Focusing On The Core
hanksgiving was nearing. So congregants of
He feeds street people, tutors in the schools and helps addicts
Temple Israel in West Bloomfield and Second
recover. His firm has awarded more than 100 college scholar-
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Detroit teamed up to
ships to Mumford students who gained life knowledge work-
pack food baskets for needy inner-city seniors. The
ing for him.
temple brought baskets, turkeys and canned foods. The
Shapiro wears Judaism on his sleeve as he urges blacks to
church provided fruits, pies and vegetables.
condemn anti-Semitism and embrace diversity.
"We all went into the community and delivered the baskets
Responsible two-parent, working families aren't the rule in
in teams of temple and church members," recalls Nate
the inner city, ravaged as it is by blight, crime, drugs, poverty
Shapiro, who is determined to bring blacks and Jews together
and hate. Most militant blacks have never met a Jew. The Rev.
in Detroit, his hometown.
Jesse Jackson, a role model for young blacks, didn't help when
He says that act of cooperation a few years back was a
he branded New York City "Hymie Town," an ethnic slur
microcosm of what could be. He says, 'An
against Jews. When Shapiro confronted Jackson about that
older black gentleman told me that he really
when they met on the board of Bates Academy in Detroit, he
likes turkey,- but never in his life did he enjoy
had the guts to say that even if the slur was a slip, "I think it
it as much as he did that day."
doesn't just slip out unless you had it in the back of your
Shapiro spoke at the Feb. 27 oneg at
Temple Israel. He injects action into talk.
Shapiro tells about a NAACP leader who didn't believe he
And his message is important.
preached anti-Semitism until hearing tapes of his sermons.
Shapiro, 84, laments the breakdown in
"Over lunch," Shapiro says, "he told me, 'I gave anti-Semitic
local black-Jewish relations over the past 50
sermons. But I promise you I will never give another one. It
ROBERT A. years. He muses about the days growing up
was just natural, but I'm going to be more careful now.'"
amid blacks and other ethnic groups in
Suburban synagogues now partner with Detroit churches.
multi-family flats in the
JVS offers skills training and jobs placement from its
Hastings Street area on
Woodward Avenue building. The Jewish Community
Detroit's lower east side. Sidewalks and
Council sponsors the Jewish Coalition for Literacy and the
porches made it easy to mingle.
Detroit Jewish Initiative. Summer in the City works to better
"You'd be playing with a friend and, it
didn't matter if the kid was black or
We can't let up.
white, when his mother called him in,
Shapiro is right: Joining forces would give blacks and Jews a
you'd go in with him," Shapiro says.
more effective voice in effecting real change in how the region
"Nobody thought anything about it. I
resolves to repair the utter collapse of family and other civi-
never realized there was any prejudice
lized values in too many Detroit neighborhoods.
when I was a kid."
I might have dismissed Shapiro, .a
It bothered 10-year-old Nate that
grandfather of four, as an anomaly had I
black friend Buddy Battle was not
never met Mitch Alexander at the oneg.
allowed to try on a pair of shoes before
He's a 37-year-old New York City trans-
his mother bought them at the downtown Hudson's. "I was
plant living in southwest Detroit near
pii7.71ed all the way home," Nate recalls. "I asked Buddy if the
the Ambassador Bridge and working
black from his skin would get on the shoes."
downtown for the Local Initiative
Shapiro lauds Jewish-black initiatives as well as Jews who
Support Corporation, a nonprofit that
stayed in the city after the 1967 riots, but says inner-city
assists residents in revitalizing Detroit
blacks and suburban Jews have drifted apart.
"Even young and middle-aged blacks have lost contact with
The East Coast native could have
the larger black community," he says. "The better-educated
gone to Chicago or Cleveland for a taste
and more affluent black people have moved out of Detroit
of the Midwest. But he picked Detroit
into the suburbs. And contacts between Jews and blacks in
almost on a lark.
the suburbs have been minimal at best."
What he found was energizing:
Indeed, the hustle and seclusion of suburban living offer lit-
"There is a community of younger people in their 20s, 30s
tle incentive to really get to know your neighbors.
and 40s — white and black — living in the neighborhoods
Shapiro works with his two sons at the firm he founded in
and working among the nonprofits. Their youth gives me a
1956, Consulting Engineering Associates. It's still on
lot of hope. They are a generation who has not given up on
Wyoming near Mumford High School, on the northwesterly
Detroit, who feels it is still an important urban center, who
path Jews traveled after leaving Hastings by the mid-1930s.
feels what its history meant is still important, who is commit-
Shapiro and his wife, Ruth, left Detroit for Southfield in
ted to it despite what the mainstream perceptions might be."
1967, lured by a new house costing only $42,000. But he
Alexander's state representative, Steve Tobocman, 34, is
kept his ties with Coleman Young, a childhood pal who
another of the younger, involved Jews. He represents a cultur-
became Detroit mayor in 1974.
ally mixed district and is on the board of Community Legal
The 1991 March on Washington toughened Shapiro's devo-
Resources Detroit, which helps nonprofits invigorate older
tion to civil rights. Shapiro told a black Detroit teen on the
march that he'd "do all in my power" to protect blacks from
"One of my personal hopes is for more opportunities for
bigots, but "I damn well expect you to help us if anyone tries
the Jewish community to reconnect in meaningful ways not
to wipe out the Jews again."
only with the African American community, but also the city
Today, Shapiro is on the boards of the NAACP Detroit
of Detroit," Alexander says.
chapter, the Coleman A. Young Scholarship Committee and
It was an oneg, but it also turned out to be a wake-up call
the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
to not let the core of the central city continue to rot. El
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