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December 29, 1989 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-29

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sions — such as the decks over the freeway — Shabbat and the High Holy Days. Near com-
the federal highway department agreed to pletion of the highway, workers sought the ap-
grant the Orthodox community.
proval of Orthodox leaders to work on Shabbat
The Orthodox group, with assistance from to put the -finishing touches on the highway.
Oak Park city officials, still had to battle Pres-
In addition, the Teitel Federation Apart-
ident Jimmy Carter, who was about to give the - ments building,'which opened this month, was
highway the go-ahead with no concessions to built to replace some of the housing lost to I-
the Jewish community.
Rabbi Freedman says he and other Jewish
So Rabbi Freedman, Rabbi Wagner and
leaders called groups throughout the country, Zentman appealed -to lawyer Mark Schlussel,
imploring them to write Carter about the who without pay served as negotiator for the
detrimental effects of the highway. The presi- Orthodox community on the final environmen-
dent agreed to hold off on the highway, giving tal impact statement.
the Orthodox coalition time to insert condi-
Schlussel participated in meetings between
tions into the statement he eventually signed.
the Orthodox Jews and government represen-
As the campaign gained momentum, the Or- tatives, including U.S. Secretary of Transpor-
thodox group joined forces with represen- tation Neil Gold-
tatives of Mayor Coleman Young's office, who schmidt, whom both
wanted to protect the Detroit Zoo, which is he and Rabbi Freed-
next to the highway. In the end, the zoo got a
man characterize as
new entrance, a new parking structure and
some changes in the highway plans to sympathetic.
A former Oregon
minimize noise levels for the animals.
They also found assistance from James Blan- mayor, Goldschmidt
chard, then a young congressman; his aide was well aware of the
Shelby Solomon, now state budget director; kinds of changes the
and U.S. Rep. William Broadhead.
highway could have on
Despite its successes, the Orthodox coalition a community and was
came to understand that no matter how much "very receptive to the
they pushed and lobbied, the highway was in- concerns we express-
"We had been ready to lie down before the ed," Schlussel said.
Like Rabbi Freed-
tractors," Rabbi Freedman says. "But finally
we realized we would have to take a two- man, Schlussel be-
lieves the government
pronged approach."
They couldn't stop the highway, but they in the end agreed to
could secure as many safeguards for the concessions because
Jewish community as possible. A little lobby- the Orthodox coalition
ing brought many results.
had a strong case.
Through their efforts came three decks with
The Federal Highway Administration's final
parks that were built over the highway. These, environmental impact statement, issued in
in effect, connect the Orthodox communities on 1981, may not have given the Orthodox coali-
either side and provide access to synagogues tion everything it wanted. But it did offer con-
and Jewish institutions.
cessions on a number of major points, in-
Also part of the deal, transportation officials cluding special walkways to accommodate
agreed to halt highway construction on pedestrians before and after the highway was
built; replacement housing — later the Teitel
Apartments — for Jewish elderly; the ap-
pointment of an ombudsman for the Orthodox
community, Rabbi Eli Kaplan; halting of con-
struction on Shabbat and High Holy Days; and
the building of the three freeway decks in Oak
Park and Southfield to facilitate pedestrian
access over the freeway.
Schlussel's negotiation skills are credited for
securing most of the concessions for the Or-
thodox group. Many of those involved say the
decks were the most critical of the concessions
"Those decks give me a great deal of com-
fort," Schlussel says. "Such a psychological
gulf would have been created if a huge ex-
pressway had separated one half of the com-
munity from the other."
As Rabbi Freedman looks out today on those
decks, he believes the coalition was successful
because of the big-name support they received
and because "it was clear the law was on our
"And besides," he says, "we were very, very

This house in Oak Park was
moved nine years ago
from a street between
Woodward and Scotia to
make room for the
highway. Today a wall
stands in the same spot.

The Michigan Department
of Transportation named
Rabbi Eli Kaplan to the
post of 1-696 liaison to the
Jewish community. Above,
he is shown studying
blueprints in an area that
later was plowed over for
the highway.

Photo: Bob McKeown

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