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July 05, 1991 - Image 38

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-07-05

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

PURELY COMMENTARY I'

Pontiac: Where Anti-Zionism
Propagated As Religion



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38

FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1991

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Editor Emeritus

A

Detroit News story
dated June 9, 1991,
dealt with the last re-
ligious services of Temple
Beth Jacob of Pontiac, ex-
plaining that the original
membership at its founding
in 1919 was 200 member
families; it dropped this year
to 55 individuals. This com-
pelled the sale of the syn-
agogue to a church.
At the closing service on
June 7, there were
reminiscences. As an indica-
tion of how historic occur-
rences are forgotten and,
therefore, regrettably ig-
nored is the failure to in-
dicate that there was a
defection from Temple Beth
Jacob in 1945 under the
leadership of one member
who created a competing
synagogue group which
became the outspoken pro-
pagator of anti-Zionism in
this country. While the syn-
agogue was named Ameri-
can Jewish Reform Con-
gregation, the movement
aimed at destroying Zionism
soon became known as the
American Council for
Judaism.
The anti-Zionist organizer
and first president was
Norman Buckner. He had
the spiritual backing of
Rabbi Elmer Berger, who by
this time had the pulpit of
the Reform Congregation in
Flint.
It is necessary to explain
that Rabbi Berger, after be-
ing ordained by Hebrew
Union College in Cincinnati,
was assistant rabbi at Tem-
ple Beth El in Detroit and
then went to Flint. Then,
with offices in Philadelphia,
he became the prophet of an-
ti-Zionism on a national
scale as coordinator of the
American Council for
Judaism.
Because there was a defec-
tion from Beth Jacob, its
members should not be
tainted with the Buckner-
Berger anti-Zionist virus.
Most amazing about this
procedure is the manner in
which the formation of the
anti-Zionist movement was
treated as a religious duty
by its adherents.
The lengthy text of the
movement's basic principles
will be a matter of inter-
esting studies by students of
religion and Jewish identifi-
cation. Complete texts of
their ideas were released on

Dec. 1, 1944. They specifical-
ly deny membership to
Zionists.
These anti-Zionist asser-
tions were circulated by Mr.
Buckner among 5,500 Jew-
ish leaders throughout the
country.
It is additionally inter-
esting to note that at the
time of Mr. Buckner's defec-
tion from Beth Jacob, its
rabbi, Eric Friedland, was in
military service as a
chaplain in World War II.
Rabbi Friedland was always
a dedicated Zionist.
The American Council for
Judaism is now the subject
of recollections in a book.
The New York Times Book
Review carried the story
under the heading "Israel
Haunted." In the review of
Jews Against Zionism, the
American Council for
Judaism, 1942 — 1948 by
Thomas Kolsky, Murray
Polner states:
Few people remember
the American Council for
Judaism ... Fewer still
remember what they were
saying and why .. .
Founded in 1942, the
council comprised
wealthy, acculturated,
often Southern, Reform
German Jews, many of
them active congregants
in synagogues. By 1948
they had grown " from a
group of 67 rabbis and
laymen into an organiza-
tion of approximately
14,000 members .. .
To a considerable
degree, their members
and leaders _ Lessing J.
Rosenwald, whose father
founded Sears, Roebuck
& Company, the publicist
Sidney Wallach and the
rabbis Morris S. Lazaron
and Elmer Berger
reflected the advice
once offered by Rabbi
Gustav Posnanski, who
preached at the dedica-
tion of Temple Beth
Elohim in Charleston,
S.C., in 1841 that " this
country is our Palestine,
this city our Jerusalem,
this house of God our
Temple."
While this review enters
into a discussion of disput-
able and contradictory
claims by both the anti-
Zionists and the Zionists
regarding rescue activities
for Jewish sufferers from
Nazism, the above quotation
is now of special interest in
my reminders about the
occurrences in Pontiac. ❑

_

Detroit Kibbutzniks:
State Building
For a number of years dur-
ing the 1920s and 1930s,
scores of young Detroiters
left for Jewish settlements
in what was then Palestine
and were among the early
American halutzim. They
were under the influence of
Habonim and Hashomer
Hatzair of the leftist Zionist
ranks; together with a group
of adults, they went to kib-
butzim.
The account of one such
pioneering family is inter-
estingly traced in the vol-
ume entitled A Link To Our
Heritage, which was
published by Aliyah Press in
Palm Harbor, Fla. Its au-
thor, Sherman H. Friedman,

Florence Milan

earns commendation for the
review of important con-
tributions toward Israel's
upbuilding. The attention
Mr. Friedman gives to
Degania Beth draws interest
to Detroiters.
One account is given about
Berta Stay and her husband
Yitzhak, who left Detroit for
Palestine in 1933 and
became factors in Degania
Beth. Yitzhak retains the
glory of activism there to
this day. Berta, who made
contributions to nursing in
the country, remained active
until her death three years
ago.
The story of the Stays and
their family is related by her
sister, Florence Milan, who,
with her husband the late
Charles Milan, had a long
history of Zionist and Jewish
communal activities in
Detroit.
In his book, Mr. Friedman
gives accounts of the many

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