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November 23, 1984 - Image 2

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-11-23

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2

Friday, November 23, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Catholic bishops' statement gives credence to perfecting ethical heritage

Economic justice demands the con-
cern of people of all faiths. The duty to
strive for it is emphasized not only in the.
Catholic pastoral letter which has aroused
much debate, but also in the reactions to it
from other religious groups.
It is to the credit of the Reform Jewish
movement that its leadership should have
given positive acclaim to it. Dr. Alexander
M. Schindler, president of the Union of
American Hebrew Congregations, has set
the tone for the wide endorsement of the
statement by the Catholic Bishops:
- We are
especially
moved be-
cause
the
broad thrust
of the bishops'
statement is
remarkably
congruent
with the ethi-
cal mandate of
Judaism.
From the
Jewish
Rabbi Schindler
perspective,
the modern world suffers a
spiritual malaise not because so
many people do not pray but be-
cause too many people go hungry.
The passion for justice and the
injunction to succor the poor stem
from prophetic teachings that are
central to our faith. Caring for the
least and lowest among us is the
indispensable element of the
spiritual life insofar as Judaism is
concerned. Indeed, it is deemed as
important as — and is identified
with — prayer itself.
Finally, we welcome the
bishops' statement because it
comes at a time when a broad con-
cern for the poor, the old and the
sick has been replaced by the nar-
row question, "Are you better off?"
The bishops have reminded us that
this is the wrong question. The
morally appropriate question for
today was posed by the prophet
Micah nearly 3,000 years ago,
"What does the Lord require of
thee but to do justly, and to love
mercy, and to walk humbly with
thy God?"
The bishops' call is in substan-
tial harmony with the positions
taken by the Union of American
Hebrew Congregations over the
decades. We look forward to the
opportunity of joining with the
Catholic bishops and all other
groups that share their deep con-
cern, to the end that the great
moral principles they have so
eloquently enunciated are trans-
lated into social action.
Dr. Schindler's declarative statement
commands total reading because it is based
on Prophetic teachings and because it
serves the cementing of ecumenism when
human rights are under challenge. An
especially shocking element in the discus-
sion that was aroused by the Catholic pas-
toral letter was the attempt to brand it as
religious politicizing. This raises the total
issue whether religious ministers, rabbis
and/or priests, have a right to discuss pub-
lic issues from their pulpits. Had this ever
been challenged before, it would drag the
house of worship into a medieval gut-
terism.
All men and women in public life have
a duty to demand of their government pro-
per treatment of the poor and the under-
privileged. There is cause for concern that
the critics of the Catholic letter may be
some who disapprove of anything contrary
to what the present Administration in

power in this country advocates. Hope-
fully, President Reagan himself will take
the lead to disprove such inhumanism in
government, politics and religion.

Solicitude for critics:
Eban's notable role in
`Heritage' TV series

Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,
the nine-hour television program covering
the entire sphere of Jewish experience, has
met with serious criticism from Orthodox
ranks. Perhaps the credence given to
legend supplementing fact caused the dif-
fering view.
Abba Eban, who masterminded the
series and narrated the programs over a
period of nine weeks, assured "solicitude"
for the criticisms in an address to the Con-
ference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations. He gave assurance
that the series will be edited for showing
overseas, taking into account such criti-
cisms.
Orthodox spokesmen were not alone in
their challenges to Eban and the creators
of the important televised programs. Ar-
nold Ages, writing in the columns of this
newspaper, in a syndicated 'article, called
attention to the shortcomings of a series
which, in its entirety, was an immense con-
tribution to interpretative Jewish schol-
arship, made available to many millions,
non-Jews as well as Jews.
There is no doubt that in certain mat-
ters Abba Eban lacked completeness in his
presentations. There are three factors,
taken at random, which surely merited
more extensive scholarship: the resume of
American Jewish history, the effect of Yid-
dish on Jewish life and on world literature,
and the Haskala movement. Their treat-
ment was patchwork. Jacob Marcus was
needed for a more thorough glimpse at the
history of American Jewry. Yiddish and
the Haskala movement needed more
thorough emphasis.
These were among the matters inex-
cusably treated incompletely. But there is
an explanation for it. Much more, almost
the entire series, could be presented only in
brevities. The complete story is so vast that
it could never be accorded all the details
necessitated for a historical record.
Therefore, there must be an acclaim in
recognition of a vastness already achieved,
one that must encourage further study by
those desiring it and finding it necessary to
indicate shortcomings. Abba Eban's
achievement in narrating and providing
the means for Heritage: Civilization and
the Jews will be recorded among the most
significant accomplishments in televised
historical analyses.

Normalcy vs. sensation:
When Arabs and Jews
meet as fellow citizens

Jewish and Arab citizens socialized
last week and the event was described as
"an experiment in local diplomacy."
The news stories sounded sensational,
yet it is everything but that. It may be
limited in scope, but it is a measure of nor-
malcy that lends dignity to the Michigan
communities.
Ideological and political differences
have been and will surely continue to be
debated here. But in the background there
is a human and American fellow-
citizenship which has been encouraged in
Jewish ranks and had special appeals in
this column. It can not be charged that
there was irresponsibility. Even in its
limited form, there was always the aim to

establish a friendship and cooperation in
the best interests of the American commu-
nity and the hope that what is good for
Detroit and Michigan — with its vast Arab
population — will in time be good for Israel
and her neighbors and the entire Middle
East.
As long as the quest will be for nor-
malcy rather than sensation, there will be
greater hope for peace among the peoples
and communities and even eventually the
nations they support.
A precedent of immense importance to
the current occurrence needs reconstruct-
ing as an indication that there have always
been efforts at Arab-Israel cooperation.
For some 20 years, the greater Detroit area
boasted an Arab-language newspaper that
was not only pro-Israel but avowedly pro-
Zionist. It was an era that should be re-
corded indelibly as that of Checri Kanaan
and his Lebanese Gazette. His Gazette was
for two decades one of only two Arab news-
papers that followed such a friendly policy.
The late Checri Kanaan soon began to pub-
lish his newspaper bilingually and his
English section contained the strongest
Zionist appeals.
Perhaps it should be explained that
Checri Kanaan was a devout Maronite
Catholic. His son served for several years
as president of the Maronite Catholic
movement in this country. Checri's print-
ing plant was on Gratiot Avenue. It was
often vandalized and he was constantly
harrassed. But he was firm in his convic-
tions.
Which goes to prove that often the sen-
sationalized anti-Israelism and anti-
Zionism does not suffer from a totality of
hatred. Even when the friendship is
limited, it is cherished.

Is memory of Holocaust
a bigot's tool as
invitation to violence?

A week after the sculptured memorial
to the victims of Nazism was unveiled in
San Francisco, it was sprayed with paint
and with the words "Is this necessary?"
There was the challenge "Forgive and
Forget" in German painted on a bunch of
roses placed at the Holocaust sculpture.
A United Press International report
stated: "At the unveiling last Wednesday
(of the memorial sculpture) a security
guard called the outdoor location of the
work 'an invitation to vandalism.' "
It is this opinion that causes particular
concern. Is it possible that anything re-
ferred to in public, or portrayed for public
view, will invite a repetition of the Nazi
tactics? In that case, even protests against
prejudice, whether against Jews or others
in the limelight, will be silenced out of fear
of hooliganism.
This is difficult to believe, yet the
warning need not be hidden. It should
serve as an admonition to public opinion
never to be silent when there is injustice,
and to ask the decent in civilized ranks to
keep demonstrating when protests against
injustice are, as they should be, the obliga-
tion of all decent people.

`The Shtetl' for youth
assumes significance as
tribute to a glorious age

Shtetl has become the most symbolic
term in the nostalgia about the Old World.
In retracing the experiences of an age that
was marked by many inspirations, as well
as the agonies of isolation in a world sepa-
rated from the mainstream of life in the
modern world, the shtetl represented the

background of a people's striving for a bet-
ter future, rooted in the legacies of spiritu-
ality as well as the necessity to live in spite
of the obstacles encountered under perse-
cution and the threats from neighbors who
have been filled with hatreds. Neverthe-
less, there were also the aspirations of the
youth for redemption from the submissions
suffered. There also were the friendly
neighbors, since the inhabitants of the
shtetl had to carry on life's duties for them-
selves and their children.
Shtetl life has been related in scores of
books and essays. There are manuscripts
galore on the subject. Few introduce the
subject as does The Paper Shtetl (Schocken
Books), a large-sized paperback which is
described as "a complete model of an East
European Jewish town." It was compiled in
the form of scores of photographs relating
to the shtetl, serving as cutouts for stu-
dents, by David Grupper, a graphic de-
signer, and David G. Klein, the illustrator.
The book contains more than 50 illus-
trated pieces to be assembled into the
reality of the shtetl_
The compilers' introduction to this
book is a valuable essay on the shtetl:
"Shalom aleichem!" That's how
you would be greeted you visited a
shtetl. It means "Peace unto you!"
Of course, if you wanted to visit a
shtetl, you would have to do a lot of
traveling — not only back to East-
ern Europe but also back in time.
The shtetl, which literally
means "small town," was the home
of millions of Jews in Eastern
Europe (Poland, Austria-Hungary,
and Russia) over the past six
hundred years. Today, it exists in
the stories of Sholom Aleichem and
Isaac Bashevis Singer and in the
memory of people who once lived
in a shtetl. This means that to re-
construct a shtetl in our day re-
quires a lot of imagination, some
knowledge of recent history, and a
feel for the workings of a Jewish
community.
Nowadays people think that
the shtetl was one hundred percent
Jewish, that only Jews lived within
its boundaries. This is pure legend.
What the Jews did achieve in the
shtetlekh (plural of shtetl) was
self-sufficiency in many aspects of
their life. They dressed differently
from Gentiles, they spoke Yiddish,
they worshipped God in their own
way, and they organized their
community according to their own
plan.
The first institution that Jews
set up in a town was the House of
Study or besmedresh (in Yiddish)
for morning and evening prayers.
Four walls, some benches and
chairs, a Torah scroll, prayer
books, and a wash basin were all
that was needed. The service could
take place without a rabbi or a can-
tor because most male Jews could
lead the prayers as long as there
were ten men present. Next was the
ritual bath or mikve, especially im-
portant for the women who fol-
lowed the Jewish laws of ritual
purity. For schools, no special
buildings were required because
children met in the living room-
kitchen-bedroom of the teacher
himself. The name for such a
makeshift school was heder, which
literally means "room." Jews also
had their own bakers, brewers and
butchers. A shoykhet, or ritual
slaughterer, was needed to make
sure that the animals were killed in

Continued on Page 18

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