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September 29, 1995 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-09-29

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

Estrangements Damage
Community Harmony

In Thanks We Usher
In The High Holidays



When I received
the invitation from
Jim McFarlin, host
of an African-
American talk
show on WCHB
Radio, to join him
for an hour to dis-
cuss why the ap-
parent estrange-
ment between African-American
and Jewish communities seems
to be growing, I welcomed the op-
The invitation came as a result
of a number of columns I had
written on the subject for the
Michigan Chronicle during the
last year.


Believing that it is important
to promote candid and forthright
dialogues on an issue which is so
needlessly divisive, I hoped that
the conversation might engender
some common ground with lis-
In the introduction, Jim ex-
pressed dismay that two peoples
who have suffered so much for so
long should be at odds when, in-
deed, their histories suggest that
they should be enjoying a strong
I agreed, adding that Jews and
African-Americans were allies in
the '50s and '60s, fighting painful,
valiant and historic battles dur-
ing the civil-rights era.
Somehow the common bond
was broken, leading to each view-
ing the other with suspicion.
Jim asked if I knew the cause
for the divisiveness and I re-
sponded that I wished I did. Be-
cause if the cause could be
identified, both sides, if they ap-
proached the issue with good will,

Bed Falbaum is a public
relations specialist and a
freelance writer.

could attack the problem to solve callers would have reacted if I ar-
the dilemma.
ticulated libelous stereotypes of
Only minutes after Jim and I blacks on the air.
shared our concerns and regret
Jim offered that he had heard
at what has happened, the more than his share of stereo-
switchboard lit up.
types about blacks, many of them
It was obvious that we had on his show.
touched a nerve, and I hoped that
The hour revealed how much
the callers would join us in seek- work we have to do to reach some
ing unity and suggest ways we common ground of understand-
might repair the damaged rela- ing.
If the callers were a microcosm
I was terribly saddened by of how Jews are perceived in
what I heard.
parts of the black community and
Caller after caller cited "Jew- other sectors of society — and I
ish control of Hollywood ... the believe they are such a microcosm
media ... the diamond trade ... — then much work needs to be
business ... "
done, and quickly.
Within the hour, I heard al-
All of which makes it essential

most every stereotype of alleged that we begin constructive dia-
"Jewish power" and misconduct logues to begin anew to foster a
that has been articulated through climate of trust and mutual re-
the years, hundreds of years in spect.
all parts of the world.
But that can only be done if
The statements are not only both sides commit themselves
wrong but implied an excuse for to the principle which requires
anti-Semitism, whether it occurs each to pledge itself to condemn
in the black community or else- bigotry, racism and anti-Semi-
tism whenever and wherever
Callers implied anti-Semitism they occur. That, according to
exists but that Jews are to blame Jim, needs to be the "founda-
for it because of their penchant tion."
for "control" and "exploitation."
If either side refuses to com-
Indeed, it was sad.
mit to that principle before we
even sit down at the table, then
all the dialogues and coalitions
on black-Jewish relations will
prove useless (as they have). The
proof of their failure is the very
estrangement we're trying to re-
The principle must be adopted
I responded that the stereo- to obliterate "victimization" as
types expressed were exactly that Jim characterized it.
— stereotypes — but I felt I was
If we could win such a com-
engaging in a futile exercise in be- mitment on each side, what a be-
ing forced to respond to fictitious ginning to a new era of goodwill
and hurtful allegations.
that would be for African-Amer-
I am sure that some Jews hold icans and Jews.
disparaging views of blacks and
Let us hope and pray that it
I could only imagine how the happens and soon. ❑

An electronic
dialogue turns
into vitriol.

I always thought
that school-board
trustee was the
most thankless
job in the world.
Countless com-
plaints from par-
ents, students,
teachers and ad-
ministrators, jug-
budgets, and all for virtually no
Of course, there is the satis-
faction of giving back to the
community and trying to leave
the world a better place.
And for 50 weeks out of the
year, school-board trustees get
my sympathy vote.
But not during these two
weeks. During the Ten Days of
Repentance, my vote goes to
your synagogue usher, your fel-
low congregant who volun-
teered (was coerced?) to give up
part of his or her time at ser-
vices to help you find your seat,
keep movement in the sanctu-
ary orderly, and hopefully qui-
It is not an easy job. Crying
children, babysitter or teacher
in tow, want to find their par-
ents in the overcrowded sanc-
tuary. Synagogue balabatim
(big shots) give orders to the
lowly usher. Or garbled in-
structions filter through the
over-taxed public address sys-
tem from On High (the bimah).
And, of course, the main rea-
son the ushers are there in the
first place: the three-day-a-year
big shots.
Now I'm not far removed
from the three-day designation
myself. None of those holier-
than-thou speeches from this
pulpit. After all, for me, and I
believe for many Jews, the High
Holidays are much more than
sitting in prayer. The social as-
pect also is important as people
regain touch with one another,
possibly not having been in
communication since the last
High Holiday season.
We are a community, and
that's what a congregation is
about. It's why Reform and Con-
servative Jews pass 10 temples
and synagogues to reach their
shul. It's why Orthodox Jews
live in certain neighborhoods,
so they can walk to the syna-
gogue where they feel comfort-
Yes, the socializing is impor-
tant, and expected. It's just not
appropriate while the rabbi is
delivering his High Holiday ser-
mon (the one he's been prepar-
ing for a month). Or during the
Amidah. Or at other times
when our full focus should be on
the prayers, the Torah, God or
the introspection we are sup-
posed to be undergoing during

this critical time.
Unfortunately, as a congre-
gation we are not always unit-
ed as to just when those quiet,
introspective times should be.
Sometimes our personal agen-
da may not be on the same page
as the rabbi, the cantor, the gab-
bai, the rows of people crowded
together in front of us, or the
happy, noisy throng taking a
break in the foyer.
Enter the lowly usher, the
volunteer who has relinquished
some of the sanctity of the High
Holidays to be the bridge to your
congregation. It is he or she who
must deal with the noisy, pushy
throng at the door, the lady who
forgot her ticket ("Don't you
know who I am?"), the man who
got out of the wrong side of the
bed this morning, the self-ap-
pointed big shots who tie up a
whole row of empty seats for the
The ushers smile, sort out
the chaos, find the right person
to handle major problems,
and plaster on a smile so that
they can be the official syna-
gogue greeter to the assembled
multitudes. It is not an easy
I've been a High Holiday ush-
er off-and-on for the last 25
years. I'd much rather take my
turn on Shabbat than face the
faceless masses on Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I
usually volunteer for a few con-
secutive years before I suffer
burnout and need to take a

Facing the

This year is an off-year for
me. With two sons coming
home from college, I'd rather
sit in the back of the shul with
my family than give up 60-90
minutes at each service to be
an usher.
But I'm sure I'll be back "on
duty" next year. You see, I've
got this guilt complex. I look
around during services and see
congregants volunteering to
help their synagogue during the
holiest days of the year. They
are taking time away from their
families to help out the whole
family. Isn't that what congre-
gations are supposed to be
I hope people remember this
when they look for their seat, or
their ticket, or their tallit, or the
bathroom. If you'll just meet
him halfway, that person with
the usher's badge will warmly
welcome you into your congre-
gation. ❑

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