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July 29, 1994 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-07-29

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

'Orchestrating'
The Jewish Community

The Power
Of Two

RABBI AVI WEISS SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM ASSOCIATE EDITOR

hen Martin Luther
King Jr. demonstrat-
ed peacefully for civil
rights in the South,
local black leaders were asked
to stop him. First, they mar-
ginalized him. Later, they
learned the valuable lesson of
community orchestration.
When asked to dissociate
themselves from Dr. King, lo-
cal black leaders responded,
"His style is not our style. How-
ever, he's a peaceful man. He
has a following and.his cause
is correct. We can't stop him.
You can stop him. All you-have
to do is give our people more
rights."
In sharp contrast to this les-
son are the circumstances sur-
rounding recent protests
outside the NAACP's recent
black summit in Baltimore.
There, I joined with Michael
Lerner, the editor of Tikkun,
and Michael Meyers, a former
NAACP assistant national di-
rector, to protest the NAACP's
embrace of Louis Farrakhan.
Our quarrel was not with the
African-American community,
but with a particular bigot and
those seeking to legitimize him.
Unfortunately, in the days be-
fore the summit, the Baltimore
Jewish Council announced its op-
position to any protests. As its di-
rector said, "This may inflame
and provoke — rather than at-
tempt to heal — the discord be-
tween the African-American and
Jewish communities."
This reaction was reminiscent
of a similar event five years ago.
In 1989, after I and other Jews
demonstrated outside the
Auschwitz convent, Cardinal
Josef Glemp publicly proclaimed
that we had come to kill the nuns.
We sued him — and finally
reached the point when the car-
dinal was about to sign a care-
fully worded apology for
anti-Semitic remarks. The state-
ment would have represented a
momentous breakthrough in
Jewish-Christian relations.
The day before the cardinal
was to sign this statement, two
members of an American Jewish
establishment organization ar-
rived in Poland. They told him
that I had "contributed to anti-
Semitism in Poland" and had act-
ed "destructively and in an
irresponsible manner."
Cardinal Glemp then refused
to sign the apology on the
grounds that his accusation had
been validated by these two Jew-
ish leaders.
These leaders should have fol-
lowed the example set in the civ-
il rights movement by saying,
"Rabbi Weiss' way is not our way.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is national
president of the Coalition for
Jewish Concerns.

W

However, he is a peaceful man.
He has a following and his cause
is just. We can't stop him. You
can. You can stop him by remov-
ing the convent."
We view the Jewish commu-
nity as a symphony orchestra
that has flutists, violinists and so
on. We are drummers, peaceful
drummers: Our goal is not to
drown out the flutists and vio-
linists, but to beat steadily, re-
lentlessly and, yes, to sometimes
sound the alarm, loud and clear.
When any of these instru-
ments are missing, there is no
symphony. Each one has an im-
portant place in the orchestra. A
few days before arriving in the
United States for his first visit,
Natan Sharansky said it best:
"Quiet diplomacy can help only
if it is supported by strong pub-
lic pressure."
Case- in point: When Pat
Buchanan was running for pres-
ident in 1992, several Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform rabbis
joined in raising a voice against
his anti-Semitic and racist state-
ments. At his final "America
First" rally on the eve of the Geor-
gia primary, I called out, "Your
racism and anti-Semitism make
America last." Looking down at
us, he replied, "This is a rally of
Americans, for Americans and
for the good old U.S.A., my
friends."
Translation: "Jews, if you don't
like it, get out of here."
The next day, the American
Jewish Congress and the Amer-
ican Jewish Committee released
statements asserting that it was

now clear that Mr. Buchanan
was anti-Semitic. In this in-
stance, the discord of his offen-
sive statements was stilled by the
harmony of the Jewish commu-
nity, by activists and the estab-
lishment working together.
For years, I have said that our
brand of activism is not "anti-es-
tablishment," but rather, "non-
establishment." I understand the
position of such organizations as
the Baltimore Jewish Council re-
garding the NAACP-Farrakhan
protest. However, its role is no
more or less legitimate than ours,
which is to serve as peaceful, di-
rect-action activists. The Balti-
more Jewish Council has a right
to its opinion as a component of
the Jewish community. But it
steps beyond the line when it de-
clares that its way is the only
way.
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the
great medieval poet and philoso-
pher, compared the Jewish peo-
ple in certain ways to a
symphony orchestra. He wrote
that congregational prayer,
which is the prayer of the group,
is more powerful than private
prayer. In group prayer, my de-
ficiency is compensated by an-
other's strength. In private
prayer, the deficiency is glaring.
Likewise, we must all comple-
ment those groups in our com-
munity whose methods of
speaking out differ from our own.
There must be mutual recogni-
tion that as much as amcha, the
grass roots, needs the establish-
ment, the establishment also
needs amcha. ❑

A day doesn't
pass here at the
paper that I
don't get some
unusual, to put
it mildly, phone
call.
In
recent
weeks I've heard
from someone
who wanted to know if I could
name "anyone in Hollywood
who is Jewish"; a gentile who
told me we Jews need to get out
the message to the world that
we don't really control the
banks and the media; and a
man who said he's a "channel-
er" for the Rambam (that is, a
medium through which the
great rabbi can speak to us to-
day. Some of the more well-
known "channelers" — like
those who speak to actress
Shirley MacLaine — dispense
such timeless wisdom as,
"Reach in to reach out," and
"God is within you.")
The calls that trouble me
most are those from angry
readers. Even when it's
something as silly as,
"Why didn't you men-
tion that my Aunt
- Millie brought her fa-
mous chocolate cake
with the bright-red
sprinkles to the fam-
ily reunion?
What's the mat-
ter with you?" I
lose sleep.
That's why,
about two
years ago, I
had many
restless
nights after
a communi-
ty leader
called me,
furious about something that
had appeared in the paper. It
wasn't even a piece I wrote, for
crying out loud, but because he
knew me, I guess, he felt com-
fortable enough to call and let
me have it.
"Your paper is .... (fill in the
blank). The whole media is ....
(fill in the blank). You reporters
are...."
I tried to reason with him. I
tried to explain (even though,
as I mentioned, I had nothing
to do with the piece that ran).
Finally, though, I ended the
conversation because there was
nothing left to say.
For weeks afterward, I tried
to think of a way to work this
out. Should I call him and say,
"Let's have lunch," or, "Maybe
we could talk about this?" I
asked friends for advice; they
said to forget about it.
But these battles really both-
er me — as I suspect they both-

er everyone else. Fight with
your spouse in the morning,
and if it's not worked out im-
mediately the day is ruined.
Fight with a family member
and, no matter how stupid the
argument, you may not speak
to each other for years.
That's likely what would
have happened in this case, too.
But then something unusual
occurred.
About a week before Yom
Kippur, the community leader
— I'll call him FI (formerly
irate) — phoned me.
"As you know, Halachah ob-
ligates us to seek forgiveness
from those we have offended
during the past year," he said.
"I know that I spoke harshly
and unfairly to you, and that I
insulted you, your paper and
your profession. I apologize, and
Pm asking your forgiveness."
What great two words: I
apologize.
FI couldn't have made a
greater impression on me had
he been the head of the
Ed McMahon sweep-
stakes (everyone I
know is a finalist for
$5 million) coming
to tell me I had
won the Big One.
What courage
and strength it
must have taken
to place such a call.
I say that because it
is rare that I utter or
hear the words "I
apologize"
said with
any real
sincerity.
("Adina!" I
have been
known to
say to my
2 1/2-year-old daughter. "Why
did you grab that toy? You
know your little brother was
playing with it and now he's
sure to cry. Please tell him
you're sorry right now!"
"Sorry," she says casually,
not taking her eyes offBarney.)
Of course I forgave FI. But it
was more than that. I had a
new respect for him and a new
admiration. I realized that I like
him a lot, too. I like anybody
who has the guts to call me like
that. Gosh, if the guy phones
me now and wants me to write
about his Aunt Betty's famous
strawberry cake that is sure to
be the hit of his family reunion,
I would probably do it.
Yom Kippur is still weeks
away, but it's already time to
start thinking about it. A good
place to start is by working up
your courage to call those you
have offended. It's Halachah,
and it's good for the soul. ❑

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