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July 26, 2002 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-07-26

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

Cover Story

Remembering
The Riots

Sam Offen

Sam Offen, 80, of West Bloomfield was fishing
at his in-laws' cottage on Horseshoe Lake, an
hour's ride from Detroit, when his family started
waving frantically to him from shore.
His partner, Sol Ceresnie, was on the phone.
Riots had broken out in Detroit, and he was
concerned that their first store, Ceresnie Bros.'
and Offen, a furrier concern on Livernois and
Outer Drive, was in trouble.
Sol wanted to go to the store immediately, but
police told the partners it was too dangerous.
Traveling to the store the next day, Offen said
they both heard shooting and saw stores either
burned down or looted.
"Our store was completely looted on the
ground floor, but the more expensive furs
locked in the downstairs vault remained

untouched," Offen said.
After the riots, busi-
ness was never the
same.
"Our customers
feared coming to our
area," Offen said.
"Regrettably, they start-
ed moving to the
northern suburbs and,
in order to survive, we
Sam Offen
had to follow our cus-
tomers."
In 1969, the store moved to Birmingham.
"Detroit was once a beautiful and thriving city,
but the riots changed the whole landscape,"
Offen said.

HARRY KIRSBAUM and SHARON LUCKERMAN
Stair Writers

A

n urgent phone call from work woke up
Robert Tell early on July 23, 1967. The
chief nurse at Sinai Hospital of Detroit
told him flames were visible in downtown
Detroit and it looked like the whole city was on fire.
No one was sure what was happening, she said.
Tell, the administrator on duty that day, left his
Oak Park home and headed for the former Jewish
hospital in northwest Detroit.
Though it happened 35 years ago, Tell's memories
remain vivid.
From the hospital rooftop, he saw billowing black
smoke, "an overwhelming sight."
He decided to assemble staff and hold a meeting.
The top priority was to get inner-city employees to
the hospital.
These staffers were calling in reports about
snipers, tanks, police and chaos. Still, they wanted to
come in to work, but no public transportation was
running in what now was being called a riot.
Tell, then 30, rented buses to pick up Sinai
Hospital's stranded employees. During the course of
the day, some of the buses were caught by sniper fire
and came in with bullet holes in the windows.
"These were employees risking their lives to come
to work and they did it for two reasons," he said.
"They didn't want their patients to be abandoned,
and they wanted to make it clear that it wasn't
everybody in the African American community
burning and looting."
By nightfall, 90 percent of the staff had made it to the
hospital. "No sick person went without care," he said.
Now 65 and retired, Tell of Farmington Hills is
proud of what the Sinai employees did then, but
what happened in Detroit changed his view of the
city forever.
"As a newcomer to Detroit, I thought that racial
tension was much lower here than in the New York
City I had left. The areas around Sinai Hospital

Clockwise from left:

Furs by Ceresnie Bros., Detroit Free Press photo, 1954.

Interior of Ceresnie Bros. And Offen, 1955

Jewish News Merchants of the Week, Jan. 3, 1963: Sol
Ceresnie, Sam Offen and Harry Cerefriie.

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