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July 07, 2011 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-07-07

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Publisher's Notebook


A Common Thread:

Understanding demographi cs and the loss of influence.

hree seemingly unrelated stories that impact
our Detroit Jewish community — the
planned redrawing of U.S. Rep. John Conyers'
14th District, the sale of the former Eagle Elementary
School in the Farmington school district to the Islamic
Cultural Association and opportunities for Jewish day
schools to capitalize on the budgetary problems of area
public school districts — share a common thread.
That thread is declining population, loss of influ-
ence by our Jewish community and no comprehen-
sive strategy or plan to address it while dealing with
its continuing consequences.

Welcome To The 14th District
With the 2010 U.S. Census requiring that Michigan
lose one of its congressional seats, the Republican-
controlled state House and Senate approved last week
new district maps drawn by their respective redistrict-
ing committees. As expected, they showed the elimina-
tion of the district seat currently held by Democrat
Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township. As expected, most
of the commentary was about the legality of the dis-
trict boundaries and whether Peters would run against
12th Congressional District Democrat Sander Levin of
Royal Oak in a 2012 primary.
But what caught most map readers off guard is most
of the Jewish community — all of West Bloomfield,
Farmington Hills, Orchard Lake, Southfield and
Oak Park — will fall into the creatively drawn 14th
Congressional District of John Conyers.
Conyers, who has been entrenched in his
seat since 1965, and the Detroit Jewish
community have strong differences of
opinion. Need an example? Last year, when
the House of Representatives voted 410-4
to further assist Israel on its lifesaving Iron
Dome missile defense system, the only
no votes were Conyers, Ron Paul, R-Texas;
Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; and Pete Stark,
During the months the redistricting com-
mittees were going about their work, my
Lansing sources tell me its members were not engaged
by representatives of the Jewish community or influ-
ential Jewish Republicans to educate them about the
potential pairing of Conyers with the Jewish community.
Would relationship building, nudging and cajoling by
representatives of the Jewish community have made a
difference on the committee's final decision? Could it
have put most of the Jewish community in another dis-
trict? We may never know.
As congressmen from the soon-to-be extinct
Ninth Congressional District, Peters and his prede-
cessor, Republican Joe Knollenberg, were friends of
the Jewish community and understood the special
relationship between the U.S. and Israel. They also
found ways to bring millions of federal dollars to the
district to assist an array of organizations and agen-
cies, including the Holocaust Memorial Center, Jewish
Family Service, Friendship Circle, Michigan Jewish
Institute, JVS and JARC.
While our Jewish community representatives con-
tinue to do admirable work with Lansing legislators

With John Conyers recently
celebrating his 81st birthday, a
strategic next step for our Jewish
community would be to build
relationships with up-and-
coming Detroit-area politicians
who will want to succeed the
congressional veteran.

relating to a specific line item in the state budget that
provides funds for Jewish, Arab and Chaldean social
service agencies, we as a Jewish community got caught
with our pants down on this one, and it could cost us
dearly — in political influence and federal dollars —
until the next redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census.
With Conyers recently celebrating his 81st birthday,
a strategic next step for our community would be to
build relationships with up-and-coming Detroit-area
politicians who will want to succeed the congressional
veteran (including some Detroit City Council members).

Muslim School Uproar
The passionate discussion and debate that
preceded the Farmington school board's
unanimous June 14 decision to sell the for-
mer Eagle Elementary School to the Islamic
Cultural Association has been framed in
many ways. Some attending the meeting
objected to the sale because they felt the
school board had violated procedural issues.
Other attendees voiced objections based on
an array of building-use concerns and fears
about Muslims.
But the underlying reality, once again, is
changing demographics.
The 14 Mile-Middlebelt area, where Eagle is situated,
straddles the Farmington Hills-West Bloomfield line
and was a desirable and attractive area for a substantial
number of Jewish families with school-age children. The
public schools were a good option for those who opted
not to send their children to the nearby Hillel Day School
of Metropolitan Detroit. Today, however, homes in Olde
Franklin Towne and other nearby subdivisions that
once teemed with Jewish school-age children are mostly
empty nests. Empty nests don't fill seats in schools.
While the overall school-age population in Oakland
County is in slow decline, our Jewish community's drop
in these age cohorts is more pronounced, even when
you include significant pockets of children in North Oak
Park and Huntington Woods.
The bottom line: Eagle is empty, the surrounding
neighborhoods don't produce enough children to fill
it and the area's Muslim community appears to have a
legal use for it and the dollars to purchase it. Everything
else, as they say, is commentary.

Common Thread on page 25

24 Jul 7 2011

Publisher: Arthur M. Horwitz
Chief Operating Officer: F. Kevin Browett
Contributing Editor: Robert Sklar

Eagle School Sale
Concerns Linger


n the simmering aftermath of the sale of Eagle
Elementary School in the Farmington school district
to the Islamic Cultural Association of Franklin (ICA),
three significant matters remain:
• The ICA owes it to neighbors to clarify its plans for
the West Bloomfield property. ICA President Dr. Firas
Nashef told the JN a small part of the building would
be used for prayer, but the rest "would be used as a
community center for recreation, community programs
and holiday celebrations."
• Further, the ICA was represented at the June
14 Farmington school board meeting by CAIR, the
Council for American-Islamic Relations, an unindicted
co-conspirator in the terror-finance trial against the
Holy Land Foundation and its former officials.
• The school board says it "complied with all of its
internal policies and obligations under Michigan law"
in negotiating the sale, which followed an "unsolicited"
offer. Still, the board could have acted more prudently
on behalf of district taxpayers.
Against this disturbing backdrop, the $1.1 million sale
will move to the West Bloomfield Planning Commission
for zoning and usage considerations.
Regarding future use of the building on the northwest
corner of 14 Mile and Middlebelt, the ICA can't dawdle in
providing more details about its intent. Neighbors were
blindsided by the oddly unassuming sale of a prominent
parcel. Will the building, in effect, be a mosque?
Houses of worship are permissible under current R15
zoning. As a community center, would the building be
open to the neighborhood or limited to ICA members?
Clarity between now and the sale's finalization would
contribute to better communication between the ICA
and neighbors.
ICA ties with anti-Israel factions also merit scrutiny.
• Last August, the ICA set a talk at Huda School in
Franklin by Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish critic of Israel
and of how Jews approach the Holocaust. The ICA
canceled the talk only after community complaints.
• Speaking on behalf of the ICA at the school board
meeting was Dawud Walid, executive director of the
Michigan Office of CAIR. Walid's group has denounced
Al Qaida, but by not also denouncing Hezbollah,
Hamas and other Middle East elements that preach
anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, oppression and
violence, CAIR appears more concerned about Islamic
PR than fighting hatred and terror. U.S. senators,
counterterrorism experts and moderate Muslims alike
have positioned Washington-based CAIR to be a radical
fundamentalist front for terrorist groups, reports Daniel
Pipes, a respected pro-Israel commentator.
Meanwhile, it appears the school board sold Eagle
school for its appraised value without actively seeking
offers. Fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers means the
property should derive the highest and best value for
the district and the specific piece of real estate. Inviting
offers may have brought higher bids, especially by
suitors eyeing commercial development.
If the ICA and the school board were proactive in
openly and honestly anticipating and addressing the
legitimate concerns raised by the Eagle school sale, the
suspicions and distrust that contribute to Islamophobia
could have been neutralized. I_ _ I

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