Editorials are posted and archived on JN Online:
Food For Thought
t was a small, unpretentious dedication of a for-
mer industrial building. But for Detroit Jewry, it
spoke about who we are as a community.
The June 30 dedication of the new home of
Yad Ezra, Michigan's only kosher food bank, rein-
forced that we're not in denial to the hungry among
us, despite our collective wealth.
From refurbished quarters at 2850 W. 11 Mile
Road in Berkley, Yad Ezra serves 2,500 people with
dignity and respect every month. That adds up to the
distribution of 750,000 pounds of food every year.
Simply, Yad Ezra performs the nourishing mitzvah
of easing hunger pangs in people with a proven
Five years in the planning and a dream
fulfilled only after a $1.25 million capital
campaign, the "new" Yad Ezra stands in
honor of the five staff members, 125 volun-
teers and all the donors, whose collective good will
helps feed the hungry with little fanfare. It especially
honors major donor Edward Meer and his family.
What a joy it was at the dedication to hear the
names of the Yad Ezra founders, who saw a need
and sought to fulfill it 12 years ago. Said Yad Ezra
President Andrew Zack: "It's really a tribute to them
that we all stand here today."
The founders had the vision and instincts to
peer beyond the veneer of a well-off Jewish com-
munity and not only acknowledge the hunger, but
also respond to it proactively.
It_was great, too, that so many
volunteers were at the dedication to
see the mezuzah affixed. Said Zack:
"We are what we are, and we do
what we do, because of the volun-
teer corps. They are here every day
we are open. They are what makes
this organization special."
Thanks to the volunteers' precious
gift of time, Yad Ezra can stretch its
dollars. Groceries are its core, for
walk-ins and shut-ins. But personal-
hygiene items, a school-lunch assis-
tance program and holiday
packages are available, too.
Good conversation with
the volunteers is just as
inviting; it reassures the clients that
they're not alone.
Yad Ezra (Hand of Ezra) will have
achieved its highest reward when the
need that created it dissolves. In the
meantime, this life-sustaining hand
will continue to be a blessing. As
Rabbi Dov Loketch put it: "May we
be successful in doing many things
like this in our Jewish community for
many, many years to come." ❑
ITS 1,6-A1), AND
f:z0 t•-'1 "T HE
NA 1101.5 OF
In The Name Of God
alf a century ago, America added the
words "under God" to its 60-year-old
pledge of allegiance to the flag as a way
of showing the "Godless Communists" of
the nuclear-empowered Soviet Union just where we
stood. You would think that now, when the enemy
is overly devout Islamic fundamentalists, we would
be eager to drop the two words as proof of our
belief in a formal separation of church from state.
Yet, two weeks ago, when a federal appeals court in
California declared that "under God" was a constitu-
tionally prohibited government endorsement
of religion, the reaction was just the oppo-
site. Politicians of all stripes hastened to
rebuke the court, reflecting polls that
showed vast majorities of Americans fiercely protective
of the "under God" part of the pledge.
In the wake of 9-11, hyper-patriotism — palpable
anywhere you went on the Fourth of July — is
poised to steamroller all other public concerns. In
one of the sorrier moments of opportunism after the
decision was handed down, a group of several dozen
Congressmen gathered on the steps of the Capitol to
recite the pledge and to sing "God Bless America."
We don't have any particularly strong objection to
"under God," in the pledge, any more than we do to the
inclusion of "In God We Trust" on our coins (though
we rather prefer the "liberty" injunction of our pennies).
In both cases, the phrase is primarily a symbol of reli-
gious freedom rather than state-mandated morality.
Still, the decision itself was actually a pretty honest
concern with assuring the First Amendment right to
worship as we choose. As the court pointed out, a
school district is "conveying a message of state
endorsement of a religious belief when it requires pub-
lic school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of
the current form of the pledge. ... Given the age and
impressionability of schoolchildren, particularly with-
in the confined environment of the classroom, the
policy is highly likely to convey an impermissible mes-
sage of endorsement to some and disap-
proval to others of their beliefs regarding
the existence of a monotheistic God."
The Supreme Court already has decided
that any child who wants to can stay silent during
the recitation of the pledge, but certainly only a
very few can resist the peer and institutional pres-
sures to conform to the majority will. Thus, in the
25 states that mandate this display of patriotism in
the classrooms and the half dozen others that are
about to mandate it, the protection is meaningless.
Legal experts say the decision on the pledge is likely
to be reversed on appeal. That's probably a good thing
in part because the other likely outcomes are all worse.
The Congress and the White House almost certainly
would push for a Constitutional amendment to per-
mit the words and quite probably to permit a much
wider tearing down of the wall between church and
state, with vast consequences in areas such as abortion
rights and school financing. We have, after all, a born-
again Christian president and an attorney general who
flaunts his evangelical beliefs in daily staff meetings.
As Jews, we accept a relationship with God. We
train — or should train — our children to under-
stand what "under God" entails and, thus, how to
handle a rote recitation in a classroom. If they know
that the relationship is private and personal, they
can easily cope with the preoccupation for making it
into a public test of shared purpose:
The deeper and more important question we
should be wrestling with is why the name of the
Supreme Being has been so co-opted and distorted by
narrow-minded extremists. Islam, a religion of peace
and equality, has been twisted by nations in the
Middle East and elsewhere into a hateful expression
of intolerance that uses "Allah" as a tool for oppres-
sion and warfare.
In America, the majority of moderate Christians
are silent about the efforts of many evangelicals to
impose their vision of Paradise — including prayer in
schools, government funds for parochial schools, an
abortion ban — on the nation.
Jews understand that religion is a personal choice
about how we will lead our lives in relation to each
other and to a force greater than ourselves. We need
to stand up to those here and abroad who are hell-
bent on making the name of God something ugly. ❑