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November 14, 2013 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-11-14

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Guest Column


The DIA - Home To
City's True Jewels


Happy 100, JDC!

ith all the discussion about pos-
sibly selling the artwork at the
Detroit Institute of Arts to help
the city of Detroit out of bankruptcy, I decid-
ed to visit the museum on a recent
Sunday. Walking through the
great halls of the DIA brought me
back to my childhood. While my
friends spent weekends engaged
in all kinds of sports activities, as
a youngster, I was dragged (and I
do mean dragged) by my parents
to the DIA to view artwork and to
Ford Auditorium to listen to end-
less Young People's Concerts — all
part of their plan to inculcate me
with an appreciation for art and
While stopping in the DIAs Kresge Court
for a cup of coffee, I remembered how
50-plus years ago, that space was an oasis
for me — a break from all the artwork and a
chance to enjoy a special treat to eat.
Fortified with caffeine and my memories,
I decided to head to the contemporary gal-
leries, where I remember having animated
conversations with my father. I spotted the
piece by Franz Kline on the wall that (still)
looks like he took a black paintbrush, made
a few strokes and called it a day. He actually
called it Sisskind. I remember arguing with
my father (an artist in his own right) about
what makes something "art" and being frus-
trated with his replies. I wanted to be able to
understand and relate to this "are

Invariably, we would then go look at the
big three-way mahogany plug by Oldenburg
and I was really stymied. How was this art?
My adolescent brain just didn't get it. All
hope was not lost though. As a
kid, one of my favorite pieces in
the gallery was The Construction
Tunnel by George Segal. This
sculpture is of a full-sized man
walking through a tunnel that has
doors nailed shut on one side.
The plastered man is depicted
with stooped shoulders, head
bowed and looks downtrodden. At
least this piece I could somewhat
understand. I was attracted to the
eeriness and sadness of the work.
In all its quiet, this piece spoke volumes to
me about despair, weariness, anonymity, and
yet, the figure somehow possessed the forti-
tude to keep moving forward.
Seeing the sculpture again as an adult who
works at a front-line agency that provides
free groceries to low-income families, I was
struck with an even deeper understanding
and appreciation of Segal's work. His depic-
tion reminded me of the many people who
come to Yad Ezra, Michigan's only kosher
food pantry, for help.
As more and more doors are nailed shut
to these individuals (loss of jobs, homes and
opportunities) and their burdens increase,
they manage to keep moving forward. To
most of us, they are an anonymous group,
not easily recognizable and not vocal about
their needs, their frustration and
their fears. Many are embarrassed
and reluctant to ask for help. Yet,
even though they may be tired
and overburdened, they continue
to move forward, trying to provide
for their families with dignity.
TO FIGHT , , .
I hope that Detroiters and
visitors will be able to continue
visiting the DIAs art-filled halls
to view a Michelangelo drawing,
a painting by Picasso, the Diego
Rivera mural and the work of
Tyree Guyton (the creative force
behind the Heidelberg Project)
while on their way to the contem-
porary galleries. There, visitors
will find the true "jewels" of the
city represented by Segal's sculp-
ture — the common person, with
the weight of the world on his
shoulders, yet, stepping forward
with dignity, regardless of hard-
ship or fatigue, in the hope of
moving toward a better future.

Dry Bones


0 0\





Lea Luger is executive director of

Berkley-based Yad Ezra.


November 14 • 2013



s it turns 100 years young, the American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee (JDC) remains ever-evolving to stay
relevant and engaged – and true to its history of benevo-
lence. That's a smart strategy; the Joint has outlived many other wor-
thy causes to become the leading Jewish humanitarian organization in
the world, one supported in large part by the North American network
of Jewish federations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
It's not a coincidence one of Jewish Detroit's most revered leaders,
Penny Blumenstein, is president during the Joint's centennial year
(related story, page 1). She exemplifies the spirit of the Joint, not just
championing the Joint's story, but also personally contributing to the
cause with her supportive husband, Harold – for example, on behalf of
the acculturation of Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to Netanya.
In her message to local synagogues, Blumenstein shared her sum-
mer experience traveling to Eastern Europe to visit some of the
people the Joint assists and to see up close what JDC does there with
the support of American Jews.
The Blumensteins were accompanied to the JDC camp at Szarvas in
rural Hungary by three of their teenage grandchildren, who got to sing
and dance with kids from Hungary, India, Greece and Estonia while
joined by kids from Israel and the U.S. The Eastern European campers
learned from peers while taking their first steps in Jewish leadership
"Our Szarvas experience might have been taking place at
Tamarack," Blumenstein related in her message from the bimah, refer-
ring to Michigan-based Tamarack Camps, "and what it gave to those
campers was unique for them and will make a difference to their
future and to the future of the Jewish community."
The Joint truly is a torchbearer of our global Jewish future – not
just helping the poorest and most vulnerable Jews to live, but also
helping them to live proudly and with ruach, with spirit, as Jews.

Peace At The Wall


he Israeli women's group campaigning for fuller prayer
rights at the Western Wall marked the 25th anniversary of
its cause with a peaceful service under police protection.
At least 800 worshippers, buoyed by a crowd of male supporters
nearby, took part in the Women of the Wall (WOW) service at the
wall's women's section on Nov. 4 to welcome Rosh Chodesh. The
monthly prayer tradition has drawn increasingly larger participation
as well as more hostile intervention from the haredi Orthodox
community. This time, haredi girls, who previously had been
encouraged by their rabbis to gather at the wall and pray silently to
disrupt WOW, were nowhere to be found. Dozens of haredi men did
protest, but the service went on undeterred.
Until April, police typically detained WOW worshippers who put
on prayer shawls or sang too loudly. But then a Jerusalem district
judge ruled the practices didn't violate wall regulations. So the
police turned to protecting the women.
Talk about a quirk of fate.
WOW has come a long way; opposition to it indeed can be civil
when haredi leaders condemn obstructionist dissent.
Still, the fate of WOW remains in limbo. The Israeli government
awaits a compromise plan from Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman
Natan Sharansky. He envisions significant expansion of an area
to the south of the Western Wall Plaza called Robinson's Arch,
now used for non-Orthodox prayer. WOW has endorsed the plan
Let's hope the relative calm that prevailed when WOW prayed last
week signals reasoned negotiations yielding more Rosh Chodesh
services at Judaism's holiest site that uplift, not demean.

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