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May 13, 1994 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-05-13

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Community Views

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Editorial Notebook

It's Hard To Judge
A Real Enigma

Meeting As Friends
To Confront Issues

RICHARD LOBENTHAL SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

PHIL JACOBS ED TOR

I had intended to
write an "ADL Col-
umn" (whatever
that is) but in
truth I spent an in-
ordinate amount of
time thinking
about Richard
Nixon. As my
deadline ap-
proached, I found that the con-
tradictions of the man
overshadowed writing about Far-
rakhan or the report that Wayne
State was opening classes on
Rosh Hashanah or the phenom-
enal success of the just-complet-
ed Children of the Dream project
which brought six Israeli Ethiopi-
an teen-agers to town
for two weeks.
Finally I succumbed.
"They can wait," I con-
cluded. Perhaps it's my
own need for closure (or
catharsis); perhaps
somewhere in his life
there really is an ADL
issue; perhaps there is a
Jewish message; per-
haps...
And so I began to
think about ways to see
the world. The pragma-
tist, perhaps illustrated
by a business person,
moves ahead in a tight-
ly focused manner, pur-
suing an obvious goal.
The business person,
humiliated or insulted
by a correspondent in a
deal, swallows pride,
makes the deal and col-
lects the profit. Not so the ideal-
ist who stands on principle,
rejects dealing with the offender,
turns the deal down and comes
home empty-handed. The latter
feels better about the episode, but
is empty-handed; the former prof-
iting by the transaction doesn't
feel quite as good, but made a
profit. Each is as good as the oth-
er; we need them both.
Recently, I was approached by
various luminaries in the corn-
munity — people with very good
salaries — who wanted to be
"comped" to something because
of who they were. Offended by
what I called "immoral elitism,"
I refused. My friend called me
"stupid," "impolitic" and "naive"
and told me I would pay for my
stubbornness. I called myself out-
raged and moral; he called me a
jerk.
Throughout history, certainly
in my recollection, leaders have
done outrageous things and
rather than being summarily dis-
missed from qualification for any-
thing, the American public has
forgiven or overlooked, earning
the sobriquet of having a short

Richard Lobenthal is director of
the Anti-Defamation League in
Michigan.

memory, or in President Rea-
gan's case being labeled as
"Teflon."
Others, indignant and af-
fronted and forever unforgiving
(myself, for instance) railed
against the flabbiness in the
American moral psyche and
nursed our outrage. The analo-
gy, of course (for me) is Hitler.
Whatever "good" he might have
done — whether he loved chil-
dren or dogs or flowers — was so
overshadowed by his mon-
strousness that there can never
be a "legitimate other side" of him
through time eternal.
With Richard Nixon's death,
the scene is played over again.

On the one hand, there are those
who say the man tried to steal
the Constitution and can never
be forgiven and shouldn't be. On
the other, there are those who say
he made tragic errors and mon-
umental contributions and "both"
Nixons should be judged. (Actu-
ally, I find it an ultimate irony
that this virtually pathologically
private and haunted man about
whom most of us knew nothing,
is revealed more in commentary
about his memory than we could
ever know even while he was our
president.) Nixon is revealed as
a quintessential enigma.
Indeed, if anything can be said
of him, it is that he was that. His
anti-Semitism, which gave new
dimension to the word "expletive"
lived comfortably with his friend-
ships with Jews, his respect for
Judaism, and his involvement in
a military airlift that certainly
saved the life of Israel.
His racism lived with a better
record on school desegregation
than any president before or af-
ter him; his rabid Red-baiting
and almost hysterical anti-Com-
munism lived comfortably next
to his breakthroughs with the So-
viet Union and ("Red") China;
and his passion to be loved and
respected coexisted with his

meanspiritedness, his enemies
list, and his disdain for the
democracy of his constituency.
He loved his family; he hated
liberals; he cared for the "com-
mon people"; he made lists of
Jews; he listened to the people;
he ignored the protests; he want-
ed to unify the country; he chose
Spiro Agnew. So the pragmatists
and the idealists jockey: who
died? The friend of Israel or the
anti-Semite? The Red-baiter or
the guy who opened up China?
The racist or the desegregation-
ist? The statesman or the dema-
gogue? The pathetic and tortured
and lonely man or the corrupt
and cynical manipulator? The de-
termined and perpetual
overcomer of adversity or
the relentless and power-
hungry egomaniac?
What would I say if
asked for my comment?
To be sure, it is not for me
to judge; only God can do
that. But what if the re-
porter on the other end of
the phone is waiting for
my answer? All of us face
these dilemmas every
day.
Nixon personified our
fantasies of getting our
enemies, getting even,
lashing out and being ir-
rational, but was still a
brilliant and unique
strategist admired in spite
of his rages — perhaps
what we worry about in
ourselves even as we hope
our "extraordinary tal-
ents" will make it OK.
We're never comfortable about
enigmas, whether they're veiled
women secretly putting roses on
a singer's grave or whether they
come in the Richard Nixon mod-
el. Of course, to the reporter
awaiting my comments, I'd do the
right thing. "He had a great im-
pact on the lives of all of us," I'd
say. "It's up to history to decide,"
I'd say. But the essential ques-
tion still remains:"What will I tell
myself?"
We need both the idealists and
the pragmatists very badly — the
doers and the philosophers. With-
out one, nothing would get done;
without the other, there would be
no concern for consequences, no
limits and no moral implications.
Without one, there would be li-
cense; without the other, no
pragmatism. Most of us are a lit-
tle bit of each.
So what to say about Nixon?
The idealist will condemn; the
pragmatist will praise; neither
will feel very comfortable about
the answer. And maybe that's
why only God should judge.
Next time, I'll stick to Ethiopi-
an Israeli teen-agers. The an-
swers are easier. ❑

Maybe it took a
solar eclipse for
an unpublicized,
but remarkable
event to happen
Tuesday evening
at Adat Shalom.
It was an occa-
sion that, at-
tended by a
small group of people, should
make us all proud. We were
talking, as they say, tachles, or
the raw truth, with one anoth-
er. The doors were closed, but
the feelings were real and open.
We've written in The Jewish
News about a survey that the
newspaper co-sponsored with
the Jewish Community Coun-
cil and the Wayne State Uni-
versity College of Urban, Labor
and Metropolitan Affairs. The
basic survey finding held that
Jews didn't think other Jews
were much interested in inter-
action with other groups, name-
ly blacks, white Christians, and
Chaldeans and Arabs. But the
survey was telling in that it re-
ported Jews also feel these eth-
nic groups think less of Jews
than Jews think of them. Fi-
nally, the survey showed that
Jews would rather be with oth-
er Jews.
That said, the Jewish Coun-
cil invited leaders of its con-
stituent groups to meet and
discuss the survey findings.
Here are some of the meeting's
highlights:
We agreed basically that the
efforts of some of the groups to
bring Jews together with other
minorities should be invento-
ried and published in The Jew-
ish News. Most felt it was
important to continue efforts
with other ethnic groups, espe-
cially in light of this stormy pe-
riod in the history of
black-Jewish relations.
Another highlight was a
pretty courageous statement
made by Arline Gould of
Shaarey Zedek, who questioned
the very posture of Jewish
groups who are seeking friend-
ship and approval from black
groups, but are not confronting
them when they show signs of
anti-Semitism. The problem
seems to be that many African
Americans contend they feel
talked down to by Jews when
organizations meet.
There's a matter of empow-
erment they demand and
should have. But that empow-
erment must also include re-
spect for other groups, including
Jews. It cannot be a one-way
street.
However, as Arthur Horwitz,
associate publisher of The Jew-
ish News, and Sharona Shapiro
of the American Jewish Corn-

mittee both said, the priorities
of other minorities are not nec-
essarily to make nice with the
Jews. Right now, there are is-
sues of survival they face. An-
other issue — do we as Jews
really care if blacks like us or
not? The survey said we do.
The survey also said that
we'd like these very organiza-
tions represented at the Tues-
day meeting to do more.
David Gad-Harf, executive
director of the Jewish Council,
and a man who is no stranger
to dialogue with other racial
and ethnic groups, said the
groups should continue to out-
reach. He also said something
that rung in everyone's ears.
He asked how we can as in-
dividuals do a better job of deal-
ing with people in our own
circles of different faiths, racial
and ethnic backgrounds.
Another participant con-
curred, asking for a plan for the
"plain, ordinary people" in the
Jewish community.
This is the key. Yes, we need
David Gad-Harf and everyone
else in the official world to di-
alogue. But us "plain, ordinary
people," we could do more for
Jewish relations with everyone
else if we came together as
neighbors in casual Sunday
morning discussions while cut-
ting the grass.
No, there's nothing terrible
about wanting to cocoon. We,
after all, spend so much time
talking about continuity, fear
of intermarriage and other ills
brought upon the Jewish peo-
ple through interactions out of
the faith.
The truth is, all of the sug-
gestions, all of the activity is im-
portant, and it should continue.
An open, sometimes raw di-
alogue worked. No, we didn't
come away with all of the an-
swers. But the comments were
noted and the Council will plan
follow-ups within the Jewish
community.
Here was a closed-door dis-
cussion. It was a meeting
among friends. Next time, more
of you should be there. This for-
mat of open, frank, let's-leave-
it-in-the-room discussion could
be adapted to take on other
pressing issues in our commu-
nity as well. We should do this
more often.
Let's not wait until the next
eclipse. Unlike an eclipse, there
are plenty of topics this com-
munity needs to stare at di-
rectly. Not looking at the face
of black anti-Semitism or count-
less other issues, we're all blind-
ed. It's not the sun, though. It's
the darkness of indifference and
apathy.
We should do this again. ❑

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