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November 04, 2010 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-11-04

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co CD Li }.1 i T


`A common cause'

Chaldeans, Jews extend parents'
gains through public service

By Alan Stamm and Justin Fisette

0 ur parents' most vivid lessons last a lifetime. For Michael
J. George and Carl Levin, values gained during childhood
kindled enduring commitments to community service.
George, founder of a successful business group, has
given many Chaldean store owners a startup boost through loans
and mentoring. Levin, with a public service career spanning nearly
half a century, is a sixth-term U.S. senator who earlier held state and
city government posts. Even as a teen, he was elected an officer by
the Class of 1952 at Central High in Detroit.
`As kids, [my parents] really taught us to participate in a common
cause," says the 76-year-old senator. The native Detroiter became
interested in politics "when I was a kid at the dinner table with my
dad and mother, talking about FDR and the New Deal, and how we
all had to pull together to get out of a Depression."
Brother Sander Levin, a U.S. Representative and Chair of the
House Ways and Means Committee, has been influential in the fight

"With eachgeneration, the
more educated theypecame,.
the more they were involved in
the American systems"

Building a future

A powerful example also inspired George, who created Melody Farms
Dairy and a family-led business group called George Enterprises. His
father Tom left Iraq in 1929 and opened a small grocery in Detroit
— carving a foothold in a land where he didn't know the language.
Like other second-generation Chaldean Americans, the plucky

For Avern Cohn, born in Detroit 86 years ago, the route to public
service led from the University of Michigan (undergraduate and law
degrees) to his dad's law office for 12 years to state and city corn-

for minority rights and religious freedom, here and abroad. "We con-
sider it our duty to try to respond," he says of persecution in Iraq, an
issue he says resonates powerfully among the Jewish community.
Their father Saul, an attorney, set an example of public service
through volunteer assistance to immigrants and farm workers and as
a four-year appointee on the Michigan Corrections Commission. An-
other role model was uncle Theodore Levin, an immigration lawyer
and federal judge in Detroit, after whom the federal courthouse for
the Eastern District of Michigan is named.

November 4 • 2010

Recruiting Chaldeans

Also involved in the American system is Zahra
Roberts, a Central Intelligence Agency program
manager for Middle East community outreach.
She spreads the word to Chaldean and Arab-
American groups in Chicago and Metro Detroit
about a need for recruits with specialized cul-
tural and linguistic backgrounds. "We're still very much in the edu-
cation phase," Roberts says. "We attend events and are on the right
track. It's a long-term commitment."
Not all jobs involve espionage or risky field work. Career paths
include human resources, engineering, finance, information technol-
ogy, data analysis and translation. Mid-career professionals, as well
as recent graduates, are wanted.
"The U.S. government is interested in heritage communities
across the board," says the outreach manager. "We can do a much
better job in providing information to policymakers if we have peo-
ple from every part of the country working in government."

Michael I. George, business leader


son used education to expand parental achievements. In 1950,
George created Tom George & Sons Dairy Distributors, which grew
into Melody Farms — a three-generation firm sold to Dallas-based
Dean Foods Co. in 2003. "When I went into business," the founder
recalls, "a lot of [Chaldean] people couldn't get support from the
banks because they didn't have financial documents. We helped with
loans and business advice."
George also served on many civic groups, including a Detroit
casino gambling study commission. In Lansing, he worked to reduce
hurdles for merchants seeking retail liquor licenses.
Now the 78-year-old entrepreneur is heartened to see political sci-
ence become a popular college major among Chaldeans. "With each
generation, the more educated they became, the more they were in-
volved in the American system — becoming professionals — and many
want to be politicians. They want to be involved in how the country
runs." The son of pioneering immigrants expects to see more Chaldeans
in public service, following another group's path.
"The Jewish community was here ahead of us, a
generation or two ahead of us," he notes.

Federal judges in Detroit

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