Friday, July 20, 1984
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
A chronicle of notable events and personalities
`Simons Says' enriches Detroit historical records
Historians engaged in chronicaling the story of De-
troit, its Jewish and civil communities, will be enchanted
by the massive and factual material provided for them in a
volume entitled Simons Says.
At the same time, the people under scrutiny will be
?qually intrigued by the wealth of data accumulated in this
:ollective task in which eminent personalities, the events
and movements in which they were involved, are portrayed
with skill inviting wide interest.
Leonard N. Simons, whose eminence embraces every
2onceivable cause appealing to this community's social
service and human interests, is the author of this intrigu-
ing compilation of reminiscences, tributes to leading citi-
f,ens, condemnations of racial and religious prejudices, in-
volvements in the battle against anti-Semitism.
Simons Says will be produced by Wayne State Univer-
sity Press for the Leo M. Franklin Archives of Temple Beth
El, in a limited edition. It is planned to make it available on
Sept. 1. (This review is based on advance proofs. Copies of
the book may be ordered from Temple Beth El.)
A merited expression of
esteem for Simons and his
public speeches and news-
paper articles is contained
in a prefatory analysis of
the book by Dr. Bernard
Goldman, editorial director
of Wayne State University
Press. Dr. Goldman pays
Simons the honor of credit-
ing his book as being a
Festshrift — a Feast of Writ-
ing. This is the title ascribed
to scholarship when aca-
demicians choose to honor a
fellow scholar with volumes
Dr. Bernard Goldman
containing contributing es-
says and studies of re-
searched data on themes relating to the honoree's dedicated
Dr. Goldman's warm references to the contents of Si-
nons Says takes into account the important movements to
which Simons devoted half a century of dedicated labors:
Leonard is a businessman who has dedicated
a large portion of his life speaking for and of
others. If there is a worthy cause, he is in its van-
guard, leading the way with his good sense and
sensible wit. His first rule in speaking and writing
surely must be "Never bore your audience."
Hence, the most delectable feast to be given in
honor of Leonard's attaining the age of octogena-
rian is a collection of some of his choicest morsels
composed in honor of his friends, his city, his be-
liefs, and his religion.
It is the rare charitable organization, social
service agency, human action committee, church
roll, or public commission in his home town, in
Detroit, that does not have the name of Leonard
Simons embedded in its records as benefactor.
His interests are ecumenical, ubiquitous, and
omnifarious, but his concern is single-minded:
human welfare. A man of faith, he has spent much
of his effort and time in the service of Judaism.
But as a part of the greater brotherhood of man,
he put his talents to work for all, black man and
white, Christian and Jew. Hence, the pages that
follow have something to say for all of us.
Simons Says is like a biographical encyclopedia of
Michigan personalities. The raconteur of this volume has
seen called for decades to preside at events honoring prom-
nent people, and his tributes to them number so many that
o mention them all would require a listing too lengthy for
his review. The score or more so honored will find Simons'
'olume a veritable delight. In all instances, there is the
tumor that has distinguished LNS, as well as the
nemories, the backgrounds relating to the honored that
!merge as chapters in Detroit's history.
Taking into account these testimonials, it is also nota-
)le that LNS dedicated his book to his wife Harriet, who
)lays an important role in the Simons communal saga; and
o his partner of 55 years, Lawrence Michelson, a relation-
;hip during which there wasn't a single argument. Such is
he element of friendship which links the author with many
iho are described in this volume.
Especially evident in this compilation of tid-bits is
i'imons' love for books. He devotes a confessional to it in
this volume, and there are numerous echoes in many as-
pects of Simons Says to ascertain it.
Categorically, Simons Says is a collective gem cover-
ing many areas: movements, personalities, human causes,
Israel and the era of redemption, the synagogue and its
rabbis, the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan in
their pioneering developments.
Leonard N. Simons, the "activist," emerges in many of
the chapters in this book. Among the especially noteworthy
is the battle he conducted to try to eliminate anti-Semitic
slurs against Jews in dictionaries. His approach to this
issue was described in a special article published in The
Jewish News in December 1961 and syndicated to the
English Jewish press throughout the world by the Jewish
Telegraphic Agency. That battle for decency symbolized
the Simons' concern for honor in publishing and in defining
peoples. Because it was on such a scale of seeking decency
wherever it might be abused, Simons' attitude merits spe-
cial acclaim. It is in this spirit that he joined causes for civil
rights, fought against prejudice, and aided movements to
protect the right of blacks.
As a researcher, Simons has a knack of genius. Here is
an example of that skill. How many know the derivation of
the phrase "the real McCoy?" How many know that McCoy
was a black Detroiter? Simons dedicated an historical
marker in tribute to Elijah McCoy, a Detroit inventor.
Simons made the presentation in an official capacity in
behalf of the Detroit Historical Commission, which he
served as president.
That speech not only revealed the origin of the widely
used phrase but also expressed the obligation to respect
fellow Americans of all faiths and all races. It was an appeal
for justice for black Americans in advance of the more
popularized civil rights movement. In that speech, Simons
expressed his sense of justice, stating:
You have all heard the expression "the real
McCoy." It has been used by people to indicate
that the item referred to is genuine, authentic —
not false or an imitation. The expression origi-
nated in Detroit and referred originally to Elijah
McCoy's reputation for quality merchandise.
Well, it is the real McCoy when I tell you that the
Detroit Historical Commission is proud of the
good efforts of the Black Historic Sites Commit-
tee. We are proud because, at long last, proper
recognition is being given to many deserving
black men and women who did so much for De-
We of the Detroit Historical Commission are
primarily concerned with preserving and telling
the story of our town's history and heritage. This
story cannot be told completely unless full credit
is given to all segments of our population.
Like the Roman god Janus, who had two
faces on one head — one facing the front and other
the rear — we Historical Commissioners live our
lives facing both toward the past and the future.
We try to learn from the lessons of the past, while
at the same time, we try to plan for the future.
Appreciation of history is important because
it shows the advancement of human life from one
generation to another. We especially want our
younger generation to know something about the
progress that is being made slowly but surely.
I want you to know how very proud I am to be
a part of today's marker dedication honoring a
black Detroiter, Elijah McCoy, who truly de-
served to be honored. It is another step in the right
direction. It is another step forward by decent-
thinking Detroiters trying to create the kind of
world in which we want to live, the kind that God
intended when this world was created.
And to that I say, "Amen."
The scores of items listed in the long contents of Si-
mons Says indicate the extent of the LNS service in the
community, in association with all elements in Michigan's
leadership and his devoted services to Jewry, with em-
phasis on his congregation —'Temple Beth El — which he
served in many capacities. His devotion to and support for
Israel — with emphasis on the Jewish National Fund, the
Hebrew University and many more causes — are also out-
Therefore, the acclaim for a noteworthy collection of
reminiscences that will surely enthuse wide interest and
appreciation from an admiring community.
The Jewish News article is reprinted in this volume
accompanying the author's essay on "Prejudices and 'Vul-
Leonard Simons' reminiscences about Detroit will soon be
published by the Wayne State University Press.
The vast amount of historical data incorporated in the
collective essays add immeasurably to the basic Detroit
developments as a great industrial center. It is as a long
time Detroit Historical Commissioner that he devoted him-
self to many tasks which made him a "Builder of Detroit."
Especially informative is the interest he took in Cadil-
lac, the founding father of this city in 1701, and the pur-
chase and restoration of the Cadillac home in France.
Simons loves books and he has made it possible for
many to be published, encouraging numerous authors. He
has donated library collections, including books which date
back to 1600, to Brandeis University, Wayne State Univer-
sity and Temple Beth El. Simons had been and remains a
bulwark of strength for WSU Press, producers of this vol-
Simons has made tzedakah a way of life and his essays
defining it are superbly enthusiastic. He calls himself the
"'town Shnorrer" and in spirit he emerges as a superbly
ethical factor encouraging tzedakah in its truest interpre-
tation, as justice. Philanthropists have much to learn from
Then there is the community in every form of human
alignment. He loves, knows and is devoted to sports, not
only as a golfer himself, but also as a devotee in the interest
of baseball, football and other sports.
For example, there is, in his book, an essay on baseball
player Gates Brown, a member of Detroit's Sports Hall of
Fame. It is incorporated in a speech he delivered presenting
an award to Gates Brown at Tiger Stadium.
Simons' love of books, his discriminating role as a
collector of rare volumes, makes him a bibliophile of note.
His book gifts to Temple Beth El, his establishment of a
Simons section in the Brandeis University library, give
him distinction that must be taken into account as a leader
in the ranks of bibliophiles.
This emerges as an element of pride in all that Simons
utters in his reminsoences.