I lived in Southern Lower Michigan until the summer of 1987. During the 1980’s, I developed an interest in–nay, a love for–all things Jewish. A portion of this curiosity emerged as I learned Hebrew and studied the Hebrew Bible as a young Christian man. Part of this affection for Judaica was no doubt because my late stepfather, of blessed memory, was Jewish. And some of this came organically, as I learned the history of the Second World War and was introduced to people like Elie Wiesel.
I was fascinated and moved. We lived not far from a very large Jewish community, centered in Southfield, MI, a suburb of Detroit.
A segment of my weekly routine was this: I drove twenty-four miles to the Borders bookstore in Beverly Hills MI every Friday and bought a copy of The Jewish News, a weekly publication highlighting the events and concerns of the Greater Detroit Jewish community, at that time about 80,000 strong.
As my love for all things Jewish grew, I attended Jewish events in the Southfield area. I well remember a gathering at a local high school with Congressman Sander Levin highlighting the plight of then-Soviet Jewry and their hopes for making aliyah to Israel. It was Congressman Levin who urged us to read The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman, detailing our country’s callous refusal to give safe harbor to European Jews during the War.
It was only a matter of time until I made my way to the Jewish Community Center on Maple Road. The place enthralled me. As a Christian man, I felt I was connecting with something much larger than I when visiting the campus. I attended a play there, The Diary of Anne Frank. I perused the bookstore. I loved it.
One of the prime features of the JCC at that time was the Holocaust Memorial Center, an adjunct to the larger community building itself. Admission was free and the architecture of the building sloped downward. It was a fitting metaphor in architecture. As one descended the darkened walkway of the Memorial, filled with re-creations and actual relics from the Shoah, one descended, as it were, into some history of the horror of the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler.
It was a numbing experience, to say the least. I visited there three or four times before it moved to its new and expanded location in nearby Farmington Hills. I’ve visited the new Memorial twice. It is much larger than the original HMC and beautiful in a dark sort of way.
What one comes away with after such visits, among other things, is this: Never underestimate the power of hatred couched in shrewd rhetoric. Six million Jews perished in World War II because one man was able to convince Europe that the Jewish race was a contagion.
We must never, ever forget.