Danny Raskin
(File)

The Jewish News legacy of Danny Raskin.

An era ended at the Detroit Jewish News on July 26, 2021, with news of the death of community icon and our beloved colleague Danny Raskin at age 102, after having suffered a fall several weeks before. For the first time in the history of the paper, we have to move forward without him, and it won’t be the same. You’ll have to forgive us for wishing we had more time with someone who had already enjoyed so many years — all lived to the absolute fullest.

Danny has been with the paper since its beginning in 1942. Although Danny turned down founding editor’s Phil Slomovitz’s invitation to become his associate editor, he offered to help by writing a column, the Jewish Youth’s Listening Post, and he’s had a column appear in every single issue — every single one — through July 29, more than 79 years’ worth.

Over those 79 years, Danny has impacted countless lives and shared countless stories in our pages and with his co-workers, some of them hard to believe, like the time he shared pie with young hangers-on of Purple Gang or being given a watch by the gangster Bugsy Siegel’s former girlfriend or the time he sent a personal note to Hitler himself, scrawled upon a bomb by an American airmen just before it was dropped. All the stories were true. Danny led a storied life. But perhaps we should start at the beginning.

His Early Years

He was born the youngest of three siblings on Jan. 23, 1919, to Louis and Minnie Raskin at Hastings and Brady in Detroit. Louis died shortly after Danny’s birth. Louis was an immigrant from Belarus who landed in Detroit and brought over his siblings and parents. Family lore says he was the first Jewish fireman in the city. Minnie raised Danny and his siblings alone. The family soon moved to Dover Court apartments near Pingree and 12th Street, right behind the Cream of Michigan restaurant, where members of the Purple Gang hung out in the mid-’30s.

Danny was a teenager when young members of the gang were in their 20s. “They were wonderful fellows — with me they were,” he once said. “And they were very dedicated to defending Jews.” He told a story about how he had been eating banana cream pie with the gang when followed them and witnessed them put the fear of God into an antisemite by threatening him with an (unloaded) gun. “It was a scare tactic,” Danny said.

He went to High School of Commerce in Detroit, where he learned typing and wrote column as a teenager for the Center News at the old Jewish Center on Hazelwood. After that, he went to Detroit Institute of Technology for a year to study journalism. Then, he worked as a reporter with the Lansing State Journal and, later, covered the midnight shift at the Detroit News, where his first scoop was blowing the lid off an illegal poultry operation — someone was trying to sell plucked pigeons as chickens.

He was 23 when he wrote that first column for Detroit Jewish News founder Phil Slomovitz. The paper Danny originally thought “wouldn’t last” took off in popularity, and he left the Detroit News to work for the JN. He has said Phil offered him a “terrific deal.” He did all kinds of writing, sold advertising and helped out in many other ways.

During World War II, he used to do a lot of work with the boys in service. “They would send me letters, and I would send letters to a lot of them,” he said at one time. “One of them, Bobby Shan, dropped a bomb on Germany that said, “From Danny Raskin to Hitler.” We put the picture in the paper. I also worked with the USO. I sang and danced. And I helped sell a lot of War Bonds and got a citation from the War Department.”

One of his better efforts came in the Oct. 23, 1942, issue of the JN with a poem entitled: “When Hitler’s Goose is Cooked.”

At first, Danny worked at the paper part-time, pursuing other interests on the side. In the 1950s, Danny started a record company with his friend Al Marks. The labels were “Seville” and “Lorelei.” The company did not sell many records. As Danny recalled, “We papered the walls of my rec room with all the unsold records.” He also had an advertising agency and produced TV commercials for various companies.

He often liked to share the story about how, while at the Caucus Club in Downtown Detroit, he has once heard an unknown young singer from New York. Her name was Barbra Streisand. Danny did not like her voice at first and said she would never make it. “Then she went on the Jack Paar late-night show and the rest is history,” Danny said.

Family

Danny was married three times. His first marriage, which he never spoke much about, lasted only six months. Next, he was married to Gerrie Katz for about 10 years. They had a son, Scott. After the divorce, it was just the two of them, Scott said.

“We lived in Oak Park at the time,” Scott told the JN. “It was him and I. Most of the time, we spent our nights going to restaurants, usually a three-hour affair, which I hated when I was a kid.”

“Back in the day, my dad used to smoke cigars, seven inches long. He’d always be sitting in a booth, smoking cigar, drinking coffee and talking to people, while I would sleep in the booth. It was his happy place. He’d tell me we’d leave when he finished his cigar or his coffee. But he never wanted his coffee warmed up — had to be fresh every time, so it was basically never-ending coffee.”

When Scott was 15, Danny married Frieda, “the love of his life,” and the family moved to Southfield. They were together 35 years, until her death in 2010.

Scott now lives in Salt Lake City and is the CEO of an internet company. He has two children, Matthew and Hannah.

He said the three things his dad loved most were his column, the Jewish community and baseball.

Scott also remembers Danny as a father “who knew how to draw the lines.”

“I remember being in the car with him on our way to a Tigers game. My dad always drove the biggest, longest Cadillacs they had. I was playing with the power windows and he told me to stop and if I did it again we would go home. I did it again and he turned around when we were nearly there and drove home. He came home and put his robe on, and we watched it on TV.”

When he was home, Danny was always in a robe. But when he went out? “Everything had to match. Suit, tie, shoes,” Scott said. “He had dozens of custom suits and when he bought shoes, he’d buy a pair in every color. When he left the house, he was dressed to the nines, something he continued all his life.

Scott said his father took great joy in helping the community. He was involved in the American Cancer Society, Variety, the Shriners, was a 32nd degree Mason and belonged to the Knights of Pythias, a non-sectarian fraternity that did community philanthropy. “And he loved to support Jewish-related charities,” Scott said. “It he was asked to help, he did, promoting charity events in his column and attending them in person.”

Over the years, Danny lent his support to multiple Jewish organizations, such as Jewish Senior Life and the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. And he was also a frequent “guest judge” at a multitude of chili cook-offs and burger contests and “grand marshal” at many walks for causes around town.

“He was a larger-than-life figure,” Scott said.

via DPTV
Helping Restaurateurs

After the war, Danny’s weekly “Listening Post” became the place to read about social happenings in Detroit’s Jewish community. In 1964, a second column debuted under his name, the “Best of Everything,” in which he wrote about local restaurants, which continued until his death.

Danny had one rule: He would never give a restaurant a bad rap in his column because “I know how much it costs just to put that damn key in the door!”

If he had a bad experience, he would tell the owner what to do to fix it — but would not write about it. He’d return once the problem was solved and then get something in the paper. “I always tried to help out.”

And help he did. The late Matt Prentice credited a mention in Danny’s column for launching his career. The following Friday, people were lined up out the door at his deli. “If Danny hadn’t put me on the map, I would have gone down,” he said in 2008.

Good friend and owner of Lelli’s Inn on the Green, Mark Zarkin, shared on Facebook after learning of Danny’s passing: “Danny Raskin you will be missed so much by so many. These days we all say restaurants will never be the same. But without Danny Raskin writing about them every week in his column you can surely bet restaurants will never be the same.”

Photographer Linda Solomon said that a mention in Danny’s Listening Post column about her first exhibit in 1980 helped launched her storied career that led to her induction in the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.

The two would go on to become good friends. “I can’t imagine life without Danny,” she wrote in an email to the JN. “His presence, his talent, his heart, gave us lifelong smiles. He was a landmark, even though he was human. Imagine doing what you love forever? I guess that was his secret.

“As a journalist, he got it right. He made people happy. And that’s a life lesson for all of us. Make others happy forever. Danny, thank you for listening to our stories and making us feel special for all your life. Newspapers fade but not Danny’s column. It’s framed on walls in our homes and in restaurants and it was in my Nana’s wallet.”

Many Honors

Danny earned many accolades for his journalism over the years, most recently the Legacy Award from the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter in 2019.

But more than awards, Danny also treasured the honors given to him by those in the restaurant industry.

Zarkin, who opened the: Grand Circus Diner in Detroit, made sure the décor included an artistic tribute to Danny. “Danny’s legendary,” Zarkin said. “He’s like EF Hutton; when Danny talks, everyone listens. He’s just a legend in this town.”

The Stage Deli in West Bloomfield also named a sandwich after him in honor of his 100th birthday. “The #100 Danny Raskin is, like its namesake, a timeless classic filled with sweet and spicy warmth that is sure to be a crowd favorite!” said owner Steven Goldberg of the warm, house-recipe sliced meatloaf on thick challah with sweet pickle, horseradish, mayonnaise, red onion and crisp lettuce.

“This mix of textures and flavors reminds us of Danny’s column. It delights and ends in a huge smile!” Goldberg said.

Danny also treasured the relationship he built with readers over the years. “People read my column and write to me, not only from here, but also from all over the country,” he said at age 100. “Many times, a part of my column is nostalgia for them. It brings back good memories. I’m like a representative of their memories.”

When asked if he would change anything about his career, he said, “No, I don’t think so. I enjoyed the days then, and I enjoy the days today. It’s a good ride. I try to have a lot of fun.”

Goodbye, Danny. It was a good run. We hope you had fun.

Danny Raskin

JN Director of Editorial Jackie Headapohl acknowledges the efforts of previous writers of JN stories about Danny, former Editor Phil Jacobs, former Associate Editor Alan Hitsky and Associate Editor David Sachs.

Previous articleJSL Provides Cool Treats, Cool Music at Ice Cream Social
Next articlePutnam County Actress Has Rich Theatrical Heritage