Echoes Worth Hearing
ou should know that Irwin Cohen — a meticu-
lous researcher and historian — didn't write the
newest book on Detroit Jewry's history because he
expected to make a lot of money from it. He
needs to sell 2,000 copies of Echoes Of Detroit's Jewish
Communities just to recoup his $30,000 investment.
A photojournalist, Cohen had to re-mortgage his Oak Park
house to cover the costs to research, design and self-publish the
book, a treasure trove of old pictures and a quick, engaging
read for Jews and gentiles alike.
His 2000 book, Echoes of Detroit, his popular slide
show of Old Detroit, and the bus
tours and publications of local
Jewish history groups inspired him.
He has sold nearly 300 copies of
Echoes Of Detroit's Jewish
Communities since its November
He hopes the book appeals to
young people especially,
"Unfortunately, our campuses have
been hijacked to an extent," said
Cohen, 61. "Too many of the students today
know nothing about our history or how to
answer questions about Israel. This book is real history, not
revisionist history. It's national and international history, not
just local Jewish history."
Secular news like the Detroit debut of the automo-
bile taxicab in 1908, world events like the 1929 mas-
sacre of Jews in Hebron and vintage ads like one high-
lighting a new 1934 LaSalle for $1,495 complement
simple storytelling spun from personal interviews,
newspaper accounts and historical archives.
The book was a labor of love for Cohen, Agudas
Yisroel Mogen Abraham's long-serving president and
an unassuming grandfather of five. He traces the
Jewish migration north and west from Hastings Street
against the backdrop of a 41-year drive to build a hos-
pital for Jewish doctors.
He wanted to write the definitive story of Detroit's Jewish
enclaves and personalities — and he almost did. He chose not
to include Rabbi Sherwin Wine, patriarch of Secular
Humanistic Judaism. And he missed Sammy 'Lieberman, the
I echo Cohen's hope that the book finds a home not only in
public libraries, but also in the libraries of local day schools,
synagogues, senior complexes, communal agencies, Hillels and
Meals on Wheels recipients.
Tapped out from printing 5,000 copies, Cohen can't afford
to give the book away. So he'll give a copy, with your inscrip-
tion, to a public or charitable cause for $15 (roughly half the
cover price of $29.95).
The book begins with the story of Chapman Abraham, the
first recorded Jew in French Detroit; he came in 1762. The
Canadian fur trader's hot temper so impressed the Indians
intent on burning him at the stake that they set him free.
Detroit Jewry took root in the 1840s as German Jews fleeing
persecution in Bavaria settled in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
The Detroit Jewish community's population is now 96,000.
But our legacy will always begin with pioneers like Isaac and
Sarah Cozens, Leo Franklin, Judah Levin, Reb Hersch Cohen,
David W. Simons and Fred M. Butzel. "It's more important to
know who the builders of Jewish Detroit were than the check
writers," Cohen said.
That's not to say philanthropists should be minimized.
In 1960, Cohen was an office boy for the Jewish Welfare
Federation in downtown Detroit and saw a photo of Butzel,
the force in Federation's founding in 1926 and the namesake
of Detroit Jewry's top honor. "It wasn't until I did my research
that I realized how important he was, what kind of man he
was," Cohen said. "My admiration for him grew."
A native Detroiter, Cohen grew up in a family of seven.
They shared a three-bedroom lower flat on Tuxedo
between Dexter and Wildemere. There, baseball first
Quoting Cohen's new book, "A fire destroyed our
garage and my father salvaged some wood to build
benches and bleachers. He painted foul lines and bases
on the cement and we called our newly enlarged play
area 'Keystone Stadium'."
Fate intervened in 1983. Cohen left as a supervisor
with the Wayne County Treasurer's Office to parlay his
sideline as a national baseball writer into directing group
ticket sales for the Detroit Tigers. He stayed nine seasons.
Cohen's book spotlights Hank Greenberg, a Tigers slugger in
the 1930s and `40s.
"He meant an enormous amount to the Jewish community,"
Cohen said. "Hank played during the era of Henry
Ford's Dearborn Independent and Father Charles
Coughlin's radio sermons, both very anti-Semitic, and he
was ours — someone Jews could look up to. He was the
only guy who really stood up and not try to hide that he
was Jewish. At least he didn't shy away from the 'berg' in
Cohen also sets the record straight on why Greenberg,
who wasn't "an observant guy at all," played on Rosh
Hashanah in 1934 — a game in which he hit two
home runs to give the Tigers a key, 2-1 victory late in
the pennant chase.
Baseball lore and vintage cowboy movies still enamor
Cohen. "Davida, my wife of 33 years, is still waiting for
me to grow up," Cohen quipped.
His book tracks the origins of the Holocaust back to World
War I. "Hitler just put the pieces together in the 1930s,"
Cohen said. "He harvested a hatred for Jews that was already
there. And the Catholic Church was feeding it."
The range of this 346-page, 400-photo book is impressive
— from the 1850 start of the Beth El Society to the 1952 flap
over kashrut at Sinai Hospital to the 1966 murder of Rabbi
Morris Adler to five local Orthodox day school graduates serv-
ing in the Israeli army in 2003.
Oak Park CPA Michael Hauser, 30, is right: The book is
more than nostalgia and anecdotes, though he kvells that it
mentions his grandmother Pearl Hauser, a pioneering
optometrist who opened her practice in 1937.
"For younger people who might otherwise be disinclined to
read about 20th century events," Hauser said, "the book is a
useful tool in teaching about Israel's decades of struggle for sur-
vival, about the decimation of European Jewry and the result-
ant abundance of Jewish refugees, and about the gradually
increasing assimilation of Jews into American society."
Ultimately, he added, the book "even sheds light on some
current Jewish continuity issues we face." ❑
"Echoes of Detroit's Jewish Communities" is sold at local bookstores and
via vvvvw.jewish.com Buy charitable copies direct from Irwin Cohen:
271 WEST MAPLE