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January 05, 1996 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-01-05

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

A Sense Of Unity,
A Sense of Community

The Value
Of Community

RABBI HERBERT A. YOSKOWITZ SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM ASSOCIATE EDITOR

think only of myself without con-
sideration of others and without
consideration of the society of
which I am a part, I am more like
the lower animal — "a what" —
and not a "who," that is a human
being living in the image of God.
We are blessed with individual-
ism today but our sages admon-
ish us, "Do not separate yourself
from the community." .— Al
chazak U'llitchazek.
This chant encourages one's tifrosh min hatzibur. When a per-
fellow congregants to be strong son puts on the tefillin of the
and move toward the study of the hand, according to one commen-
next of the Five Books of Moses tary, that arm should be stretched
and to do so together as a com- out so as to symbolically draw to
munity. Chanting of the verse to- him the community of the Jew-
gether as a community is ish people. We have succeeded at
important and is reflective of individualism, but we must not
what I want to emphasize in this allow that victory to obscure our
need for community.
column.
At the end of the last century,
As we enter a new year, inad-
vertently we seize upon the real- there was a rejection of commu-
ity of the transient nature of time. nity and accentuation upon indi-
Life is short; life is fleeting. The vidualism, too. The last quarter
study of the Torah when com- of the 19th century included fail-
pleted appears to have been done ures in four major areas: nation-
over a short period of time. So,
too, with our lives, which upon re-
flection appear to be brief. Thus
the psalmist prays with us and
for us: "Teach us to number our
days that we may get us a heart
of wisdom."
How to strengthen a sense of
community among us is a part of
the wisdom which we seek.
Too often, we applaud individ-
uality. Even in the pages of The
Detroit Jewish News, we have
heralded individual responses of
Jewish expressions without tak-
ing into account whether or not al unity, social justice, economic
that individual expression en- prosperity and public morality.
hances or detracts from a sense According to Carl Schorske, these
failures resulted in a rejection of
of community.
It is true that we have suc- the values of the parental gener-
ceeded at individuality and at pri- ation by the generation assum-
vatism — a turning away from ing power.
New political and cultural
the wider social and public world
and turning toward one's own premises replaced those of their
fathers and mothers. Often their
personal life.
People are taking part in the politics became identical with
life of a. community with less fre- those of the nationalist right-wing
quency. People are espousing the parties. There were Jews, for ex-
view that "man is responsible ample, among young students in
only to himself" People are look- Vienna whose rejection of
ing out for themselves often at the parental values resulted in what
expense of looking out for the Mr. Schorske calls "the death of
history."
community.
It is interesting to note, that
We appear to be losing a sense
of community. We are hailing in- in his book Fin-de-Siecle Vienna,
dividualism and in doing so we Mr. Schorske does not distin-
ignore the Jewish philosopher guish between Jews and non-
Franz Rosenzweig who wrote in Jews in their reactions to the
a letter to Use Hahn, "None of us challenges of their society. Jews
has solid ground under his feet; had become absorbed in them-
each of us is only held up by the selves just as non-Jews had.
neighborly hands, grasping him They became increasingly dis-
by the scruff, with the result that tant from community and in-
we are each held up by the next creasingly attached to their own
man, and often indeed most of the whims and desires.
Are we facing the same chal-
time, hold each other up mutual-
lenge at the end of this century
y"
Centuries earlier, the sage Hil- as many of our ancestors
lel said more boldly, "If I am for faced at the end of the 19th cen-
myself, what am I?" That is, if I tury? Are we succeeding as in-
dividuals at the expense of
Herbert A. Yoskowitz is rabbi of
community?

synagogue,
In
when we complete
chanting one of the
Five Books of
Moses, the congre-
gation rises and
chants aloud, "Let
us be strong and
strengthen each
other" — Chazak

/– -

Congregation Beth. Achim.

One of my first acts as rabbi in
1996,will be to officiate at a wed-
ding. One of the most poignant
acts at a wedding ceremony is the
final one when a glass or light
bulb wrapped in a cloth is broken
by the groom. Why end the dig-
nity and solemnity of the occasion
by the breaking of a glass? Why
not end the ceremony with an
amen following the priestly bene-
diction?
Some explanations about this
custom of breaking the glass in-
clude its origin as a superstition
to drive away the evil spirits or
to remind the people present of
the Talmud teaching Barachot,
that even at the happiest of oc-
casions, we must remember that
sadness is as much a part of our
life as is joy. Even as we cele-
brate the marriage of a man and
a woman, we remember the de-
struction of the two Temples as
well as other painful episodes in
Jewish history.

I would like to suggest anoth-
er reason for the breaking of
the glass. To a husband and a
wife under the chuppah who are
accepting the covenant that
brings them together in mar-
riage, the broken glass symbol-
izes broken edges in their lives
and broken edges. in the com-
munity.
A community, like all cre-
ations of man, is flawed. A cou-
ple must serve a community
even though they are flawed and
even though the community is
flawed. When we become dis-
couraged with either the flaws
in our best-loved friend to whom
we are married or by the com-
munity of which we are a part,
we need the other to say, "Let us
be strong and strengthen each
other as we continue in our re-
lationship with each other and
with our relationship with the
community."
There is danger in every suc-
cess. As we begin the last four
years of the 20th century, we
ought to be happy with the suc-
cess of our individualism. We
must be aware ., too, that such
victory should not become a de-
feat. We should enjoy our indi-
viduality while simultaneously
becoming deeply involved with
our community. ❑

My father is from
Detroit — he
grew up on Bue-
na Vista Street in
the old Jewish
neighborhood —
but I hadn't been
here for any ex-
tended period of
time until about
seven years ago. I came from
Kansas City for a job interview.
The cab driver, who took me
from the airport to the offices of
The Jewish News, was exactly
what I needed to confirm all my
anxieties about Detroit.
"Before you even think of mov-
ing here, honey, you've got to get
protection. You go to the store
and you get one of those wrist-
bands — you know, the kind
with the spikes on them." He
smiled. "I bet you don't need
those in Kansas City, now do
you?"
"No, indeed," I said. "We cer-
tainly do not."
Despite his warning, and the
reactions of my friends when I
told them I was thinking of com-
ing to Detroit (some fell on the
ground, clutching their stomachs
in pain from the laughter; the
eyes of others bulged to Mexico
and back), I took the job, and I
have never regretted my deci-
sion.
There is much that I love
about metro Detroit (though I
have never acquired a taste for
Vernors). Topping that list is the
Jewish community.
I spent a number of my teen
and young adult years in a small
town in Missouri. It was home
to about 150 Jews, maybe 10 of
whom knew anything about Ju-
daism. There was no synagogue,
just a Hillel building where we
all gathered, usually grudging-
ly, for High Holiday services or
an occasional guest speaker. And
if we made it there on Shabbat
we had to go quickly through ser-
vices, because our so-called rab-
bi was always in a hurry to make
it to the football games of our lo-
cal university.
When our family built a
sukkah, it was one of two or
three in town. We had to drive
two hours to St. Louis to get
kosher meat.
It was only after I left that I
realized how truly awful life
there had been. I considered the
three sons, all bright and hand-
some, of one of our more promi-
nent and involved Jewish
families. None ever dated Jews
when I was there; I'm sure all
are intermarried by now. And
the daughter (I'll call her Helen)
of the most Jewishly educated
family in town wed a man about
30 years her senior, not Jewish,
and had a daughter she named
alifon
Lucky. Helen moved to Califor-

nia and now works in a vineyard.
She has nothing to do with Ju-
daism.
From time to time I hear com-
ments such as, "It's good for us
to live here in Podunk, where
we're the only Jewish family in
900,000 miles, because it forces
us to examine our lives as Jews."
These people are idiots.
Life in a town where few Jews
reside and Jewish life is virtual-
ly nonexistent is not challenging
and exciting. It is stagnating and
desperate.
I think of a man I knew grow-
ing up, one of that handful of few
Jews in my hometown. He
owned a store that sold nuts and
chocolates. I would stop in and
buy peanuts and chat with him.
He was in his 30s, dark and thin-
ning hair, always pleasant.
One day he was discovered in
the back of the store, where he
had hung himself. The note he
left behind said only, "I am lone-
ly."
I don't know that living in a
large Jewish population would
have prevented Helen's inter-
marriage or saved the store own-
er, but I know there would have
been more options, more possi-
bilities, and any number of rab-
bis who would have run, in an
instant, to offer help.
I say this because since com-
ing to Detroit I have seen the
power of community, the way
Jews are bound together de-
spite the inarguable differences
that separate us religiously, po-
litically and socially. Usually
this connection lies dormant,
but it tends to manifest itself in
times of great agony or great
joy.
I know that if I need help I
could call any synagogue or tem-
ple in town and nobody will ask,
"First, are you Reform, Conser-
vative or Orthodox?' I know that
if I am hungry I can get food, and
no one says, "But what is your
position on the Middle East
peace process? Pm not going to
help out anyone who doesn't
back the Rabin plan!"
I'm not trying to say that this
connection will bring us all to-
gether or isn't it wonderful that
we're all Jews and how happy
we should be about it. Please. I
would rather watch 50 straight
hours of "Melrose Place" than be-
come maudlin.
But having lived for so long
without a Jewish community, I
do not take it for granted now. It
is often divided, often angry, and
so diverse I can't begin to figure
it out. But it is there, and Jew-
ish life in Detroit is, at least, nev-
er lonely.
By the way, I never got
around to buying that wristband
with the spikes. Anybody have
an extra set?



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