I spent election day working the polls at New Paradigm Glazer Academy. In between voters, I scoured the news from November 1918 for clues about the shape of our community and the state of our union.
Here is some of what I gleaned from the pages of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle — by way of the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, by way of the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library — 100 years ago:
Blood and Brain of American Jewry, in Priceless Services to Democracy, Made Glorious Record of High Achievement In Many Hard and Lofty Posts of War
Then: It was the War to End All Wars. The Jewish community took tremendous pride in their service on the home front and abroad.
Now: The distance between civilian and military life is unprecedented; “our troops” are both a source of political points and an unconscionably underserved population. More than 20 veterans, active-duty servicemembers, guardsmen and reservists die by suicide every day.
Take Extra Care and Don’t Worry
- Get your proper proportion of work, play and rest…
• The importance of fresh air cannot be emphasized too strongly.
- Avoid crowds. If you have to mingle closely with others in elevators, streets cars, try not to face your fellow passengers. Keep your handkerchief handy to smother your own coughs or sneezing.
- Be ever watchful of the danger of infection but keep calm and don’t worry about it.
Then: The flu pandemic killed 50 million people, far outpacing combat casualties. Detroiters embraced a “100% COMMON SENSE” approach and “antiseptic solution,” which had become quite the rage in hospitals and barbershops.
Now: Seems like ancient history, right? Have you gotten your flu shot yet? Get your flu shot already.
Cadillac Policy for 1918-19. Prices will be restored at once to the figures which prevailed before Cadillac production was restricted by Governmental Order … The $300 increase is now removed on the entire Cadillac line … We assume that Peace will shortly follow the signed armistice. In that event, the entire capacity of our factory will be devoted to the production of Cadillac cars.
Then: Cadillac remained the Cadillac of cars, optimal for rum- running and all variety of getaways.
Now: The Cadillac CT6 is still made in Detroit, albeit mostly assembled by robots and mostly out of foreign parts. Like 1918, you can still probably get the dealer to knock $300 off the sticker.
Jewish Problem Persists. Very disquieting reports as to the conditions of the Jews in a number of war-stricken countries … Rumors of pogroms against the Jews in Galicia and of attempts to read them out of citizenship rights in the new Poland seem to be only too well founded … Evidence is indisputable that these Jews have been exceedingly loyal to the Allied cause, and it would be simply inconceivable that in the final settlement of the world’s affairs, they should still be permitted to be the football of fate, not to say the target for anti-Semitism in new and cruel forms.
Then: While oranges sprouted in the desert, leaders debated whether (a) “the day has come for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” or (b) Israel is “chimera … the Jew’s place is in the world at large.”
Now: The Jewish people have a sovereign homeland, an outsized role in American life — and a best bet to beat back anti-Semitism by fighting Islamophobia, xenophobia and bigotry against anyone anywhere.
D.W. Griffith’s Mighty Spectacle — The Birth of a Nation — A Veritable Kaleidoscope of American History, It Deals with a Big Theme in a Big Way.
Then: Audiences flocked to see heroic klansmen fight black-faced villains on the silver screen, including a premiere at the White House.
Now: Some people manage to be scandalized by the notion that Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. or PR disaster to see how centuries of slavery and segregation manifest in today’s implicit biases and institutional racism.
Henry the Hatter Detroit’s Exclusive Hatter 49 Gratiot Ave.
Then: Men wore hats when they went outdoors and took them off when they came indoors.
Now: Henry the Hatter moved to Eastern Market last year and you could totally pull off that fedora.
ELECTION TUESDAY NOV. 5TH 7 a.m to 8 p.m. An Equal Suffrage Amendment to the State Constitution, permitting women to vote at all elections in the State of Michigan, will also be submitted at this election.
Then: Women’s suffrage passed, even without women voting for it.
Now: Women are, by all accounts, the most prepared and purposeful public leaders in Michigan.
The JN archives are more searchable and mobile friendly than ever — check out djnfoundation.org.
And, seriously, get your flu shot.