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Education Is The Linchpin
For Detroit-Jewish Efforts
ith a tiny fraction of Detroit's Jewish community
residing within the city's geographical boundaries,
a state-appointed emergency manager in the pilot
house of a long-rudderless metropolis and the uncertainty
of an unprecedented Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy filing, the
Nov. 5 mayoral and city council races should feel as irrelevant
as the election of a legislature in North Korea.
For decades, our Jewish community has been on the out-
side looking in —a visitor to a city we once felt we knew
intimately. Bands of Tigers, Red Wings, Detroit Symphony
Orchestra and Detroit Institute of Arts vagabonds
rewarded with the occasional parking ticket
administered by the one segment of Detroit
government that seemed to always work — even
if the meters themselves didn't. A group of nos-
talgic, neon-reflected bicyclists zipping through
the potholed pavements of old Jewish Detroit,
taking in the synagogue-to-church structures and
I-went-there-once schools before the sheltered
and unsheltered residents awoke from their slum-
bers or hangovers.
Avenue of Fashion. Hudson's. Central and
Mumford. Dexter and Davison. All in our rear-
view mirrors as we hit Eight Mile Road years
before Coleman Young extended the offer to pimps, drug
pushers and other perceived riffraff.
Yet, after Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr packs up his
Westin Book Cadillac apartment, Howdy Doody is removed
from the DIA.s vault of hidden treasures and auctioned by
Christie's, creditors scoop up cents-on-the-dollar settlements
and national media stampede to the next municipal train
wreck, all that will be left is "us:'
And this time, with the city's wings clipped, its emperor's-new-
clothes hubris suffocated and its former head of Pay-to-Play
Inc. being custom-fitted for a 28-year wardrobe of federal peni-
tentiary pinstripes, there will be less emphasis on the "them:'
Detroit Election Is Important
The revised definition of "us" will be Detroit and Southeast
Michigan. And it will include the Jewish community. That's
why the upcoming Detroit elections for mayor and city
council will matter.
Today's edition of the Jewish News provides insights
into the mayoral candidacies of Mike Duggan and Benny
Napoleon and a handful of city council candidates (see page
1). All were offered an opportunity to respond in writing to
questions posed by reporter Daniel Cherrin, himself a veteran
of Detroit city government.
Napoleon, the current Wayne County sheriff, responded to
all 22 questions posed, including nine specifically related to the
Jewish community. Duggan, the former Wayne County prosecu-
tor and CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, responded to six of
the questions, including one related to the Jewish community.
Both candidates recognize the importance of the "us" in
building city-region collaborations. And while individuals
and businesspeople from the Jewish community have mostly
aligned with the candidacy of Duggan, Napoleon utilized the
questionnaire to demonstrate an understanding of the Jewish
community's Detroit roots, the black-Jewish civil rights alli-
ance and the opportunity for organizations like the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, the ADL and JVS (former-
ly Jewish Vocational Service) to assist in the city's resurgence.
Napoleon also supported the idea of Detroit having a sister-
city relationship with a city in Israel. He specifically refer-
A Righteous Arab
enced the Michigan-Israel Business Bridge as an example of a
group that can help create economic opportunities for Detroit
With his response to the question of why the Jewish com-
munity should support his candidacy, Duggan underscored
his campaign theme that all groups are equally welcomed and
valued in Detroit, regardless of their faith, place of birth, ethnic-
ity or sexual orientation. Ultimately, he said, all people want the
same thing — a safe place to live, work, play and worship.
The post-Chapter 9/Kevyn Orr era in Detroit will, indeed,
require a mayor and city council that can restore
and enhance basic quality-of-life needs — street-
lights that work, police officers, firefighters and
medical crews that are dispatched with urgency
in rigs that run, garbage that is collected and dis-
posed of in real landfill sites and blighted homes
that are razed.
Beyond the infrastructure fixes, is there a need
Detroit possesses that our Jewish community can
impact while also further eliminating the line
between "us" and "them?" The answer is yes:
According to the Detroit Literacy Coalition, 47 percent
of adult Detroiters are currently functionally illiterate. Data
from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress
showed that Detroit Public Schools was the lowest-perform-
ing urban district among 21 surveyed. Seventy-one percent of
eighth-graders tested below basic levels.
Conversely, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit's
2005 demographic study, the most current available, revealed
that 98 percent of Jewish adults age 25 and older have at
least a high school degree and almost two-thirds have at least
a four-year college degree. In a nutshell, high educational
attainment has been and continues to be one of our Jewish
community's major attributes.
Assisting in the provision of quality educational opportuni-
ties for Detroiters of all ages should be our community's pri-
mary investment — in volunteer hours and dollars. While we
can't lay sewer pipes or modernize the power grid, we can work
with and support parents, schools and organizations dedicated
to elevating levels of knowledge and literacy that translate
into more opportunities for employment and self-sufficiency.
The good news is that we, as a Jewish community, already
have taken the first steps. Established volunteer programs
administered through the Jewish Community Relations
Council, such as the Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy,
stand side-by-side with programs aligned with specific
schools, such as Pasteur and Bagley in Northwest Detroit, to
assist educators in elevating individual student achievement.
Temple Israel is in the midst of implementing an innovative
program, also in Northwest Detroit, that includes significant
educational components. And programs that receive signifi-
cant financial support from the Jewish community, such as
Wayne State University's Math Corps, create calculus-confi-
dent middle- and high school students who excel in college
and as leaders.
Regardless of who is elected mayor and to the city council,
expanding our communal and individual commitments to
help improve educational achievement among Detroiters is
the most meaningful and enduring investment we can make
in a brighter future for our city and region ... and by exten-
sion, our Jewish community.
mid the tension tarnishing the
relationship between Jews and
Arabs comes the story of an
Egyptian doctor being recognized as a
Righteous Among the Nations, a deservedly
high honor, for helping save a Jewish family
during the Holocaust.
Dr. Mohamed Helmy is the first Arab to
be so recognized. On Sept. 30, Israel's Yad
Vashem Holocaust Memorial recognized
Helmy, along with Frieda Szturmann, a
German woman, for working with him to
rescue the family.
Helmy settled in Berlin after finishing his
medical studies there. But Nazi-induced
discrimination kept him from working,
prompting him to rail against Nazi policies.
In 1942, he hid a 21-year-old Jewish patient,
Anna Boros, at a cabin he owned. He also
arranged to hide other members of her fam-
ily, including her mother, at Szturmann's
home, according to Yad Vashem.
Yad Vashem is seeking the rescuers' next
of kin to award them the certificate and
medal of the righteous on behalf of their
heroic relatives. Until they are found, the
certificates and medals will be shown, for
all to appreciate, at the Yad Vashem exhibi-
tion "I Am My Brother's Keeper: 50 Years of
Honoring Righteous Among the Nations."
Yad Vashem recently received letters
written years ago by the survivors on behalf
of their rescuers. Interestingly, the letters
were found in the archives of the Berlin
Senate. Helmy died in 1982; Szturmann died
20 years earlier. Fortunately, their acts of
lovingkindness, a very Jewish value, in one
of the darkest times in Jewish history no
longer will be destined for obscurity.
"I will be grateful to him for eternity,"
Anna Boros wrote of Dr. Helmy after the
war. She moved to Brooklyn and died in the
1980s, according to Yad Vashem.
In addition to remembering the 6 mil-
lion Jews who perished at the hand of Nazi
Germany, Yad Vashem strives to extend
the gratitude of the State of Israel and
the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked
everything to give Jews a new lease on
life as Hitler's fury raged. In 1963, Israel's
Remembrance Authority developed the
Righteous Among the Nations title and
tasked a public commission headed by a
Supreme Court justice to award it.
More than 24,800 non-Jews from 50
countries have been cited as Righteous
Among the Nations – people who easily
could have been killed by the German gov-
ernment-led Nazis for protecting Jews from
the final solution of Hitler's genocide.
The story of Dr. Helmy, an Arab who
embraced goodness over hatred, is uplift-
ing given how political and cultural chasms
severely divided Jews and Arabs following
Israeli statehood in 1948. ❑
October 17 • 2013