Danny Raskin’s name appears on more than 10,000 pages in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History.
When I began working with the Detroit Jewish News Foundation in 2012, I soon learned there was a legend in the house. This fellow was much like “Elvis,” the type of celebrity that needs no introduction. At the Jewish News, that person was “Danny.” And, the more I worked with the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, I understood why Danny Raskin had earned and deserved his far-reaching reputation.
First, on sheer volume, Danny was a winner. His name appears on more than 10,000 pages in the Davidson Archive. As he had a weekly column in every JN since the first issue on March 27, 1942, that is, of course, a distinct advantage.
Danny began writing for the JN when he was only 23 years old. World War II was raging and that was a primary topic for Danny. His poem in the Oct 23, 1942, issue of the JN, “When Hitler’s Goose is Cooked,” was widely read, but I thought his work in the Feb. 2, 1943, JN, was much more poignant. “To Master Sgt. Meyer Levin” is a poem about a bombardier on a combat flight. It was dedicated to Sgt. Levin, who was unfortunately killed on a bombing mission.
After the war, Danny’s weekly “Listening Post” continued and was more popular than ever. As he transitioned from youth to young man to middle-age (I don’t think he ever became old, did he?), his column would relate news of people, places and events in Detroit’s Jewish community. One might say that, before the advent of digital social media, Danny was a “newsprint blogger” extraordinaire.
In 1964, Danny debuted a second column, the “Best of Everything,” that he continued to write for every issue of the JN until the last few weeks of his life. Allegedly, the “Best of Everything” was a review of local restaurants. Upon reading his work in the Archive, however, it was soon apparent to me that Danny’s columns were never just about eating out. Although they always had news about local restaurants, each entry might also include social commentary, community news, human interest stories and, of course, his favorite jokes.
Above all, Danny’s columns were fun. For example, I appreciated “Slipp’ry Sliders” in the Aug. 8, 2010, issue of the JN, which was about locally famous slider hamburger joints like the Top Hat and Green’s. “Oldies but Goodies” (Sept. 8, 2011) was an ode to five bridge playing friends — Larry Stocker, Morton Lazar, Aaron Berg, Abe Pearlman and Bud Shiller — who at the time collectively had a total age of 478 years. “Just a number,” Danny said. Indeed, he knew the truth of this fact.
And this brings me to one last point, Danny was a pretty good historian. He had a fine memory and stories in his column were his personal oral histories, if you will, that give an archivist/historian like me insight into the recent history (meaning the last 102 years) of Detroit and Michigan Jews.
It is not easy to write about a legend. One can only relate a few highlights from an extraordinary life. Luckily, the Davidson Archive has preserved Danny’s work forever, and maybe that is a more fitting tribute.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.