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January 13, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-01-13

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EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

Bridging The Great Divide

I

is hard to discriminate against someone who you feel you
know, like and understand. Tolerance grows with knowl-
edge. Bigotry feeds on misunderstanding.
So the most productive way to discourage discrimination —
including the many strands of anti-Jewish sentiment — is to
support an environment that encourages personal contact
among ethnic groups.
Dialogue matters most. And that's something Detroit Jewry
needs to do more of, given both the cultural richness and
unfair stereotypes that prevail in southeast Michigan. The
seven-county region boasts more than 100 ethnicities and
nationalities as well as nearly 5 million peo-
ple. We can't just exist separately, which is
largely what we do, though there are some
excellent examples of multiculturalism.
At the end of the day, we take part in
important multicultural events, like Lead-
ership Oakland's "Breakfast of Nations" held
this week to encourage business and commu-
nity crosscurrents among ethnic groups. But,
ROBERT A. typically, we don't have the depth of one-to-
SKLAR
one friendships and professional relationships
Editor
we must with people who come from a dif-
ferent ethnic, racial or religious background.
I began to think about how much we lag as I looked around
Metro Detroit. We know the Jewish community is 96,000
strong and dates back in an organized way 105 years. But I see
a simmering melting pot that sometimes boils over as our dif-
ferences force us to clash. It's no secret that southeast Mich-
igan is one of America's most racially segregated regions.

Cultural Bounty

Michigan's state motto is: "If you are seeking a pleasant penin-
sula, look around you." In this part of the state, you see a
huge Arab population of at least 125,000. The black popula-
tion is 1 million plus. Asians and Latino populations top
140,000 each. Native Americans number nearly
45,000. About 120,000 Chaldeans call Metro Detroit
home. Minneapolis leads the nation with more than
60,000 Hmong, but many also have found a home
here. Notably, diversity percolates in south Oakland
County, where the number of Jews is densest.
With unrest infiltrating almost every nook and cran-
ny of the world, the Detroit Jewish community can't
turn a blind eye to what the future might hold for
southeast Michigan. As other ethnic groups continue
their steady growth and thrive, we must engage in dia-
logue with them if we have any hope of peaceful and pro-
ductive interaction. Jew hating and anti-Zionism find fuel in
areas devoid of interplay among diverse people.
Where we'll find the biggest barrier to mingling is among
those Muslims who quote the Koran directly or Islam in gen-
eral to defend terror against Israel, the U.S. or their allies.
Until these Muslims come clean and publicly condemn such
terror, as some local Muslim leaders bravely have done, they
haven't plugged into civilized communication.
Having open lines with other ethnic communities means
there's a good chance that flare-ups will be less consuming and
more resolvable. Open lines also keep the window cracked
open for expressions of solidarity when another ethnic com-
munity sustains a major loss; witness any of the endless stream
of terrorist attacks on Israel or the December tidal wave
unleashed from the Indian Ocean that shockingly killed more

than 150,000.
David Gad-Harf, executive director of the Jewish
Community Council, Detroit Jewry's public affairs voice, cut
to the core in identifying the benefit of understanding.
"Through communication with other ethnic groups," he said,
"the Jewish community is able to alert them to our priorities
and work together toward common goals, using our united
voice to better reach desired ends."
We've partnered, of course, with other ethnic communities
over the years on everything from supporting Israel to safe-
guarding public education to defending civil rights to rallying
for social services and social justice.

Script For Council

The Jewish Community Council has played a role in many of
those efforts, but Gad-Harf acknowledges it has become so
absorbed over the last four years with the Mideast crisis that
making deeper inroads with other ethnic groups has suffered.
Council's Religious Diversity Initiative is a positive step. It
has traction in orienting students, teachers and school admin-
istrators about Metro Detroit's multiculturalism as well as in
fostering interaction and tolerance, if not acceptance. Public
schools especially are a prime flash point for incitement trig-
gered by intolerance toward ethnic equality.
Council also sponsors the Religious Leaders Forum where
clergy come together twice a year to debate pressing issues like
physician-assisted suicide and Mel Gibson's movie The Passion
of the Christ. Such debate is good as far as it goes. For exam-
ple, it has resulted in some local Presbyterian opposition to the
Presbyterian Church (USA)'s anti-Zionist call to divest from
companies doing business with Israel as so-called "punish-
ment" for Israel's "mistreatment" of Palestinians in the occu-
pied territories. Never mind that Israel was forced into defend-
ing its right to exist against
4' Palestinian terror or that innocent
Palestinians may get caught in the
c 4
a) 4, 0 4 crossfire of Israeli soldiers rooting
st7
crio
••••
.0.4, out terrorists.
0
Both Council initiatives have
brought some success. What's
lacking in Metro Detroit is
something more daring: a bold
push to get ordinary people, not
just their leaders, talking from a
cross-section of our population
pockets. Dialogue is the only way to
become aware of and dial into what
we have in common, what challenges
we can tackle together and what each group stands to gain
through co-existence and interplay.
Sure, we may have neighbors or coworkers from a different
cultural background, but how many of us can honestly say
that we have good friends or confidants from other ethnic
groups — go-to people that help give resonance to our lives?
Whatever the number, it's not enough. We can't possibly
appreciate and fully benefit from the tapestry that is our mul-
ticulturalism here in Metro Detroit if we don't know, really
know, who keeps the all-important threads in place.
The Jewish community, drawing strength from the ideal of
tikkun dam, of repair of the world, must be in the vanguard
in spanning this unnerving cultural chasm. Federation and its
agencies play an integral part, but the grunt work and inspira-
tion must flow from the grassroots. CI

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