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March 29, 1996 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-03-29

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

Are Jews Still
`The Outsiders'?

Why Is This Program
Different From Others?

MARK BERNSTEIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

PHIL JACOBS EDITOR

Is the long-held im-
age of Jews as per-
secuted outsiders
obsolete?
Philip Weiss an-
swers this question
in the affirmative in
an essay titled "Let-
ting Go" that ap-
peared in the Jan.
29th issue ofNew York magazine.
In his essay, Mr. Weiss argues that
the Jewish community exagger-
ates its position as a minority in
American culture. His message
flows from both a perception that
Jews are prevalent in the Estab-
lishment and a belief that anti-
Semitism is at "historic lows." This
essay has sparked a debate in the
Jewish community regarding our
status in American culture.
In justifying his answer, Mr.
Weiss displays an embarrass-
ing attempt to justify his
abandonment of the Jew-
ish community and its
traditions and, more im-
portantly, a remarkable
ignorance of reality. It
is difficult to identify
what is more disturb-
ing about his essay —
the contradictory
reasoning or the in-
correct and dangerous
message.
Mr. Weiss contends
that "(the) formerly nar-
row power elite is much
more broadly distributed
and, like it or not, Jews are
one of the groups that com-
pose it." This may be true. How-
ever, Mr. Weiss twice recognizes
in his essay that entry and accep-
tance into American culture re-
quired him to step out of the
"isolation" that Jewishness pro-
duced. In his words, "I wasn't will-
ing to pay the price in my own
isolation."
Implicit in this statement are

Mark Bernstein is chair of the

University of Michigan
Governing Board.

two assumptions. First, that Jews
are, in fact, isolated. If we are, as
Mr. Weiss contends, no longer out-
siders, then why do we experience
the isolation that he himself rec-
ognizes? Second, and more im-
portantly, is the assumption that
the isolation from mainstream
American culture for which Jews
pay a price is not self-imposed. The
staggering list of Jewish achieve-
ment and contribution to Ameri-
can culture is not a result of the
efforts of the gentile gate-keepers
of the American elite to include us
in their culture, but rather a prod-
uct of our refusal to be excluded
from their world. To the extent
that we have gained entry into the
American elite, we have done so
on their terms, not ours.

These assumptions, and their
validity, expose the inconsistency
in Mr. Weiss' argument. Jews can-
not be both isolated and insiders
at the same time. If we must shed
our Jewish identity in order to end
our isolation and join the Estab-
lishment, then we still live in a
world where our Jewishness
makes us outsiders.
I agree with Mr. Weiss that the
Jewish position in American soci-
ety has advanced. However, to ar-

gue, as he does, that Jews have
"fully entered into the elite" and
that we "manufacture and cher-
ish our feeling of exclusion" is an
exaggeration. So long as there are
businesses that won't hire us,
neighborhoods that won't welcome
us and schools that won't accom-
modate us, significant barriers ex-
ist in our path toward full entry
and acceptance into mainstream
American culture.
Of greatest relevance to my life
as a student on a college campus
is Mr. Weiss' contention that the
ADL statistics on anti-Semitism
are "inflated by campus incidents
reflecting tensions between blacks
and Jews. Tensions are certainly
real, but included as incidents of
harassment are speeches con-
taining anti-Semitic comments
from the likes of Leonard Jeffries
and Khalid Muhammad, occa-
sions on which college news-
papers have printed ads that
deny the existence of the
Holocaust, even a student's
saying in class that Zion-
ism is racism. Unpleas-
ant speech, yes — but I
would argue that it
doesn't constitute ha-
rassment."
Doesn't constitute
harassment? Does
a brick thrown
through our Hillel's
window constitute ha-
rassment? Does anti-Se-
mitic graffiti on our Hillel
constitute harassment?
"While the long-held im-
age of Jews as persecuted out-
siders is less accurate than in
previous generations, our com-
munity will remain isolated un-
til the gentile world accepts our
traditions and culture on our
terms, not theirs. Any one of us
is free to step out of his "isolation,"
but that still requires shedding a
piece of our Jewish identity in the
process. For this reason, I answer
this important question in the
negative. ❑

Comment

Taking A Few Risks
To Give Meaning To Life

RABBI EFRY SPECTRE SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

affa Road was very quiet in
the evening Air. The traffic
seemed lighter than I have
seen it on Jerusalem's busy
commercial street. A breeze

urged the few pedestrians mak-
ing their way home to pull their
coats a little tighter.
Jaffa Road was very quiet
and very clean. Oh, yes, the plas-

Rabbi Spectre of Adat Shalom Synagogue attended the two-day
Solidarity Mission to Israel sponsored by the National Jewish
Community Relations Advisory Council.

tic sheets were covering
the chaos where windows
and store fronts had stood a
week before; architectural
symmetry was disturbed where
a stone pillar was gone or a
pediment or frieze had been
blown away. There were some

RISKS page 20

It's not my habit
to talk about a
television pro-
gram. If any-
thing, I try to
stay away from
the TV as much
as possible.
But I had the
opportunity to
preview a tape sent to me by
photojournalist Edward Serot-
ta, whose photographic study
of the Jews of Sarajevo ap-
peared in The Jewish News
last summer.
On Tuesday evening, the
night before the first seder,
goodness knows many of us
will be busy cleaning or mak-
ing another journey to the gro-
cery store. We who work
ourselves and our children sil-
ly picking up that last piece of
dust need to take a half-hour
off late in the evening to see
this tape.
For this, I want you to let the
children stay up late. Listen,
they'll be up anyway through
part of the night during the
seders. On Tuesday, April 2,
Ted Koppel's "Nightline" pro-
gram will feature a journey Mr.
Serotta took to locate the rarely
seen, 700-year-old Sarajevo
Haggadah.
When I saw the tape the first
time, I was alone. When the
tape ended, I realized I was
crying. It took me a while to
control myself, and I really
needed someone to talk to. Mr.
Serotta not only located and
saw the Haggadah, he showed
all of us why this thing we call
Judaism, this religion and way
of life that we try to dilute, as-
similate and sometimes make
go away, is bigger and more
beautiful than we realize.
Consider this Haggadah. It
was commissioned by a
wealthy Spanish family some
700 years ago. Its color images
remain vibrant and beautiful.
Its retelling of the Exodus is
done in beautifully blocked He-
brew print on leather pages.
On one page, a child, maybe
hundreds of years ago, proba-
bly got in trouble for drawing
letters. There's a wine stain on
another page.
The Haggadah left Spain
during the anti-Jewish riots
that purged the country of
many of its Jews. It spent some
time in Italy before crossing the
Adriatic into Bosnia. It was
once owned by a Bosnian fam-
ily named Kohen. Many Kohen
family members were execut-
ed by the Nazis.
A museum curator during
World War II lied to the face of
a German officer who asked for
the Haggadah. He said that
one of the officer's men had tak-

en it. The Haggadah sat in a
desk drawer right where the
German officer stood. The mu-
seum curator took the Hag-
gadah and passed it on to a
Muslim shepherd.
Under Communist rule, the
Haggadah disappeared again.
It reappeared four years ago
when the Bosnian prime min-
ister showed it off to the inter-
national press corps. He
showed it because the Hag-
gadah is now considered one of
the world's rarest and most
valuable books, with a worth
of $10 million.
But what Mr. Serotta's mov-
ing newscast shows is that this
Haggadah is so precious, sell-
ing it to anyone but a Sarajevan
would break the heart of this
war-torn city. Interviews with
Serbs, Croats, Muslims and
Jews show that the Haggadah
represents the spirit and the
hope of everyone in this city.
His piece also shows how im-
portant and vital the Jewish
community is to Sarajevo. It
chronicles how Jews, because
they remained neutral during
the war, were able to get
around in specially marked ve-
hicles and not face sniper fire.
It shows how Jewish clinics are
open to everyone, and how
medicine is distributed free of
charge to those that need it,
and how Muslims and Serbs
meet peacefully together under
the safe harbor of the Jewish
community center.
If we ever want to show our
children a real, breathing liv-
ing example of how Jews are
the "light onto the world," then
Mr. Serotta's "Nightline" ac-
count is required viewing.
Many of were introduced to
Sarajevo in terms of modern
thinking during the 1988 Win-
ter Olympics. We were unfor-
tunately reacquainted through
news film of the Balkan war.
"Nightline" calls the show
"Searching for Hope." What
Mr. Serotta has done is more
than locate the Haggadah. He's
managed to show all of us that
in a place where freedom has
been seemingly repressed, the
people who offer the "hope" not
only do so in the form of a
leather-bound book, but live
the life and share the example
of what Judaism can and
should be.
In all likelihood, the Saraje-
vo Haggadah won't be used at
anyone's table come seder
night. Even though locked
away at a secret location, its
message makes every night
"different from all other
nights," not only to the Jews,
but to the Serbs and to the
Muslims in the city of Saraje-
vo. ❑

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