An Oklahoma City Lesson:
Don't Be Quick To Blame
PHIL JACOBS EDITOR
The Old Neighborhood
Is One Of Choice
RABBI DAVID NELSON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
By now, we're all
steeped in conver-
sation and concern
over last week's
tragedy in Okla-
homa City. Guess
it took something
like this to get our
society to put Kato
Kaelin and O.J.
and the rest in their proper place.
There are a couple of issues
that we need to talk out further.
So, let's go. If you disagree, agree,
whatever, please don't stew over
it, write us.
Point one. A bomb goes off in
Oklahoma City. It could have
gone off anywhere in this coun-
try. What was your first thought?
I'll tell you what mine was: the
Arabs did it. And for many of you,
it was your first thought as well.
After all, Arab terrorists are con-
tinually sending car bombs into
Israeli society, be it military or
civilian. A bomb factory blew up
while bombs were being made re-
cently in Gaza. What about
Buenos Aires? What about the
World Trade Center? Wasn't a
rented van part of that story? In
Oklahoma City, a Ryder truck,
packed with explosives, blew up.
There's another side, though.
During the Persian Gulf War,
I met both personally and pro-
fessionally with several Chaldean
and Arab residents of Southfield
and West Bloomfield. To the let-
ter, all of these people had kids
in public schools, the Universi-
ty of Michigan, MSU and Wayne.
Some owned businesses, and
some were even government em-
ployees themselves. During the
war in Iraq, they were threatened
with death, called all sorts of
freedoms guaranteed under our
And they are our neighbors.
Several years ago, in this same
"heartland of America" that we
talk about now, farms were be-
ing foreclosed on because farm-
ers could not pay the monthly
mortgage to the bank. If your
memories are short, let me re-
mind you that people were out-
wardly blaming the Jews, "who
controlled the banks and the
country." In their minds, you be-
came the bank owner, and I be-
came the bank owner. Your child
owned the bank and so did every
Jew you know. It was our "fault"
that they were in financial
You are tax-paying Americans,
you send your children to public
schools and hope they can
achieve the dreams of good
health and success.
Chaldean and Arab-American
parents and families share our
No right-thinking person
wants a bomb to go off anywhere.
No right-thinking person desires
a farm to be foreclosed. No fore-
closure ever killed anyone. Maybe
that's true, maybe not.
But the same seeds of hatred
that resulted several years ago
in the breadbasket of our coun-
try blaming the Jews are the
same spores of anger we've let
creep into our thinking.
Among the many issues Okla-
homa City conjures up is the area
of accountability. You listen to
the many talk shows and the re-
actions from people calling them-
selves "militia" members — and
the bombing of the federal build-
and the Queen of England, and
the drug trade. Yet it says it isn't
anti-Semitic, and it says it isn't a
cult. And it even has Jews as
Once a woman collecting mon-
ey for an "environmental cause"
came to my front door. My wife
signed our names on her list. Of
course we are for cleaner drink-
ing water. But when it came to
turning over $25 to this lady for
lobbying efforts, I balked. I sus-
pected it was a Larouche repre-
sentative, and I didn't want the
group having access to my mon-
At 5 a.m. the next morning, my
phone rang. It was this same
lady. She wanted to talk to my
wife, so that she could tell her
how I "gave her AIDS." Then she
hung up the phone. A small ex-
ample, but it shows us what
lengths people go to for answers
for a myriad list of confusing
questions. Most of the time those
questions are asked outwardly,
not of themselves.
Then we read about cults and
other groups who stockpile huge
amounts of weapons, guns and
ammo enough to form a small
army. There are always reasons
for their behavior. But the rea-
sons typically aren't something
they caused. The reasons are "al-
ways" someone else's fault, some-
one else's doings.
Yes, there are problems in this
country. There is alienation that
can be dangerous. Gun owners
and passionate believers in the
Second Amendment are respon-
sible Americans and good neigh-
bors, and even members of our
But the people who bombed
City federal build
ing are the ones
who need to be
in the same way
that any other
This is still the
freest and best
country in the
world. It is one of
the few countries
God. In the mid-
1860s, we fought a
desperate war to
keep the Union
and the laws of the
ing was everyone else's fault but tact. We can never have another
the people who did it.
Fort Sumter. We have laws that
This is hardly new. Forgener- protect our citizens...even our
ations, conspiracy theories have criminals.
been the reasons for so many dif-
These people are criminals.
ferent brands of hardship. So They might be part of some grow-
many times, those conspiracies ing movement toward anti-gov-
involve the "Zionist conspiracy" ernment in this country, who
of the day.
knows? I don't care what they
The Lyndon Larouche group represent. I wish for them and all
always talks about the Zionists of us, justice. ❑
Anwork horn Newsday by Ned Levine Copy, Ight. 1993 Newsday Distributed by Los Angeles Tunes Syndicate
slurs and were simply stared out
in public places such as the su-
permarket or the mall. Yes, it
was "their" people who blew
things up. But these neighbors of
ours didn't blow anything up.
They were trying to make it in
our society just like any other
American. And that's the key.
They are Americans, and deserve
the rights and protections and
It really all start-
ed about a week
ago. I was intro-
duced to a new-
comer to Detroit.
Shalom — my
was located, and
when I responded Oak Park, he
said, "Oh, the old neighbor-
hood." There it was, right in
front of me, "the old neighbor-
Yet before I had a chance to
get too concerned about this
conversation, I read a copy of
the report of Hillel Day School's
special task force. It was a study
of family residences as well as
parents' attitudes about the pro-
posed move from Hillel's pre-
sent site to a Maple-Drake
location. The report described
Oak Park, Southfield and Hunt-
ington Woods as the core of the
"southeast section" of the north-
So, if it's not "the old neigh-
borhood," it's the "southeast sec-
tion." And I found myself
thinking about where I lived
and what it meant — not to the
demographers — but to me.
When I arrived in Oak Park
23 years ago, the move to West
Bloomfield and Farmington
Hills was solidly under way.
There was a sense of flight and
of concern about neighborhood
stability; but time brings
changes and the neighborhood
I see around me is stronger,
more vibrant than it was 20
The Neighborhood Project
and Federation's assistance in
buying the building that-be-
longed to B'nai Moshe so that it
could be refurbished for the Sal-
ly Allen Alexander Beth Jacob
Rabbi Nelson is rabbi of
Congregation Beth Shalom.
School for Girls have made a
difference. The improved facil-
ities at the Jimmy Prentis Mor-
ris JeN,Vish Community Center
make it truly a Jewish center
for the Ten Mile corridor. When
I stop by the JPM for lunch, I
never cease to be amazed by the
What I see when I look
around me are things that
make me glad it's where I live.
There are a kosher restaurant,
a Jewish bookstore, a kosher
pizza restaurant, kosher take-
out, a Jewish gift shop and eight
synagogues. There is a lot of
building going on — taking
small houses and adding rooms.
The truth is, our neighbor-
hood is impressive.
On Friday mornings, there's
a long line at Zeman's as people
get ready for Shabbat. Other
similar preparations give me
a real sense that the week is
ending and a chance to slow
down awaits all. As I often say
to my congregants, more people
are keeping kosher; more peo-
ple are studying Torah and Tal-
mud; more people are observing
There is a Jewish renaissance
in the "old neighborhood" — one
that was not really predicted.
When I was considering coming
to Beth Shalom in 1972, my
mentor and friend Rabbi Wolf
Kelman asked me, "What will
Oak Park be like in 10 years?"
I responded that I thought the
question was unfair.
How could anyone know
what would happen 10 years
from now? How apocryphal that
statement really was. Whatev-
er I would have guessed would
have been wrong. Oak Park is
Jewishly strong and vibrant,
and if this is the "old neighbor-
hood," I'm glad to be part of it.
It is my neighborhood of