NE U OM =I NM MI MI MI • MN MN • =M OM MI NM UM NM I - I= MN ME
hey were an unlikely
group of rebels. In-
stead of slicked-back,
hair they wore kipot.
In place of leather
jackets they donned
suits. And rather than
a pack of cigarettes
rolled up in a T-shirt
sleeve, they carried
plans and reports and
schedules in black
Rabbi E. B. Freed-
man, Rabbi Feivel
Wagner, formerly of
Young Israel of
Greenfield, and com-
munity activist Max
Zentman were rebels with a cause: tackling
To some, the proposed new highway con-
stituted a vital east-west link in suburban
Detroit. To these three and other Orthodox
Jews, it • meant the disappearance of
A small group
Jews were rebels
with a cause.
THE ORTHODOX COALITION
WENT TO WORK IN 1 979
synagogues and temples, construction work
disrupting Shabbat, paths used by the elderly
replaced with concrete slabs and bulldozers,
and hopes where Jews had resided for decades
ripped down in a single blast.
"Everyone had worked very hard to
establish this neighborhood," Rabbi
Freedman, then studying at the Kollel,
recalls. "I thought of all the institu-
tions that would just have to pick up
and move, and there was no way the
Jewish community could support
In short, the men concluded the new
highway would mean the beginning of
the end of the Jewish community that
included the Jimmy Prentis Morris
Jewish Community Center, numerous
synagogues and temples, day schools,
kosher butchers, the mikvah, Jewish
bookstores and homes for the elderly.
They decided to take action.
The Orthodox coalition went to work
in 1979. Zentman, Rabbis Freedman
and Wagner met with an Orthodox
Jew who worked at General Motors and had
intimate knowledge of federal highway con-
struction regulations. The man suggested they
make use of a law requiring an environmen-
tal impact study of how a new highway will af-
SUSAN WEISS, 38,
Southfield, speech and
language teacher: "We
moved from 10 Mile and
Greenfield to 111/2 and
Lahser seven yedrs ago
because- we knew the
property values would go
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 1989
WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY?
Jewish community, though they
doubted any would attend, Rabbi
"So there we were at Young Israel
of Greenfield, about to hold this
meeting," he says. "And all these
politicians — both local and from
Farmington — start arriving. We see one come
in his black limousine and then another and
they just keep coming.
"That's what tipped us off that they were
listening to us. When we saw them coming to
the meeting, that's when we really went to
At the meeting, the coalition leadership pro-
duced - maps and drawings and discussed at
length "why it was essential to the de-
velopment of Jewish life in. Detroit to keep this
neighborhood stabilized," Rabbi Freedman
Later, they would take highway represen-
tatives to areas that would be affected by 1-696.
Rabbi Freedman remembers showing
Michigan State University sociologist Dr.
Harry Perlstadt, whom the State Highway
Department commissioned to do a study about
I-696's impact on the Jewish community,
around Oak Park one Shabbat.
"I had him walking to every kiddush, to
every simchah, to a bris, to every youth group
activity that day. I wanted him to see exactly
what walking an extra four blocks (because of
highway construction and re-routing) just for
one event would mean."
But Rabbi Friedman believes the officials'
interest was ultimately due to the fact that
"we had a heck of a potential lawsuit. The
bottom line is that we were serious and we
showed every intention of taking this all the
way to the end."
In 1980, Perlstadt completed his report. The
32-page document marked the first time the
state acknowledged the probable effects of I-
696 on the Jewish community. This report
would later serve as the basis for the provi-
Congress enacted the
Protection Act, setting stiff
requirements for highway
First man walks on the
fect sociological and cultural aspects in the
Knowing a study had not been conducted for
1-696, the men realized they had a hook.
Enlisting the support of area synagogues and
Jewish groups, the three organized a letter-
writing campaign to local, state and federal of-
ficials. They cited the necessity of conducting
an environmental impact study and
made it clear that "you can't ignore us
or we'll sue you," according to Rabbi
They also invited the officials to a
meeting to discuss 1-696 and the
EN EN mo m= m um mil ow =I
RABBI E. B. FREEDMAN: .
"You can't ignore us or
we'll sue you,"
Yom Kippur War.
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