As a citizen of Oakland County, as a Jewish American and as a retired UAW union member and elected official, I believe we are at critical times and that we need to break our individual and collective silence.
During the past year, I have been challenged to think about my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, as a young kid in Brooklyn, N.Y. I vividly remember the pictures and stories from the Holocaust and also watching on television the pictures of angry, viscous white people and police hosing, screaming, yelling, encouraging dogs to bite, beating and arresting the children and citizens of Birmingham, Ala.
It was the television coverage of the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963, which led to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech first given in Detroit and then Washington, D.C. Just as vivid in my mind are the pictures of the murder and bludgeoning of Emmitt Till and the courageous act of his mother to have an open casket. I remember clearly how this led to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
I was fortunate to be raised in a family that was clear about good and evil and the fact that the barbaric white rage we were witnessing was on the wrong side.
These past few months, I was in Pittsburgh and visited memorials of the 11 Jewish Americans killed as they attended the Tree of Life synagogue. I have also watched immigrant children placed in cages, and now I watch families and children being tear gassed at our borders.
As I grew up and learned more about “good Germans” and more about children, immigrants and refugees who were denied entry into the U.S. during the 1930s and 1940s, this silence has become more significant.
Many of you know this story and tell your children and grandchildren about the voyage of the St. Louis: “In May 1939, the German liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers, almost all Jewish refugees. The Cuban government refused to allow the ship to land, and the U.S. and Canada were unwilling to admit the passengers. The passengers were finally permitted to land in western European countries rather than return to Nazi Germany. Of those passengers, 254 were killed in the Holocaust.”
What has changed?
We continue to go along and be more concerned with our comforts and our “own.” Even when the tragedy in Pittsburgh makes it clear that we live in dangerous times, we remain silent to the “other.” While a small number of religious activists and community social justice organizers have organized caravans to the border, and there have been some conversations about racism and immigration, most of us go back to business as usual. Do we go back to business as usual because we are hopeless or because we have no moral compass or vision of a more humane way to live and relate?
We have a special responsibility to break our silence now.
I call upon synagogues to declare themselves “sanctuary synagogues.”
I call upon the social justice committees to commemorate MLK’s 2019 birthday by listening to, reading and creating sermons in January based upon the words of Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”
In this speech, he challenged us to overcome the evil triplets of racism, materialism and militarism, and create a life based upon a radical revolution in values.
Lastly, I share this tool that “we look forward as we speak out against injustice.” I call upon every synagogue to place on their websites and share on Facebook the three-minute video by Vincent Harding: “I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.”
As a citizen of Oakland County, I think it is time to speak out loudly and clearly that Brooks Patterson is an obstacle to creating a new unity in our region. Brooks Patterson launched his career representing a group that railed against school integration in the 1970s. He has ridiculed, belittled and disrespected people in Detroit and upheld the materialist values of Oakland County.
We need to break our silence and the Jewish community can lead the way in demanding that Oakland County become a sanctuary city based upon values of compassion, empathy, caring and human dignity for all.
As a retired UAW international staff person, I pledge to continue to create conversations with workers who find it easier to blame and condemn than engage and create a future that is based upon the principles of love and solidarity.
If we remember our own histories, maybe we can create a county, a community and workplaces that are an alternative to the current narrative driven by hate and violence that is dominating our area and our country.
Rich Feldman lives in Huntington Woods. Contact him at Richardfeldman60@gmail.com if you want to help create a “Democracy Circle” to break the silence in your synagogue, community or city.