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February 10, 1989 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-10

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


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Indivisible As Night

Continued from preceding page

in 1968, all but painted "anti-
Semite" on Lester's front
door. The FBI notified Lester
of an attempt to kidnap him.
The Jewish Defense League
denounced him.
The problem was a radio
broadcast. Lester, then a
radio talk show host who
served, he says, as the voice of
the black community, had as
his guest teacher Leslie
The United Federation of
Teachers -became embroiled
in a controversy over com-
munity control of schools. For
blacks, the issue was whether
they would have control of
their own institutions.

UFT President Albert
Shanker charged that "some
anti-Semitism" was involved
at one of the schools. A black
teacher was singled out as
"militant." His name was
Leslie Campbell.
It was not Campbell's ap-
pearance on Lester's program
that so irritated the Jewish
community. It was, instead, a
poem written by one of Camp-
bell's students and read on
the air. It said in part:
Hey, Jewboy, with that yar-
mulke on your head
You pale-faced Jew boy — I
wish you were dead .. .
I'm sick of seeing in everything
I do
About the murder of 6 million
Hitler's reign lasted for only
15 years
For that period of time you
shed crocodile tears
My suffering lasted for over
400 years, Jew boy
On a subsquent broadcast of
Lester's program, another
black student said Hitler
should have made Jews into
Lester protested then — and
is still explaining today —
that he was not being anti-
Semitic in permitting the
poem to be read on the air. It
was the only way the Jewish
community could be made
aware of how blacks were feel-
ing, he says.
But remind him of a subse-
quent broadcast on his pro-
gram, when another black
student said Hitler should
have made more Jews into
lampshades, and Lester
becomes visibly disturbed.
"I was so flabbergasted
when he said that," he says.
"I wanted to kill him."
But Lester resigned himself
to silence during the broad-
cast. "I was on the air to serve
as a conduit for the black
community," he explains.
"That didn't give me permis-
sion to be an individual." He
pauses, thinking of the stu-
dent's comments. "I was so, so

Today, Lester speaks for
himself. "I don't try to be the
voice for a whole people
That doesn't mean he
doesn't get into trouble. In his
journey to Judaism Lester
studied Jewish history, met
with rabbis and attended
synagogue services. He also
frequently found himself -in
conflict with the black
In 1979, Lester wrote an ar-
ticle disputing blacks who
blamed Jews for the resigna-
tion of former U.S. am-
bassador to the United Na-
tions Andrew Young. Young
left the post after it was
disclosed that he held private
talks with representatives of
the Palestine' Liberation
Lester also denounced the
anti-Semitism of Nation of
Islam leader Louis
And last year, he was ask-
ed to resign after working for
10 years in the Afro-
American studies department
of the University of
Masssachusetts in Amherst
when he labeled as anti-
Semitic comments by black
author James Baldwin.
Lester made his charges in
Lovesong after Baldwin said
the media should not have
reported the Rev. Jesse
Jackson calling New York
"They used that as an ex-
cuse," Lester says of the
department's leadership.
"They'd been unhappy with
me for quite some time. I
wasn't really one of the gang.
I tend to be very independent
and that bothers people.
"They also thought I was
anti-black because I was
critical of (Jesse) Jackson.
And I don't think they were
entirely comfortable with the
fact that I became a Jew."
A place existed where the
faculty did feel comfortable
with Lester's Judaism — the
university's Judaic and Near
Eastern studies department,
to which he was transferred
from the Afro-American
studies department.
The author of 15 books and
the recipient of the Newberry
Honor Medal and the New
York Times Outstanding
Book Award, Lester is right at
home in the Judaic studies
department. He teaches a
class on Jewish holidays and
festivals, another on the
works of one of his favorite
authors, Elie Wiesel. His
other two favorite writers, he
says, are Chaim Potok and
Of course, one might expect
the unexpected from a man
who wears a large ring show-



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