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January 19, 2006 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-01-19

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Editor's Letter

JARC salutes its BUSINESS
BUDDIES for donations
of goods and services over the
past 12 months.

Provocative Moments After

T

he most insightful moments of U.S. Rep. John
Conyers, Jr.'s appearance as keynote speaker for the
Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative event at
Detroit Jewry's headquarters came after he spoke. .
Conyers, D-Detroit, ended his fcirmal remarks during
the Jewish Community Council-sponored program at the
Max M. Fisher Federation Building in Bloomfield
.
Township by lauding the - impact of
civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, who
died last October at age 92. She adopt-
ed Detroit as her hometown a few
years after she refused to give her seat
to a white passenger and thus spurred
the Montgomery., Ala., bus boycott of
1955, a seminal point on the timeline
leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Robert A. Sklar
Parks' 48-year embrace of Metro
Editor
Detroit, memorialized by the
Montgomery bus now residing at the
Henry Ford in Dearborn, has strengthened us as a com-
munity, Conyers said. "We now have closer reconciliation
with the ideals and philosophies of Martin Luther King,"
Conyers said in closing his Jan. 13 speech, two days before
what would have been Dr. King's 77th birthday.
Conyers was elected to the U.S. House in 1964, thanks
in part to Dr. King's endorsement. He's a founder of the
Congressional Black Cau .cus. I met him in the 1970s while
doing a school paper on one of Detroit's then-model
urban renewal projects: Hobart Street. His politics are
sometimes too liberal, and we see the Israel-Palestinian
conflict differently, but he, as much as any black leader,
recognizes Jews as integral to the soul and vitality of Metro
Detroit.

America's middle class has
propelled Jews into the
mainstream, but the road
was rocky because of our
ethnicity.

Still, Conyers left me pondering when he shared corn-
ments cut from his original speech because of time: "Jews
need to understand, and each new Jewish generation needs
to be taught, that although they have faced discrimination
in America, it was never official policy or as systematic as
slavery and Jim Crow. It has been far easier for Jews to fit in
and enter the middle class than it has been for blacks."
Yes, American Jews became middle class quicker, and in
larger numbers. We were never government-recognized
slaves despite the prejudice we continue to confront
although to .a much-lesser degree as evidenced by an
Orthodox Jew nearly becoming vice president in 2000.
America's middle class has propelled Jews into-the main-
stream, but the road was rocky because of our ethnicity.
Jews were systematically kept out of top schools and many
neighborhoods as well as country clubs and resorts. Jews
rose to the upper echelons of Hollywood, finance, politics

and the professions. Yet not so many years ago, we felt com-
pelled to build Sinai Hospital of Detroit, in part, because
our physicians were barred from practicing elsewhere.
Conyers went on to declare, "Jews need to understand
that many blacks feel the Holocaust is used to justify any
Jewish behavior, while centuries of slavery, the era of Jim
Crow and lynchings are sometimes rejected as even partial
explanations for economic or social difficulties."
That's a mouthful.
Jews sometimes cite the Holocaust as the undercurrent of
continuing Jew-hating and Jew-baiting, but no Jew I know
cites it as wholesale justification for personal conduct. Jews
have been at the forefront of the civil rights movement so
are as mindful as anyone of how slavery and lynchings in
the past still affect black opportunities today.
Jews of the 19th and early 20th centuries in America suf-
fered extreme hate and even were lynched remember
Atlanta pencil factory manager Leo Frank? But I would
never claim that Jews had it as bad as-blacks, whose skin
color and bondage to tenant farming and forced indebted-
ness intensified the oppression. For years following their
mass emigration,
European Jews,
even the poorest
ones, had more of a
chance to escape
the American ghet-
to than blacks.
Here in Metro
Detroit, we live in
the most segregated
metro region in
America. I'm not
proud of that. But
that doesn't mean
we can't work
together, whites and
blacks, on a host Of Rep. Conyers: Frank conversations
common con c erns
like child rearing, drug fighting, mass transit, interfaith
bridge building and cultural and economic development
while we get our act together on tackling segregation and
the reasons.for this great divide.
Talk doesn't have to be cheap.
Rep. Conyers is right: "Our conversations need to be
frank, but sensitive to each other's history and feelings:' ❑

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How do you rate Jewish-black
relations in Metro Detroit?

o
0

0

:

0

What role can Jews play to spur
integration in the metro area?

E-mail letters to:
letters@thejewishnews.com

Vision Specialists of Birmingham

Walker Printery, Inc.

Wallside Windows
Zack and Chandler, C.P.A., P.C.
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January 19. 2006

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