Nostalgia Posting and the Detroit Jewish News Archives

Nostalgia is in. I recently coined the term “Nostalgia Posting” because one of the most common memes on Facebook these days is the Throwback Thursday, in which individuals and organizations post old photos from yesteryear and allow viewers to tag people they recognize and be amused at how things have changed over the years including hairstyles and fashion. One local company making good use of this is Joe Cornell Entertainment, which has been posting photos from their archives of Joe Cornell’s pre-bar mitzvah dance classes from the past few decades.

Metro Detroiters, as well as former Metro Detroiters, have found themselves getting lost in time on the Web since the Detroit Jewish News Foundation launched its digital archives in mid-November. Residing on the DJN Foundation’s website at www.djnfoundation.org, the archives have allowed local members of the Jewish community to scratch their nostalgia itch by searching for friends and family in the archives’ search function. Every weekly issue of the Detroit Jewish News over the past seven decades is included in the digital archives and even advertisements can be searched.

Detroit Jewish News Foundation Archives

Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, recognized the importance of digitizing the thousands of old issues of the paper after a devastating fire occurred in the Detroit Jewish News offices back in 2002 and destroyed nearly all of the paper’s print archives. Horwitz and the new nonprofit foundation turned to Media Genesis, an internet services provider, to create the searchable index on the new website which lets users perform quick and accurate searches on the more than 260,000 dating back to 1942. The archives are available to the public at no cost and they have already proven useful to local historians, educators, students and community leaders.

Like internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, the DJN Foundation’s digital archives are fully searchable by date, name, and other keyword searches including advanced Boolean searches, which are a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as “and,” “not” and “nor” to produce more relevant results.

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Finding a Bat Mitzvah T-Shirt in Africa

It’s no secret that many of those cotton t-shirts we wear here in the First World ultimately get donated and wind up in the Third World. Thousands of t-shirts that get printed each year celebrating the losing team in the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series usually get shipped to Africa. And for decades the customary bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah t-shirts that accumulate in teens’ closets have been donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill to be sent to Africa or into impoverished neighborhoods throughout North America. When I lived in New York City, it was not unusual for me to see a homeless man wearing a donated bar mitzvah t-shirt or a Jewish youth group shirt that had been donated before the owner went off to college.
National Public Radio (NPR) did a story the other day on the fate of these donated t-shirts that wind up in Africa. It wasn’t the first time such a story had been done. Almost three years ago Mother Jones ran a story titled “When Hooters T-Shirts Go to Africa: Donate an old t-shirt in the US? Someday it might travel to a country like Liberia.” And over ten years ago the New York Times published a story that also tracked donated clothes to the Third World in George Packer’s article “How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back.” The basic premise of these stories is that once you donate an old sweatshirt or t-shirt to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, your old, used clothing takes on a new life somewhere else. We often don’t think of who’s wearing our old winter coat that we donated, but it does make for an interesting story.

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Detroit Tigers Hire Brad Ausmus, a Jewish Manager

I’m a big Detroit Tigers fan and have always been interested in Jewish baseball players in the Major Leagues. Therefore, the soon-to-be made announcement that the Detroit Tigers will hire Brad Ausmus to be their next manager is exciting news. Ausmus, who is Jewish and once played for the Detroit Tigers, is currently the manager for Israel’s World Baseball Classic team.
Brad Ausmus played for the Detroit Tigers in 1996 and 1999-2000.

The hiring of Brad Ausmus marks the first time the Detroit Tigers will have a Jewish manager*. As soon as Jim Leyland made his resignation public last month, Brad Ausmus’ name immediately was mentioned on the short list of potential replacements for Leyland, who took the Tigers to the World Series twice during his eight years with the team. Last year, Ausmus interviewed with the Red Sox for their manager position and turned down an opportunity to interview with the Astros for their manager position.

Brad Ausmus wearing a yarmulke and tefillin at the Kotel in Jerusalem while manager of Israel’s World Baseball Classic team.

Ausmus spent 18 seasons in Major League Baseball as a catcher for the Padres, Tigers, Astros and Dodgers. He won the Gold Glove Award three times and made the All Star team in 1999. In 2007 Ausmus won the Darryl Kile Award “for integrity and courage.” Ausmus was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. Now that he’ll be back in Detroit, I will be certain to bring up his name as a candidate for the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation’s Hall of Fame, of which I’m a voting member.

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Dr. Abraham Nemeth – Inventor and Mathematician

One of the highlights of attending Shabbat services at Adat Shalom Synagogue since I was a young child has been talking with Dr. Abe Nemeth. Dr. Nemeth, who passed away yesterday at 94, was a brilliant mathematician and inventor.

Dr. Nemeth was blind since birth, but he invented many technological devices to make his life easier. I recall a Friday night get together at Rabbi Efry Spectre’s home during high school when Dr. Nemeth was the guest speaker. He showed the 20 or so teens in the room how he developed a wrist watch that would tell him the time just by touching it. He also showed us the Braille siddur (prayerbook) that he uses.

Dr. Abraham Nemeth

Dr. Nemeth taught math for 3 decades at the University of Detroit and then started their Computer Science department. In terms of his lasting legacy, his entry in Wikipedia explains that Dr. Nemeth developed “the Braille code that would more effectively handle the kinds of math and science material he was tackling. Ultimately, he developed the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation in 1952. The Nemeth Code has gone through 4 revisions since its initial development, and continues to be widely used today. Nemeth is also responsible for the rules of MathSpeak, a system for orally communicating mathematical text. In the course of his studies, Nemeth found that he needed to make use of sighted readers to read otherwise inaccessible math texts and other materials. Likewise, he needed a method for dictating his math work and other materials for transcription into print. The conventions Nemeth developed for efficiently reading mathematical text out loud have evolved into MathSpeak.

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Detroit Philanthropist Joel Tauber Inspired At Techonomy Detroit

I attended Techonomy Detroit again this year and my interview with Joel Tauber, one of the speakers at the conference, was published in this week’s Detroit Jewish News:‘TECHONOMY’ CONFAB INSPIRES JOEL TAUBER

The recent Techonomy conference on the campus of Wayne State University was not much different than last year’s event, the first of its kind here in the Motor City. Tech leaders and business icons from around the country converged on Detroit for a series of conversations and workshops discussing how technology and innovation can boost American economic growth, job creation and urban revival.

This year’s conference emphasized the national challenge of inadequate and inequitable education. Speakers discussed the role of entrepreneurs and industry, as well as how technology can be creatively applied to help revive America’s physical and social urban infrastructure, to reignite competitiveness and economic growth.

The majority of the speakers were under age 45 and so it is noteworthy that one of the Detroit Jewish community’s major philanthropists and a world-renowned business leader was one of the panelists. Among the prominent speakers at Techonomy, such as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd), was Joel Tauber.

Courtesy of Techonomy – (photo by Asa Mathat)

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The Jewish Sports Journalist – Mitch Albom’s Play About Ernie Harwell

I finally got around to seeing the play “Ernie” last week. The play focuses on the life of the late Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who in Detroit is just as legendary a figure as the greats who actually played the game like Greenberg and Kaline. The play was as good as the reviews, but as I exited the theater my mind focused less on the life of Ernie Harwell and more on the life of the writer of the play, Mitch Albom.

It has often been said that a Jewish boy has a better chance of owning a professional sports team than playing on one. And with the dearth of Jewish pro athletes and the disproportionate amount of Jewish owned teams, that might be true. But, lately I’ve been thinking about all the Jewish guys who at some point in their lives determined that they’d rather write and talk about their favorite sports than play them.

I first started reading Mitch Albom’s sports columns when he arrived in Detroit in 1985 to write for the Detroit Free Press. As a young boy I found his columns masterful. Albom didn’t just cover my beloved local Detroit sports teams and their athletes; his prose told the hidden stories of the athletes and what made watching these games such a magical experience.

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German Tech Company Hires Asperger’s Syndrome Workers

For many the 1988 movie Rain Man was their first introduction to autism. Twenty-five years later and not only is autism a household term, but most people know someone who has been diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum. Today, fans of the primetime TV show Parenthood have watched the young Max Braverman (played by Max Burkholder) grow up before us in our living rooms with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.

The character in Rain Man was an oversimplified example of someone with autism, but many of his attributes were accurate. In the movie, Dustin Hoffman’s character has unusual skills that are exploited by his brother to count cards in Las Vegas casinos. While the brothers’ activities were unethical, the movie demonstrated that individuals with autism have unique abilities that neurotypical people do not.

Rain Main Autism Asperger's
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; MGM Home Entertainment; United Artists

Those abilities are being put to good use by a German technology company called Auticon, which exclusively employs people with autism. The company’s owner, Dirk Mueller-Remus, founded the Auticon when his own son was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He says, “Our guys have a lot of skills in concentration and analytical/logical thinking. And we are sure the IT (information technology) industry will have benefits.”

According to Auticon’s website, the company uses the logical and analytical strengths of their consultants in software testing and quality assurance. The special abilities of their consultants with Asperger’s are advantageous in the quality control of software. Auticon lays out a vision that is both entrepreneurial as well as social. On the business side, Auticon seeks to deliver pinpoint quality in the IT sector, but it is also highly focused on being socially conscience and increasing the quality of life of those with autism through job satisfaction.

The idea that those with Asperger’s have special abilities that make them better qualified in certain jobs like those at Auticon is no shock to Mike Levine, 35, of Royal Oak. Self-diagnosed with Asperger’s in February 2003 (and later confirmed by physicians), Levine explained that “a lot of ‘Aspies’ take a real liking to the Internet and technology and they’re good at it because of their ability to really focus. If they take a job in that field, they will likely succeed because of their special aptitude.”

When Levine first heard of Auticon’s program to hire those with Asperger’s he was surprised. “My first reaction is that it’s usually the other way around. ‘Aspies’ are usually seen as a deterrent and can’t get their foot in the door at companies. The fact that Auticon specifically desires people with Asperger’s to be software testers and managers is great. And it makes sense.”

Avi Kapen

Those with autism often have trouble fitting into the working world, but under Mueller-Remus’s leadership, the Berlin-based company has created the right working environment for people with autism and a culture that draws upon their strengths. That environment is essential says Avi Kapen, 39, of West Bloomfield, Michigan who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 18-years-old by Dr. Ami Klin, a world renown autism and Asperger syndrome expert. Kapen works as a circulation page at the West Bloomfield Public Library and says that due to having Asperger’s, his job suits him well. “I think in some ways my Asperger’s helps me with my job. They didn’t know I have Asperger’s when they hired me, but they see how my ability to remember facts and numbers makes me successful.”

Levine agrees. About to celebrate his fifth year on the job as the office administrative assistant at Country Place Condo Association in Northville, Michigan, Levine maintains that he’s well suited for the job as a result of the combination of it being the right working environment for him and a structured, routine-focused position. That recipe has proven successful for Auticon as well and they’re not the only company looking to a workforce of autistic people in order to grow. Auticon’s Belgian partner has also shown that jobs for autistic people in the area of software testing and quality assurance lead to corporate growth and financial success.

Mike Levine

Auticon argues that many with Asperger’s have a knack for finding patterns and flaws in gigantic calculations making them well suited for software testing. For Kapen, remembering obscure numbers and facts has been a part of his life since he was a child. He only has to hear a date – like a friend’s birthday – once and it will never escape his memory. His special talent is recalling little known sports statistics and trivia about politicians. Some might find those characteristics odd and only focus on the peculiar social skills, but increasingly people are recognizing the positives of those gifts and looking to take advantage of them.

In Germany, roughly 15 percent of people with autism are employed in the private sector due to their trouble with social interactions, a symptom of Asperger’s. The program at Auticon, however, uses job coaches to help its employees with customer relations. Participants in the study state the training allows them to feel valued as employees.

One of Auticon’s new software testers, Philip von der Linden, has found the program to be a life changing experience, saying, “That is what makes life valuable. To be needed. And if what you can do is appreciated and if what seems to be a weakness is turned into an asset.”

While those with autism have been challenged to integrate into the professional world in the past, companies like Auticon are not only giving them new opportunities, but are also demonstrating that those with special talent are integral employees. The future quality of software coming out of Berlin will be superior and we’ll all have Auticon’s autism program to thank. Hopefully American tech companies will soon follow suit.

Cross-posted to the Detroit Jewish News

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Wishing Delmon Young Well in Philly

When the news first broke last April that Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young had been arrested in New York City for making an anti-Jewish slur following a night of drinking, I wrote about my disappointment in him on this blog. I explained that, after hearing this news, it would be difficult for me to cheer for him even though he would continue to play for my beloved, hometown Detroit Tigers. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, I wrote, “My oldest son is 8. In the past year he has become a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan… How am I supposed to explain to my son that Delmon Young was drunk, got into a street fight, yelled an anti-Semitic slur and got arrested?”

Delmon Young signs with Phillies - Rabbi Jason Miller

After reading my words in the Huffington Post, Delmon Young’s agent Joel Wolfe sent me an email explaining that “Del is a special kid, and nothing like the animal that the NY media portrayed him to be.” About a month later I was at the same dinner as Delmon’s other agent, Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group. We spoke for a while about Delmon, and again I was told that he’s a special kid who just needs the right mentoring to stay on the path to success. I took those words to heart and decided to try and give Delmon the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the season, but it wasn’t easy. Whenever he came up to bat I felt a little uneasy and would picture the scene on the sidewalk in front of his NYC hotel. I didn’t really think he was an anti-Semite and I wanted to just forget about the whole incident, but it was difficult.

Everyone in Detroit knew that Delmon would be released by the Tigers organization at the end of the season, regardless of his postseason performance. That would prove to be accurate. Even though Delmon, as the designated hitter, batted better than his teammates in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees and won the ALCS MVP award (he was called a “class act” during the award presentation by Jackie Autry), he was still sent packing. I was happy to see him go, but I was also ready to forgive.

In Judaism, we prioritize the concept of teshuva — repentance. Delmon Young made a costly mistake back in April, but he is not an avowed anti-Semite. He was drinking too much and let his emotions get the better of him. At the end of the day, I’m sure he’s the good kid that his agents (both Jewish) say he is. And now, he’s found a new home with the Philadelphia Phillies and I wish him well (unless the Tigers are facing the Phillies in the World Series of course!).

Delmon’s ultimate punishment was not the suspension or the ten days of community service he was forced to perform, but the permanent reminder of the incident. Like Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Delmon Young will carry a negative label with him for the rest of his career and likely for the rest of his life. His signing with the Phillies this week was proof of that. The acquisition of a player like Delmon Young should have warranted a mere mention in sports articles about recent off-season transactions, not entire commentaries.

CBS Sports broke the story that the General Manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro, is Jewish and was unsure about signing Delmon at first. According to the article, before Amaro agreed to the $750,000 guaranteed deal (down from the $6.75 million he made with the Tigers last year), he contacted one of my colleagues (Rabbi Josh Bennett), who had several conversations with Delmon last year following the incident. Amaro also spoke with local Philly rabbis and with someone at the Philadelphia Anti Defamation League. I’m quite certain that would mark the first time a baseball GM felt the need to run a potential player contract by the Jewish community before agreeing to the deal. Amaro spoke with CBS Sports’ John Heyman by phone:

“I certainly feel comfortable with the due diligence we put together. But it’s really up to Delmon to prove us right. I’m part Jewish, so it’s a concern to me,” said Amaro, whose mother is Jewish.
Ultimately, Amaro concluded that Young shouldn’t be kept from employment with them based on one incident, no matter how ugly. “He’s not an anti-Semite. He made a mistake,” Amaro said. “Hopefully, he can move on from that.”

So, in recognition of the importance of repentance and judging others with the benefit of the doubt, I wish Delmon Young the best in Philadelphia. I don’t suspect he will find himself getting in trouble again since I wholeheartedly believe he learned his lesson well. I have my doubts about how well he’ll perform in right-field for the Phillies (his defensive skills were inadequate in Detroit), but I think he will mature into the good person that those close to him say he is. And while the Detroit chapter of the Delmon Young saga is now closed, I will continue to follow his career and pray that he does whatever he needs to do in order to stay on the right moral path during his playing years and beyond. Good luck Delmon!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ford’s New Jewish Leader

Originally published at JTA.org

It’s no secret that Henry Ford was a notorious anti-Semite, and his company’s dealings with the Nazi Party during the Holocaust are well documented. But the company’s story has changed drastically in recent years.

The Ford family’s donation of a rare 500-year-old Torah scroll to a suburban Detroit synagogue and the appointment of a Jewish chief operating officer demonstrate a marked shift in the company’s narrative when it comes to the Jewish community.

Mark Fields became the first Jewish COO of Ford Motor Company on December 1

The shift really began in the late 1940s when Ford’s grandson Henry Ford II took over the company and began hiring minorities, but it would take many more decades before Jewish executives were hired as officers. Mervyn Manning became the first Jewish officer of Ford when he became vice president in 1977.

During those years, Ford II already had started a period of repentance through action as the friend of such notable Jewish philanthropists as Max Fisher, making significant charitable gifts to the then-United Jewish Appeal.

Today in Detroit, the Ford Motor Co. and the billionaire family are regulary seen as major contributors to the Jewish federation and the Jewish community center. Members of the Ford family and top executives at the company have been honored by local Jewish groups.

And in 1999, Benson Ford Jr., a great-grandson of the auto tycoon, purchased the 500-year-old scroll and donated it to Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield. The Torah was written in hiding between 1492 and 1560 in Spain or Portugal, where it was illegal to practice Judaism at the time.

The latest chapter in the long history of Ford and the Jews began Dec. 1, when Mark Fields effectively began running the 109-year-old international auto firm. Fields, 51, has been lauded for his intelligence, skill and dedication to the company. He has worked all over the world for Ford, including a stint as the CEO of Ford-controlled Mazda.

In early November, Bill Ford, the executive chairman and great-grandson of Henry Ford, announced the appointment of Fields — one that makes him the heir apparent for the CEO post when Alan Mulally retires in 2014 or earlier.

Fields, the descendant of Russian and Romanian Jews, became a bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue in Paramus, N.J., and received matzah and Hanukkah candles from his parents no matter where in the world he was working for Ford.

A graduate of Rutgers University and the Harvard Business School, where he earned a master’s degree in business, Fields maintains that he has never encountered any discrimination or anti-Semitism at Ford.

Bill Ford, making the announcement of Fields’ promotion, said, “The growth we’ve seen in him has been remarkable.”

While some might say that the anti-Semitic founder of Ford is likely rolling over in his grave as a Jewish man takes the reins of his historic company, the changes in the company have been happening for some time. History books will note Henry Ford’s discriminatory writings and practices, as well as the company’s ties to the Nazis during the Holocaust, but the Ford Motor Co. of the 21st century has continued the redemption process started by its founder’s scions.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Children and Halloween: Point-Counterpoint

Tomorrow night is Halloween. Perhaps the only Jewish custom concerning Halloween is the debate as to whether it’s an appropriate celebration for Jewish children. Much has been written on both sides of the argument, but I have never addressed it here on this blog. This year, I decided to offer a point-counterpoint exchange answering the question “Is Halloween Kosher?” — Meaning: Is Halloween an acceptable experience for Jewish children in America? My friend and local colleague Rabbi Aaron Starr does not condone his children’s participation in Halloween while I do. Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments below.

Rabbi Aaron Starr

POINT | It is hard to say “no” those whom we love the most. But, as parents, we know there are times when our sacred task is to teach and to guide, and thus to decline lovingly our children’s requests to do that which we as their caretakers know is dangerous physically or spiritually. For example, despite the vast commercialization and de-emphasis on the religious side of Christmas and Easter, Jewish parents should not allow their children to celebrate these Christian holidays. Likewise, Jewish parents should warmly steer our children away from the celebration of Halloween. Instead, Jewish living should be offered as the fun, meaningful, impactful path our children ought to take.

According to ABC News, Halloween dates back to a Celtic holiday when spirits were believed to rise from their graves, and costumes were used to fool the spirits in hope that farmers’ land would survive through the winter. Later, Christians assimilated Halloween into their own religion as the night before November 1’s “All Saints’ Day”. Then in the 19th century, Irish immigrants adapted their own native customs to the American celebration of Halloween, carving pumpkins into lanterns to honor the souls they believed were stuck in purgatory. What is clear is that the American celebration of Halloween is a product of strong pagan and Christian traditions that have been overly commercialized by twentieth and now twenty-first century candy and costume companies.

How much better it would be for our children and our People to encourage our kids to celebrate Jewish holidays with equal passion and excitement as others do Halloween! It seems to me far more uplifting to dress our children up in celebration of Purim and to give away gifts of food to our friends and those in need than to celebrate a pagan-Christian holiday by parading through dark streets in scary costumes receiving or even begging for candy from strangers.

Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiStarr.


Rabbi Jason Miller

COUNTERPOINT | Our children (like us) are growing up in two worlds. They are living in Jewish homes, infused with Jewish values and traditions, and as participants in a vibrant Jewish Diaspora community. But, our children also live in a secular society in which certain “holidays” and their customs have become part of the fabric of that society.

While I would never condone Jewish children celebrating such Christian holidays as Christmas or Easter, I don’t see the problem in them participating in Halloween. This American tradition may draw its roots from troubling origins (like Thanksgiving), but over the centuries it has been become re-imagined as a fun, neighborhood experience. To draw a connection from the 21st century observance of Halloween to Samhain or All Hallows Eve is shortsighted and silly. I was unaware of the Celtic, Pagan and Christian connections to Halloween as an adult, and I suspect that will be the case for my children as well.

Today’s practice of Halloween seems innocent enough for me to allow my children to participate without hesitation. Our Halloween tradition consists of pumpkin picking (also used to decorate our sukkah) and then carving, selecting appropriate costumes (often recycled from Purim), and then walking our neighborhood with friends to go door-to-door collecting candy. There is no begging or threatening for these gifts of chocolate bars and lollipops; only the sweet sounds of repeated “pleases” and “thank yous” from the mouths of adorable children. Halloween is a night when the neighborhood comes alive. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors as the cold winter looms. Upon our return home we sort through the collection of candy identifying the kosher sweets to keep and the non-kosher and undesirable ones to be donated.

To forbid our children to participate in Halloween is to pretend we’re living in a gated shtetl, ignorant of the American society with which our Jewish lives coexist. I have no problem saying “no” to those I love, but I also believe in the importance of making thoughtful, sensible decisions when there’s no harm to fear.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller