The Jewish presence and influence in all facets of society, including arts, medicine, law, academia and politics is so commonplace that it could be assumed that this was always the norm, yet the origins of the Detroit Jewish News itself proves otherwise.
In celebration of its 80th anniversary last year, the Detroit Jewish News reprinted and distributed its first edition from March 27, 1942. Like any publication, this inaugural edition provides a snapshot at that moment of Jewish life in both Detroit, America and elsewhere.
A careful reading reveals a local community encountering both challenges and opportunities in the face of latent discrimination, antisemitism and desire for acceptance during those difficult years with the Unites States fighting for freedom in Europe and Asia, our fellow Jews facing the ravages and murderous evil of Naziism and fascism, and Jews living in mandatory Palestine striving to establish a Jewish state.
It is no surprise then that many of the articles and stories in the first-ever Detroit Jewish News went to lengths to emphasize the Jewish community’s patriotism, loyalty and commitment to America. Certainly, World War II propelled the integration of the community’s Jewish and American identities, and the paper’s coverage of the war effort and its direct impact on the local Jewish community was necessary. Unlike other periodicals of the time that likewise covered the war, what made, and continues to make, the Detroit Jewish News unique is its particular Jewish angle in its reporting.
Interwoven throughout the initial edition is the emphasis of the Jewish community’s “Americanness” and the countervailing and persistent antisemitism it encountered, as highlighted by articles and editorials addressing the hateful rhetoric of Father Charles Coughlin. But nothing encapsulates this communal desire of acceptance better than the 1942 Platform of the Detroit Jewish News that expresses the desires and tensions faced by the community through its emphasis of the community’s responsibilities as Americans, the belief in “the American way of life” and the “sacred American ideal of fair play” and the necessity to “build a wholesome American life based on inter-faith cooperation.”
The 1942 Platform concludes with the desire that the paper and the Jewish community “acting together, [is] in a position to bring the most good to America, to the ideal for which America stands, and to the Jewish communities which form an important element in the American commonwealth.”
It seems entirely reasonable that a community enduring continued marginalization and discrimination, coupled with a nation at war, would emphatically stress its commitment to American ideals with the strong desire for accelerated integration into, and acceptance by, mainstream society.
Fast forward 80 years to the Detroit Jewish News current succinct Mission Statement and its Vision Statement where the need to emphasize our community’s commitment to America is no longer necessary; it is an undeniable and self-evident fact — but instead re-positions the focus inward:
Mission Statement: The Detroit Jewish News will inform and educate the Jewish and general community to preserve, protect and sustain the Jewish people of greater Detroit and beyond, and the State of Israel. The Detroit Jewish News will be of service to the Jewish community.
Vision Statement: The Detroit Jewish News will operate to appeal to the broadest segments of the greater Detroit Jewish community, reflecting the diverse views and interests of the Jewish community while advancing the morale and spirit of the community and advocating Jewish unity, identity and continuity.
In the past eight decades, the Detroit Jewish community has flourished, and it continues to thrive. There is no longer a need to prove we belong. Jewish participation in all facets of American life has been normal, expected and common. The impact we have made in this community, individually and collectively, exponentially and disproportionately exceeds our numbers. The Jewish presence and influence in all facets of society, including arts, medicine, law, academia and politics is so commonplace that it could be assumed that this was always the norm, yet the origins of the Detroit Jewish News itself proves otherwise.
Unfortunately, our acceptance into the larger society has not prevented the resurgence of antisemitism. The underlying message expressed in the Detroit Jewish News 80 years ago that integration was a means to abating antisemitism was noble but sadly incorrect. We are encountering an unprecedented rise in antisemitism that seems to be accelerating each week. Most worrisome is that this trend is not limited to a certain relegated non-influential segment of people espousing anti-Jewish hatred.
Politicians, celebrities, athletes and others with large platforms are frequently expressing and endorsing blatant antisemitism, whether it is age-old anti-Jewish tropes, anti-Israel hatred or overt dog-whistle phrases inferring Jews without expressly stating so.
Antisemitism is becoming normalized. It is no longer limited to the extremists, supremacists or the dark underbelly of this country but readily promoted by those with a significant public profile and sphere of influence. With the assistance of technology and social media, the amplification and substantiation of this hateful rhetoric creates an environment where public animosity toward Jews is frequent, accepted and has led to an unprecedented rise in violent antisemitic acts not seen in decades.
Has American Judaism reached an inflection point? Or worse, a tipping point? Antisemitism is becoming normative, and like Hemingway’s characterization of bankruptcy, what began gradually, now seems to be occurring all at once.
Those hopes expressed in the early days of this paper, confirmed by the achievements of the Detroit (and American) Jewish community in the decades since, now provides fertile ground for this pernicious resurgence and escalation of antisemitism. We can neither afford to be complacent nor complicit, and we must use all tools available to combat it, including continuing to commit to living as proud Jews.
Jeff Schlussel is an attorney at Carson Fischer in Bloomfield Hills, a member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Board of Governors and a board member of the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.