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January 08, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UP

Somewhere West Of Woodward

Ex-Detroiters, living the California good life, can't
seem to get the Motor City out of their system

HARVEY GOTLIFFE

e

Special to The Jewish News

I' ews have been wandering to
new places in search of a
better life throughout hist-
ory, most dramatically illus-
trated when Moses brought
his people out of Egypt three millenia
ago.
More recently, some Detroit Jews
have become part of a smaller, less
dramatic exodus, leaving for a new
life in Northern California. These ex-
patriates were searching for
something they thought Michigan
couldn't offer. In leaving, they said
good-bye to close friends and family.
The Salles were an exception. In
1960, rather than say good bye,
brothers Lenny, Richard and Donald
all moved to San Mateo along with
their parents and their wives. "It
wasn't that I disliked Detroit," Len-
ny says, "I really liked it, but Califor-
nia offers so much in so many areas,
it's hard to make a comparison _ ."
Seventy-six-year old Leah
Chafetz, a 1949 emigre, made the
move a family reunion of sorts,
heading west one year after her
brother Al came to San Francisco.
"When Dad visited Al and told us
about the wind, the ocean and the
beautiful skies;' Leah knew Califor-
nia was where she belonged, regret-
ting that when she and her parents
moved west, they left her brother, Art,
and sister, Pearl, behind.
Eleanor Rudner Greenberg was
24 when she visited the Bay Area on
a vacation in 1960. "I knew this is
where I wanted to spend the rest of
my life. I was one of the lucky ones:
The next year, Greenberg packed
her belongings in her old Chevrolet,
and said good-bye to parents, her two
brothers and friends.
It was more the life force of the
area — the unique ambience, the plea-
sant weather and the bohemian scene
— that attractd Al Stillman, the
former owner of Al's Finer Deli on
Wayne State's campus. "I had thought
about it since 1960," Al admits, wip-
ing the bar counter at his Cafe Babar
in San Francisco, a gathering place
for Detroiters. "And when I came here
in 1976, I loved it."

24

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 1988

Norm Wexler, who graduated
from Central High in 1941, owned the
Big Book Store on Woodward for
years. "After the riot in 1967, the
neighborhood had become a little
edgy," he confesses. When the city of-
fered him money to move the store to
make way for the Orchestra Hall pro-
ject in 1979, "I came out to San Fran- -
cisco and liked it," and now his
Bookmonger store on Clement is
home to the thousands of books he
brought west.
After Chuck Berg graudated from
Michigan State in 1976, his motiva-
tion to move was far more basic. "The
economy in Detroit was really bad. I
tried it for a bit;' he relates, before
moving to Soquel, 80 miles south of
San Francisco. He, too, brought
something from Detroit when he
opened his Senate Sofa Bed and Mat-
tress store — the name, which he ap-
propriated from the store his father
once owned on Michigan Avenue at
Livernois.
Other ex-Detroiters claim that
they moved because "it was time for
a change" or they "had to get away,"
and while part of the draw to Nor-
thern California is its hypnotic beau-
ty and the year-long good weather,
Michigan's weather was also a factor.
Although Lenny Salle remembers
that "fall in Detroit was gorgeous;'
Lew Weinstein, who came out in
1964, wanted to "forget about winter
slush and summer humidity;' and
Norm Wexler didn't miss the seasons
at all. In fact, he. says, "I don't miss
a heck of a lot."
There was something others
found missing after they made the
move west and settled in: a Jewish
community. Ellie Greenberg was
frustrated. "The Jewish community,
when I moved to San Francisco, was
in the closet. It was hard to find
Jewish people and I missed it. In
Detroit, it was just there."
Lew Weinstein agrees: "I miss the
fact that there was a Jewish com-
munity in Detroit of like-minded peo-
ple to relate to if I wanted to." Now,
on a winter's day, Lew might be con-
sidered by Detroiters as a prototype
Californian, living in a modern home
nestled on a hillside near the
Monterey Bay, complete with a

Lenny Salle, far right, at an anti-war rally in Santa Cruz,

sometimes-working hot tub. Yet he
regrets that "there's no real Jewish
community out here."
Lenny Salle misses "the
Jewishness," for there's no Jewish
neighborhood in the area that's
geographically spread out over the
seven counties where 135,000 Nor-
thern Californian Jews reside.
But Salle is troubled by more than
just the physical dispersal. "For all of
California's yuppiness and so-called
sophistication, I found that, at least

within Detroit's Jewish environment,
people seemed to be much more pro-
gressive and in tune with the modern
world than I'm finding out here in
California." He reminisces about "the
certain comfort level and
togetherness" he enjoyed in Detroit
that is lacking out west.
Chuck Berg believes that there's
more missing. "I don't know if it's
Jewish families in Detroit or it's just
the midwest values and family ties.
My morals and values are more

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