard of liberalism, and
It is in the high court where the test will be finalized.
thus were ahead of most other Jews in this coun-
No matter how conservative the Supreme Court judges, it is
try. They were not completely identified with
difficult to believe that they will yield to a Presidential
K'lal Yisrael, with the totality of Israel. By 1950,
prank and abandon the Separation Principle.
the whole horror of the Holocaust was beginning
This is a bit of faith in the testing of time. Meanwhile,
to penetrate. If the most civilized country in the
the President emerges as a campaigner who adheres to
world didn't want us, then there's no value in
liberalism or egalitarianism. So, feeling rejected
pledges and there is an Amen to his prayers. But the
American citizenry at large will surely say on that score
by liberalism's failure, we did an about face. In-
that he must retain it as a personal demonstration, with
stead of moving in the van as liberals, we turned
respect for the nation at large to pray where and how they
and faced K'lal Yisrael, the Jewish people.
please, but not in the public schools.
Secondly, by 1950 there were no longer recent
Russian, Polish or Romanian emigres. Since 1921,
when an immigration act closed America's doors,
Jacob R. Marcus: From
we were developing the "American Jew." This
Orthodoxy to 'Reform ... His
new Jew began to move into the synagogues, first
Prophecies for This Age
as Conservatives and then as Reform Jews.
The leaders of the UAHC, becoming very prag-
Jacob R. Marcus, not far from the nonagenarian status,
matic, realized that they would have to appeal to
is sort of a modern prophet. His auguries evidence the
these people if they wanted numbers. From then
charm of the man who eschewed the role of rabbi and
on the Union was formally an institution con-
instead was a teacher of rabbis.
cerned with K'lal Yisrael.
In his professorial role, as author of many books, he
Then the children of the 1960s, some of whom
became the leading authority on American Jewish history.
had been entirely lost to Judaism, became
As lecturer he is both oratorical and factual and he
passionate devotees, entered the college, and
holds an audience spell-bound, relating episode after
moved it still further to the right. They had an
episode, filled with humor. He is anecdotal both in his
almost worshipful attitude toward neo-Hasidism.
writings as well as his lectures.
It was a romantic movement, such as we had in
He wrote a monumental
Germany in the early 19th Century. And we're still
three-volume history of the
in that romantic, reactionary mood today.
Jewish Wornan in America,
I should add that this turn to the right was
and for Reform Judaism's
expedited by the rise of Israel, which developed a
periodical he gave an in-
strong sense of nationalism and devotion in
teresting account of the
events that led to his lead-
ership in the establishment
There is a most interesting Orthodox addendum to this
of the American Jewish viewpoint by a leading spokesman for Reform.
Archives, which he has di-
Tradition Magazine published by the Rabbinical
rected since its founding in Council of America, presented a symposium on the status of
Orthodoxy. There were several interesting viewpoints.
That article elicited an
Rabbi Marc Angel of the Spanish-Portuguese
explanation of how he, a son Synagogue of New York, one of the oldest in this country,
of Orthodoxy, came to Re- stated that the disappearance of Conservative and Reform
form. His views will fasci- Jewries would be frightening for Orthodoxy. He declared:
nate the historians of the
Even if it could be shown that non-Orthodox
movements in this
movements would unquestionably disappear,
DR. JACOB MARCUS
country. They are mind-
this would hardly warrant any sense of "trium-
openers to an understanding of the evolutionary processes
in American Jewish historical developments.
With all our theological differences, yet we are
In the Reform Judaism interview, he was asked how
part of one Jewish people and work together in so
Reform Judaism "has changed in your lifetime?" To which
many ways for the benefit of the Jewish commu-
he gave this classic reply:
nity here, abroad and especially in Israel.. .
The primary goal of Reform before the
It is not a happy prospect that the overwhelm-
Holocaust was Americanization, even for those
ing majority will lose their Jewishness. It is also
Jews who had been in this country for genera-
extremely unlikely that vast numbers of the
tions. But many people mistakenly associated
non-Orthodox community will move into Or-
Americanization with deJudaization.
thodoxy in the relatively near future.
Chief Rabbi Imanipl Jakobovitz of the British Empire
I knew a distinguished Jew, a member of the
faculty of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati,
whose family had been very Orthodox in Europe.
Orthodoxy's greatest failures are to be found in
its fragmentation and consequent impotence as a
He went to the other extreme. I went to his home
one Friday night. I was young, so I shot my mouth
cohesive force to match and overtake the com-
off and said, "You don't have anyircandles to-
munal effectiveness of the non-Orthodox.
night!" And he answered "We don't believe in
Rabbi Robert Hirt, dean of the -Communal Services
Division of Yeshiva University, also had a warning against
denigrating the non-Orthodox, and stated in his contribu-
I began as an Orthodox Jew but gradually
tion to that symposium:
moved to the extreme left. That is why today with
this return to the old ways, I find it difficult to go
The use of code words and public denigration of
back. It took me 20 or 30 years to become a good
non-Orthodox movements led us to a heightened
Reform Jew. I'm not going to turn back, wear a
polarization which discourages open, searching,
non-Orthodox Jews from identifying with Or-
Orthodox leaders would do better to project
educational and lifestyle strengths rather than
broadcast triumphalist broadsides.
Treated jointly with the application of the Reform
changes by Dr. Marcus, these views provide compelling
considerations of the role of American Jewry today in the
What about the future of U.S. Jewry?
Asked in the interview published by Reform Judaism
how he would assess the present generation of American
Jews, Jacob Rader Marcus became the prophet, asserting:
When I went to the Eoff Street Temple in West
Virginia, only one other boy in the school re
Hebrew. Today throughout the United Sta
practically every teenager can read some He-
brew. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I
would see a day at the Hebrew Union College
when 10 to 15 percent of the students would wear
yarmulkas. In God's world anything is possible.
Your children are going to grow up profoundly
influenced by the ceremonial Judaism of
America. They've been completely indoctrinated.
They love it. They love to strum on the guitar and
to sing Hebrew songs. There isn't a major congre-
gation in the country that doesn't have a library of
1,000 or 2,000 volumes. This is fantastic.
Sixteen percent of our immigrant ancestors
who came here in the 1880s and 1890s could not
read Hebrew or Yiddish. Maybe we are on the
verge of a renaissance.
We've been very fortunate. Germany was not
inevitable. It was an evil accident of history that
Hitler came to power. Maybe we'll have 500 years
of glorious development in America. All this
gevalt about intermarriage and assimilation
doesn't bother me, because we've assimilated
from the very first day. Fifty to seventy-five per-
cent of the Jews will assimilate, but the miniscule
group that will survive will be the greatest Jewry
intellectually and culturally the world has ever
There may not be too many to agree with Dr. Marcus.
The pessimism that has been instilled as a result of in-
creases in mixed marriages, the assimilating tendencies,
and especially the misinformation and the rise in ignorance
generally about Jewish matters do not instill too much
hope. Dr. Marcus is more confident. He sees the signs of a
greater desire for knowledge and marked increases in
classes acquiring them. Furthermore, the Reform tenden-
cies are toward Zionism and Hebraic studies.
Validity for his view could have been provided by Dr.
Marcus with "The Torah: A Reform Commentary" on the
Scriptures, published by the,Unioh of American Hebrew
Congregations, edited by Dr. Gunther Plaut. It emerges as
one of the very great contributions by American Jewry to
the highest cultural values in Judaism.
Dr. Marcus provided food for thought and study in his
replies contained in a most interesting interview. He is a
most remarkable man and his views will always carry
Cantor Jacob H. Sonenklar's .
Responsive Record of Services
Cong. Shaarey Zedek's 120th anniversary draws at-
tention to many interesting personalities in its history. Its
membership includes leaders in many government and
community ranks. Judges, educators, a U.S. Senator, heads
of philanthropic and other movements came from these
Rabbis and cantors who
served the Shaarey Zedek
gained national recogni-
tion. Cantor Jacob H.
Sonenklar remains among
them, although his health
has prevented his conti
ous appearances on
synagogue's bima. Until
very recently, however, the
octogenarian was still in ac-
tion — after 50 years as the
In the half-century of his
services here, Cantor
Sonenklar did more than train choirs and provide the spirit
needed to elevate the devotion of the congregation. He
became a factor in the community. He was a Zionist par
He labored in the ranks, aiding the national causes
during World War II and volunteering in the enrollment of
Zionist memberships. His activities in the United Hebrew
Schools and other causes made him inseparable from all
that is valuable in an organized community.
A half-century of devoted services merits acclaim, and
Cantor Sonenklar has earned it with his dedication.