On June 4, 2018, Ron Dermer, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, made a presentation at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills. In the June 14 issue of the JN, Contributing Writer Stacy Gittleman reported on Dermer’s speech, noting that this event was the first time in 20 years that a sitting Israeli ambassador had visited Detroit. So, I wondered when was the first time this happened in Detroit and did the JN report on such an event?
I was not disappointed. First, a search in the Davidson Digital Archives revealed 1,051 pages in the historical files of the JN where “Israeli ambassador” was cited. More to the point, there was an excellent story in the March 4, 1949, issue of the JN about Israel’s first ambassador to the United States, Eliahu Elath Epstein, speaking at Shaarey Zedek on Feb. 28, 1949, one week after he was named to the post. This was also when he took his Hebrew name, “Elath.”
Earlier that same day, Elath spoke to the prestigious Detroit Economic Club at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. His address was also rebroadcast on radio station WJLB.
Elath’s visit is also interesting for reasons other than the content of his speech. In March 1949, the new State of Israel was still fighting to establish its sovereignty and, as important, its borders. What is really interesting is that one week after Israel appointed an ambassador to the U.S., that ambassador visited Detroit!
While the situation of Israel in its 70th year is much different than in 1949, there were some common themes between Dermer and Elath — in particular, that the two largest Jewish populations in the world — those of America and Israel — have an essential bond.
It has been nearly 70 years between the two stories published in the JN, but both are worth reading to understand the history of the connections between Detroit Jews and Israel, and between Israel and America.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.