Federation's Top Exec
Sees Disturbing Trends
RUTH LITTMANN STAFF WRITER
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ederation's Executive Vice
President Robert Aronson
washed dishes in floor
cleaner this summer dur-
ing his sabbatical in Israel. Drop-
ping by, a neighbor in Jerusalem
alerted him to the error.
"I misread the label," laughs
Mr. Aronson, commenting that
his Hebrew improved as the sum-
mer passed. "Those kinds of
things really are shake-down ex-
After almost five years of serv-
ing as the Jewish Federation's
chief executive — and despite the
dish-washing mishap — Mr.
Aronson regards his two-month,
unpaid sabbatical as time well-
"It rejuvenated me. It opened
me up to new ideas and ways of
thinking about things," he says.
"If it wasn't a physical vacation,
it was definitely a mental vaca-
tion, a mental renewal."
And, negating a recent rumor,
Mr. Aronson claims he is not leav-
ing Detroit for work at an inter-
national Jewish agency based in
From June to mid-August, the
Aronson family of five stayed in
an historic section of Jerusalem
where Mr. Aronson committed
himself to three goals: family, art
During the year, Mr. Aronson
generally works from 7:30 a.m.
to 10 p.m., five to six days a week.
T ike so many Jewish communal
professionals, down-time seems
"I wanted to spend time with
my wife and three children, to get
to know them again," he says. 'In
many ways, I had become a vis-
itor in my own household.
"I also wanted to get to know
the Jewish Agency, Joint Distri-
bution Committee and some of
the other connections we (Detroit
Jews) have in Israel. It's impor-
tant, because we spend a lot of
"For most of my professional
career I have focused on local
community development, both
here in Detroit and before that in
Milwaukee, Wis. I felt it was im-
portant to learn about the other
side of Federation's agenda (Is-
Mr. Aronson also pursued his
passion for art. He is a print-mak-
er by training and was named
visiting artist for a month at the
Bezalel School of Art and Design.
After sketching scenes of Israel's
landscape, Mr. Aronson trans-
formed the images into a series
of five prints which were later ex-
The sabbatical also put him in
touch with the fluctuating social
scene in Israel. He recognized
"two disturbing trends — one
there, one here in America."
"In America, we're hearing
voices that are saying, 'Israel
doesn't need our money anymore,
and what we should do is build a
wall around our community and
spend our money locally.'
"In my view, that's one set of
disturbing comments," Mr. Aron-
"In Israel, you hear certain,
though not prevailing, voices say-
ing, We really don't need chari-
ty anymore. We don't want
hand-outs from American Jews.
We are developing a separate,
Middle Eastern state with an in-
dependent economic identity. We
can take care of ourselves very
well, thank you.'
"And in fact," Mr. Aronson
says, "these same voices are say-
ing, We have more in common
with Arabs and Druse who live
in Israel than we do with Amer-
ican Jews in New York.' "
Walls, Mr. Aronson says, por-
tend danger to the worldwide
Jewish community, including Is-
rael. Jews in America and Israel
need each other and must coop-
erate as equals, he stresses.
"There are these different voic-
es that are pulling us apart and
away from each other as a people
— as a Jewish people," he says.
"But Jews are responsible for oth-
er Jews no matter where they
Mr. Aronson will address this
issue at the Jewish Federation's
annual meeting Oct. 4 at Temple
Beth El. Although he does not
recommend that Federation re-
verse its recent decision to give
slightly smaller percentages of
Allied Jewish Campaign rev-
enues to Israel (in efforts to keep
more at home), Mr. Aronson will
call for ongoing monetary support
FEDERATION page 17