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July 05, 1996 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-07-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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LEADERS page 21

Jonathan was in every way un-
conventional, never for a moment
offering "due respect to those who
deserve it" or praising where no
praise was due. It didn't even
have to do with his looks or his
charisma, though he had both, or
the fact that he was unusually
bright, though no doubt all of
these contributed to making him
who he was.
Pm convinced that what made
Jonathan unique was his absolute
commitment to Israel and his de-
termination that others should
feel the power of Zionism, too.
Jonathan Cohen had a passion
that could not be filled, and that
attracted and inspired everyone
who knew him.
I don't know what happened to
Jonathan Cohen after Tulane,
though rumor had it he went back
to New York and entered the
business world. I think he could
have been convinced otherwise
had there been someone to stress
how valuable he was to the Jew-

ish community. But I was too
young and inexperienced at the
time, and my supervisor no longer
was interested.
I am convinced many more
Jonathan Cohens are out there.
The problem is, do we know how
to recognize and appreciate them?
Well if we don't now, we better
learn.
Our most valuable resource is
those young men and women dri-
ven by passion, by an unquench-
able thirst for Judaism and Israel.
We need to single them out, then
do everything we can to nurture
them. If they're crazy about Jew-
ish history, make certain they
have the resources to travel and
learn what they want. If a love of
Hebrew drives them, give them
every opportunity to learn it,
speak it, teach it.
If we don't find these young
men, someone else will. And
what will we be left with? A hand-
ful of dispassionate, uninspiring
"leaders." ❑



ValUS

Plaza 6046 Rochester Rd.

The Burning Question

Church arson is just a symptom of a broader
problem, but Jews can help solve it.

TH E D ETR O IT JEWISH N EWS

JAMES D. BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

22

Find out in this week's
JN Entertainment section.

or Jewish groups, criticizing
the arsonists who have left
a charred swath of destruc-
tion across the South was
not hard. Jews, more than almost
any other group, have a special
appreciation for the agony caused
by the intentional destruction of
houses of worship, a theme all too
common in the Jewish past.
Predictably, Jewish organiza-
tions were faster than most to
express sympathy with black con-
gregants and to join efforts to raise
more than $2 million to help re-
build some of the devastated
facilities — although a move to
provide access to government dis
aster relief funds for the affected
congregations produced a minor
church-state flap.
But community leaders now
face a far harder challenge: find-
ing effective responses to the root
causes of the worsening racial cri-
sis that has spawned the church
burnings and combating the le-
gitimization of bitter scapegoat-
ing in mainstream politics that
helped set the tone for the vio-
lence.
How they respond to those chal-
lenges will have a major impact
on the security of all vulnerable
minorities in these perilous times
— a list that includes Jews.
Initially, some African-Ameri-
can leaders insisted that the epi-
demic of arson — there have been
more than 30 suspected incidents

in the past 18 months — pointed
to a national conspiracy. The facts
suggest something even worse.
"In a sense, it would be more re-
assuring if this was part of a KKK
conspiracy or a conscious collabo-
ration by white supremacist
groups," said the leader of a ma-
jor Jewish group last week 'This,
in a way, is our worst nightmare:
a kind of grass-roots eruption of
racist violence of the most repug-
nant sort, based on a level of big-
otry that's much higher than
many of us assumed."
Setting fire to a church is not
an action taken lightly; the fact
that each new incident seems to
spawn still more torchings in
widely separated areas of the
country suggests a background
level of racial animosity that is
profoundly frightening to Jewish
leaders.
`The question everyone is ask-
ing is how we let things get this
far," said Mark Pelavin, associate
director of the Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism. 'The
answers are all difficult ones —
but that doesn't excuse us from
trying•
Given that harsh reality, there
are several things the organized
Jewish community can do.
The first is to help pass laws
that will make it easier for feder-
al authorities to enter cases in-
volving hate-based crimes.
Last week, Jewish groups

played a role in jump-starting a
measure in the House doing just
that.
In the 1950s, lynching was still
a part of life in the South, and
white authorities were loathe to
investigate hate crimes against
blacks. Federal civil rights
statutes, along with mechanisms
for enforcement by agencies like
the FBI, provided an essential
counterbalance to local govern-
ments that were, too often, dom-
inated by racists.
The sad evidence suggests that
the need for such federal regula-
tion has not diminished over the
years, a fact confirmed by the re-
cent church burnings.
The trend in Washington is to
cut the power of the federal gov-
ernment and return authority to
the states; Jewish groups recog-
nize that in the realm of civil
rights enforcement, that policy
can only inflame an already-dan-
gerous racial crisis.
Secondly, Jewish leaders need
to more directly address the grow-
ing legitimization of bigotry in the
political realm that results when
"mainstream" politicians try to
exploit for their own political gain
the seething hatreds just below
the surface of American life.
In 1988, the 'Willie Horton" po-
litical ads helped propel George
Bush to the presidency by play-
ing on white fears of black crim-
inals; in the 104th Congress,
legislators used exaggerated de-
pictions of black welfare recipi-
ents to attack current welfare
programs and offered voters the
comforting satisfaction of blam-
ing immigrants — legal and
gal — for a host of economic woes.
Politicians in both parties, but
Republicans in particular, have
agitated constituents with horror
stories about the "homosexual
agenda," in the same way that
far -right extremist theorists warn
about conspiracies of interna-
tional Jewish bankers.
And Congress consistently re-
fuses to investigate right-wing
`militias" — groups that, in many
cases, are the most blatant pro-
moters of racism and anti-Semi-
tism.
Scapegoating sells well in to-
day's volatile political market-
place; when political leaders
exploit our racial, ethnic and sex-
ual fears, it lends important le-
gitimacy to the genuine haters,
who thrive in an environment of
turmoil and confrontation.
Jewish groups need to respond
with the same reflexive filly to the
congressional scapegoating of
black welfare mothers and the ris-
ing chorus of mainstream gay
bashing that they apply to the
anti-Semitic rantings of white su-
premacist groups.
And Jewish groups have to be
more aggressive in helping find
solutions to the broad social and
economic dilemmas that are mak-
ing prejudice such an attractive
option for so many people.

E\

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