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January 01, 1993 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-01-01

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Editor's Notebook

Community Views

orgive And Forget

Remembering A Simpler
Time In Jewish Life


Is there a point
when we, as
Jews, should
forgive, if not
forget, former
According to
Jewish tradi-
tion, a sinner
rho repents on the day of his
ieath receives salvation. But
there are some transgressions
For which only God can for-
;ive. And there are practical
end political, as well as ethi-
cal, issues we face that do not
- glow for easy answers.
Most of us would agree
with Simon Wiesenthal that
it is proper to track down and
prosecute former Nazis be-
cause the issue is justice, not
vengeance. But what should
-, ,ur attitude be toward a man
like the Rev. Jesse Jackson,
;who appears to be doing
teshuva, or repentance, for his
many statements critical of
Jews and Israel.
The Rev. Japkson was once
anathema to-Jews, not only
Or his reference to New York
as "Hymietown" and his close
ties with the Rev. Louis Far-
rakhan, but his depreciation
of the significance of the Holo-
-4.ust and his statements that
eemed to widen the gap be-
meen blacks and Jews. Now,
though, the Rev. Jackson is
merging as a champion of
black-Jewish dialogue and
even uses the word teshuva
o describe his apologies and
appeals for forgiveness.
On virtually every contro-
versial issue of late dealing
ith black-Jewish relations,
from Crown Heights to the
possible political appointment
of Dr. Johnnetta Cole to a
abinet post in the Clinton ad-
. stration (more about that
ater), the Rev. Jackson has
ken a high-profile role in
seeking to defuse black-Jew-
sh tension and foster positive
dialogue. He has also met
ith a number of Jewish
oups in recent months and
spoken out against anti-Semi-
Such a change in the Rev.
Jackson has not gone unno-
ticed among Jewish leaders.
The Foxman, national direc-
tor of the Anti-Defamation
League, acknowledges that
\the Rev. Jackson has "gone a
z iong way to removing some of
the hurts of the past." But he
and others note that there are
- 4:ill disturbing images that
.remain— of the Rev. Jackson
)mbracing PLO leader Yassir
krafat in 197-9 or labeling
.lonism in 1980 as "a kind of
1 )oisonous weed still choking
In the last year the Rev.
i 'Jackson has described Zion-


ism as "a liberation move-
ment," has worked tirelessly
on behalf of black-Jewish di-
alogue and has even consid-
ered going to Syria to
intercede on behalf of Jews
there seeking to emigrate.
Should motives, or only ac-
tions, be a factor in our deci-
sion of whether or not to
forgive? Some Jewish ob-
servers are cynical about the
"new" Jesse Jackson. They
say he was working hard to
convince Bill Clinton to ap-
point him as U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations and
that his efforts in the Jewish
community were part of a
campaign to offset opposition
to his being named to a key
post. (The Rev. Jackson did
not get the UN post and says
that he has not sought any
specific appointment.)

Judge Jesse
Jackson, and
others, not only
by their
reputations but
by their actions.

mer activities, while the Jew-
ish leadership of Atlanta
came to her defense, assert-
ing that in the last five years
she has "set a new standard
for bridge building" among re-
ligious, ethnic and racial
And then there is the case
of Warren Christopher, our
next secretary of state. While
no one has accused him of
ever being an enemy of Israel,
there are pro-Israel activists
critical of Mr. Christopher's
actions when he was deputy
secretary of state in the
Carter administration. Dur-
ing that time, Mr. Christo-
pher and Anthony Lake, who
will soon become national se-
curity advisor, were involved
in formulating U.S. policies
that sought to return Israel
to its pre-1967 borders and
create a Palestinian home-
Should Jewish groups op-
pose the nomination of Mr.
Christopher and Mr. Lake
now or seek to strengthen
their relationship with these
men? And what of the Rev.
Jackson and Dr. Cole, and
other former critics who seem
to have changed their ways—

The Rev. Jesse Jackson in a 1988 photo with the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum

The Rev. Jackson is not the
only black leader whose past
actions may have prevented
them from receiving political
appointments. In recent
weeks, Jewish groups were
divided over Dr. Johnnetta
Cole, a black woman who is
president of Spelman College
in Atlanta. She was a leading
candidate to become secretary
of education in the Clinton
administration before reports
were made public in the For-
ward, a Jewish weekly in
New York, of her past associ-
ations with pro-Communist
and pro-Palestinian organi-
Some national Jewish
groups opposed the appoint-
ment on the basis of her for-

how long do we judge them
with suspicion, if not hostili-
Clearly there are differ-
ences of nuance and degree
from case to case. But one cri-
terion could be a phrase used
by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik,
a leader of modern Ortho-
doxy, who in writing about re-
ligious teshuva, explains that
the most essential aspect of
repentance is that "the future
has overcome the past." In
other words, man's regret
over his past behavior allows
him to make a fresh start.
Only God can determine
if such repentance is sincere
and whether it is motivated
by pragmatism — even cyni-
cism— or by a transforma-

FORGIVE page 8

I grew up in
Conn., at Con-
gregation Rod-
eph Sholom,
son of Rabbi
Harry and Eth-
el Nelson. It
has been 25
years since I spent Shabbat
in my congregation, and two
weeks ago I went home
again. People who remem-
bered my father (who had
been the rabbi of Rodeph
Sholom from 1934 to 1964)
greeted me warmly and emo-
tionally, stirring many pre-
cious memories of my youth.
Rodeph Sholom was one of
the great congregations of the
Conservative movement and
still is an outstanding insti-
tution. In the '50s and early
'60s I remember it most for
its specially designated youth
section, toward the back,
where as teen-agers we gath-
ered each Friday evening and
Saturday morning. It was the
center of our social lives. Fri-
day evening we were likely to
be part of a bat mitzvah cer-
emony, and Saturday morn-
ings the bar mitzvah boy
could be counted upon to dav-
en Shacharit along with the
chanting of the Haftorah.
From its ranks emerged
many rabbis, cantors, and ed-
ucators, and these illustrious
individuals always credited
the influence of Rodeph
Sholom in their lives.
What are my memories of
Rodeph Sholom? I remember
being elected president of the
junior congregation and par-
ticipating in services where
we actually vied for the hon-
or of leading. I remember my
sisters' b'not mitzvah and my
bar mitzvah. It was unique to
have my father and my uncle
speak to me. The synagogue
was always a comfortable,
comforting place from my

What are my
memories of
Rodeph Sholom?

It was a gentler and sim-
pler time in American Jew-
ish life. My uncle, a
prominent Orthodox rabbi,
spoke in our Conservative
synagogue, davened there,
and accepted an aliyah. It
never occurred to me at that
time how courageous he was.
He disagreed with women
participating in the service,
even sitting in the same pew,

Rabbi David Nelson is the spir-
itual leader of Congregation
Beth Shalom, in Oak Park.

and still he overcame the
differences to be together
as family. Today, would my
Uncle Simon feel comfort-
able enough to enter my
synagogue? Would he join
us to pray? I tend to doubt
it; the climate has changed.
There is a sense of intimi-
dation that generates from
the move to the right.
Whatever I do as a rabbi is
challenged in some Ortho-
dox circles. I am supposed
to understand why most
Orthodox rabbis can't come

There is a
sense of
intimidation that
generates from
the move
to the right.
Whatever I
do as a
rabbi is
challenged in
some Orthodox

into my building, why they
can't work with me.
Frankly, I have never un-
derstood the "domino theo-
ry of religious practice,"
which seems to suggest
that if you are liberal then
everything you do is sus-
pect. I regret the fact that
we are not working togeth-
er in so many areas where
my ideoology as a Conser-
vative rabbi has no rele-
vance to the issues that we
could solve together. Trav-
eling back home I realized
that you can't really return
home again to what once
was, but you can recall it
and try to recapture the
spirit of the past.
I have an ever-deepening
respect for my Uncle Simon
because he was able to
bridge differences with love
and respect. After all, don't
we all take the teaching in
Aaron's name very seri-
ously? "Be of the disciples
of Aaron , love peace and
pursue it. Love your fellow
human being and bring
them ever closer to Torah."
That is what my father and
my Uncle Simon did in
their generation, and I am
trying my best to do. ❑

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