Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in Michigan’s Copper Country with the vandalism of Temple Jacob in Hancock.
Anyone who has read the JN — or any other major newspaper, for that matter — over the past few years knows there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism in America and around the globe.
It seems not a week goes by without a story of an act of anti-Semitism in a European nation such as France, Germany or Poland. Just last week on Yom Kippur, two people were shot and killed outside of a synagogue in Halle, Germany. And then there are American tragedies, such as the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., that took place a year ago Oct. 27.
Although anti-Semitism has a 2,000-year history, its recent resurgence is a sad reality of today’s world. Moreover, it is not something limited to a few isolated incidents
Michigan is not immune to such anti-Semitism. For example, Temple Beth-El in Battle Creek has suffered damage twice this year. To add insult to injury, so to speak, a month ago, on Sept. 17, some fool raised the Nazi swastika flag at an elementary school in Battle Creek. As Lakeview Schools Superintendent Blake Prewitt said in a statement: “It is disturbing that an individual would use school grounds as a platform to promote such ideals.” Indeed. At an elementary school, no less!
I thought about this when my wife, Pam, and I were on vacation in the Upper Peninsula a couple of weeks ago. We love it up there. It is rather idyllic (unless you don’t like winter and lots of snow, of course), peaceful and friendly.
Yet, this rather remote part of Michigan, with only a few towns of any size, is also not immune to anti-Semitism. While we were in the U.P. on Sept. 21, Temple Jacob in Hancock was vandalized. Its doors and walls were besmirched with Nazi swastikas and SS symbols (see Corrie Colf’s story in the Oct. 3, 2019, issue of the JN).
Temple Jacob is one of the oldest congregations in Michigan. It was established in 1889 during the Upper Peninsula’s copper mining boom, an era when Michigan produced more copper ore than any place on Earth. The cornerstone for the current synagogue itself was laid in 1912, when there were about 100 Jewish families in “Copper Country.”
Now more than 100 years old, it’s an architectural gem, one of the area’s iconic structures. The stained glass alone is worth the visit.
It is still a bit hard to believe that Temple Jacob was targeted. While acknowledging that anti-Semitism is a global problem, President David Holden said, “I was just disappointed that it finally happened here — this is not the character of the community.”
Well, Holden is right, but there is a good part to the story — local citizens soon pitched in to help clean the walls of Temple Jacob, and prominent community leaders spoke out against such vandalism and thoughts (See story on page 20.)
Looking through the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, I found some great stories about Temple Jacob. I recommend an article by Shelli Liebman Dorfman in the Aug. 9, 2012, issue of the JN. It tells the story of Temple Jacob on its 100th birthday and has some great color photographs. While not specifically about Temple Jacob, there is also an interesting article from the Oct. 27, 2016, issue of the JN about the “Frozen Chosen,” a consortium of the smaller Jewish congregations in Northern Michigan from such places as Marquette, Petoskey and, of course, Hancock.
Jewish communities outside of Metro Detroit are still going strong after more than 100 years. Let us hope that — there and here — we’ll see no more such acts of anti-Semitism.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.