60 Years Ago This Week: Abba Hillel Silver’s
Rise to Zionist Leadership
by Dr. Rafael Medoff
Sixty years ago this week, Jewish leaders gathered in New York City for a conference that was supposed to be a display of unity–but instead turned into the scene of a bitter struggle that helped catapult Cleveland’s Abba Hillel Silver to national leadership and revolutionized the American Jewish community.
Leaders of B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress, and other groups organized the conference in pursuit of an old but elusive Jewish goal: to overcome political and religious differences and reach a consensus on issues of Jewish concern. The effort was given added urgency by the ongoing Nazi slaughter of European Jewry and Britain’s shutdown of Palestine to Jewish refugees.
American Jews were divided over how to respond to the Holocaust and the Palestine problem. Some wanted an activist approach, but the most prominent Jewish leader, Rabbi Stephen Wise, urged caution. An ardent supporter of President Roosevelt, Wise opposed any Jewish criticism of FDR’s refusal to rescue Europe’s Jews.
The rescue issue was not even included on the conference’s original agenda. A handful of students from the Jewish Theological Seminary stood outside the hotel on the first day of the conference and handed the delegates a leaflet pleading with them to make rescue a priority. In response to criticism from grassroots activists and the Jewish press, a committee on rescue was indeed added at the last moment. But it was the issue of Zionism that would dominate the proceedings.
World Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann, although sympathetic to Wise’s outlook, feared that Wise’s low-key approach was gutting American Zionism, leaving it dispirited and apathetic. To energize the movement, Weizmann, in early 1943, turned to the dynamic Abba Hillel Silver, spiritual leader of Cleveland’s The Temple. He asked Silver to join Wise as co-chair of the American Zionist Emergency Council, the umbrella group for all major U.S. Zionist organizations.
The Wise-Silver power-sharing agreement was finalized in August, just before the American Jewish Conference opened. It seemed fitting that the conference, with its theme of unity, would be the first event featuring appearances by the unlikely new team of Wise, the fervent Democrat who favored ‘the politics of caution’, and Silver, the outstpoken activist who was close to the Republicans.
It seemed unity was finally at hand. But trouble was brewing.
The State Department had been quietly urging FDR to issue a statement demanding that all Jewish “agitation” for a Palestine homeland be suspended until the end of the war. State argued that Zionist activity undermined the war effort by irritating the Arabs and thereby endangering the Allies’ position in the Mideast.
When word of the proposal leaked out and Wise and other Jewish leaders protested, State Department officials threatened that the statement would be issued unless Wise prevented the American Jewish Conference from speaking out on Palestine.
Wise, intimidated by the State Department and hoping to keep the anti-Zionist American Jewish Committee from quitting the conference, omitted Jewish statehood from his keynote address. To keep Dr. Silver from leading a rebellion, the conference schedule was arranged so there would be no time for Silver to speak.
But it was the delegates from Wise’s own American Jewish Congress who led the revolt. Feeling betrayed by Wise’s backtracking on Palestine, they maneuvered to give Silver the time slot that they had been alloted to their own delegation’s spokesman.
This was Silver’s moment. He rose to the podium and delivered a rip-roaring appeal for Jewish statehood, which “swept the conference like a hurricane,” as one delegate put it. “There was repeated and stormy applause, the delegates rising to their feet in a remarkable ovation,” followed by the repeated singing of Hatikvah, the Zionist anthem.
The “electric excitement” generated by Silver’s speech forced the statehood resolution to a vote. Wise was helpless to stop it–as his close ally Nahum Goldmann put it, “we would be torn limb from limb if were now to defer action on the Palestine resolution.” It passed by 498 to 4–an overwhelming vote of American Jewish support for Silver’s line and, in effect, a repudiation of Wise.
(The repercussions from the State Department that Wise feared, never materialized. The proposed ban on Zionist “agitation” in America was shelved by FDR, who decided that such a gag order would be too controversial.)
Silver quickly transformed American Zionism into a vigorous activist movement. He mobilized both grassroots Jews and pro-Zionist Christians to demonstrate, write, and pressure Congress and the White House to support Jewish statehood–the beginnings of the Jewish-Christian alliance that continues to this day. Silver convinced the Republican Party to include a pro-Palestine plank in its 1944 platform, which forced the Democrats to do likewise–a precedent that assured Zionist concerns a permanent place in American electoral politics. And Silver’s nationwide protest campaign in1948 helped secure swift U.S. recognition of the new State of Israel–the first step in cementing the America-Israel friendship that has endured ever since.
The dramatic leadership change that took place at the American Jewish Conference in August 1943 would, within the space of just five years, changed American Jewry, and American politics, forever.
Courtesy of archive.com. The link is here
Written in 1962 by Sidney Vincent, then leader of the Cleveland Jewish Federation
CLEVELAND City without Jews By Sidney Vincent (1962)
“CLEVELAND: THE BEST LOCATION IN THE NATION.”
That boast is by all odds the best-known “commercial” in the Cleveland area. For years industry and newspapers have made it the central theme for promoting Ohio’s metropolis. And though the slogan was designed to highlight the geographic and industrial advantages of Cleveland’s central location, workers in the field of human relations have tended to adopt it as their own.
With justifiable pride (as many Clevelanders believe) or with unjustified smugness (as others are quick to point out), the claim is often made that Cleveland is the best location in the nation in terms of good community relationships.
Some fairly impressive evidence can be mustered to support the contention. Cleveland has perhaps the richest variety of ethnic and cultural groups of any city in the country. Here is America’s largest settlement of Slovenians, and one of the leading centers of Hungarian life; Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Germans, Irish, Rumanians, and Italians have all been attracted to Cleveland in large numbers by the city’s heavy industries but no one ethnic group predominates. Four consecutive mayors in recent years were of British, Slovenian, Irish, and Italian backgrounds.
The city’s white population is almost equally divided between Catholics and Protestants (about a third of a million each), and the Negro population of 250,000 is among the highest of northern cities in percentage terms. The Jewish community of 85,000 (in the county) is probably the sixth largest in the country.
Not a single major outbreak of religious or racial violence has resulted from this colorful mingling. Cleveland has had no race riots or cemetery desecrations. Schoolboy fights along religious or racial lines and “swastika incidents” have been rare enough so that they shock the community conscience. There has been little hostility or even ill- tempered joining of issues in the local religious press.
Cleveland was the third city in the nation to pass a municipal FEPC; it has been cited frequently by various national organizations for its outstanding record in human relations; it has elected three Negroes to judicial posts; it accepted matter-of-factly the selection of a Jew as chairman of the board of lay advisers (Board of Trustees) of the local Catholic university. It is probably the only city in the country with a Negro as the (elected) president of the Board of Education and a Jew as superintendent of schools. Visitors to the city are often taken on a tour of the Cultural Gardens, where twenty-seven nationality and religious groups have developed attractive centers of ethnic culture, honoring the contributions of poets, statesmen, and scientists to their own culture and to mankind. All military figures are strictly excluded.
But slogans are not reality, and a visitor who decides to study Cleveland in depth, rather than being contented with a surface (though undoubtedly significant) show of amity, will have no difficulty in discovering that the picture is not all rosy. The most casual observation will, for example, reveal a strong tendency toward self- segregation by most of these ethnic groups.
The Jewish community is merely the most classic example of an almost universal tendency. Since the turn of the century, five neighborhoods have been centers of Jewish settlement each progressively further east from the center of the city. (The western half of the city has never had more than 500 Jewish families.) When these neighborhoods have been left, they have been totally abandoned, to the point where today, perhaps uniquely among American cities, Cleveland proper is almost literally a city without Jews. (At a recent Jewish affair a candidate for state office remarked not-so-facetiously to the mayor of Cleveland, “What in hell are you doing here?”} Over 90 per cent of the Jews of Cuyahoga County, in which Cleveland is located, live in the suburbs and only two of the twenty-five synagogues are still in the city itself. Of the estimated 1000 Jewish graduates of public high schools of the county in June, 1961, a maximum of half a dozen received diplomas from Cleveland’s schools and the number will soon disappear almost entirely. Only some 250 of the 140,000 children attending Cleveland’s public schools are Jewish. All but three of the Jewish service agencies are located in the suburbs.
Moreover, the concentration within certain specific suburbs is remarkably high, even though housing restrictions against Jews have all but disappeared everywhere. The Jewish density in a few middle and upper middle class suburbs is probably just as high as it was fifty years ago in the downtown, rundown districts, when the Jewish community was overwhelmingly immigrant and first generation and had yet to be “accommodated” to the general culture. One suburban street, surrounded by homes that are quite new, is irreverently known as the “Rue de la Pay-ess”* because it contains so many Jewish institutions, particularly Orthodox ones. Economic status has little effect on the tendency to cluster; those who purchase homes in the $50,000 class tend to concentrate in Jewish neighborhoods about as much as those on the $20,000 level. And a 1961 Yom Kippur census indicates that the concentration continues within the suburbs. Two older suburbs are well on the way to losing their Jewish population completely; another is becoming almost completely Jewish.
Although the “mother city” has completely disappeared, the line of Jewish settlement runs in an unbroken rough crescent, swinging north and then east through eight contiguous suburbs. One of the suburbs is primarily the home of newly-married or relatively young couples and another tends to have somewhat more status than the rest, but the similarities among the suburbs are far greater than their differences. Jews continue to think of themselves as a single community rather than as a series of separate neighborhoods. Attempts by national agencies to organize along distinctive suburban lines are frequently resisted.
The Roman Catholic community has had a somewhat similar history since the end of the Second World War.
* Payyos are the ritual earlocks worn by some groups of Orthodox Jews.
The population of the local diocese has grown in unprecedented fashion, but the number of Catholics in the city proper is about the same as it was in 1945 a third of a million. All the rapid growth has been suburban, with the result that less than half of the diocesan population now lives in Cleveland proper, whereas only thirteen years ago more than two out of three Catholics lived in the city. And the outward movement of Catholics is far from complete. “The Catholic diocese is not following the shift to the suburbs,” its paper points out. “It is ahead of it. It owns twenty-five properties in rural areas for future expansion.” It is worth noting, however, that though the Catholic growth has been all suburban, Catholics have, unlike the Jews, held their own in the city.
The astonishing recent growth of parochial schools almost all of them suburban is another harbinger of things to come. The post-war years have been a period of swift increase in the child population, and it it therefore not surprising that the parochial schools have increased in numbers.
But the increase has been vastly greater than the normal growth expected for the period. The percentage of Roman Catholic children in the diocese who attend Catholic schools has risen from 50 per cent to 67 per cent, so that the diocesan school system now numbers over 125,000, making it the largest school system in the state except for the Cleveland public schools. The goal of “every Catholic child in a Catholic school” may be soon substantially within reach, thus contributing to the growing tendency of public schools to be one-group, racially and religiously.
The birth rate for Catholics in the diocese is thirty-three for each 1,000 people, as contrasted with twenty-four for non-Catholics, and it is therefore probable that the future will bring an even heavier Catholic concentration in the county than the present 34 per cent.
Easily lost sight of in the wide attention given to these highly visible Jewish and Roman Catholic migrations outward is the fact that the first group to move to the suburbs was the old line, long-established Protestant. Almost without exception, every suburb was developed and settled by Protestants, and the problems of suburban accommodation (to be spelled out in some detail later) are to a major degree the result of the impact of Catholic and Jewish (and just now beginning, Negro) out-migration upon conservative, middle-class, long- established Protestant communities.
Who then is left in the central city? The fact is that in the past twenty years, during a time of dynamic population growth, the central city has actually decreased in numbers. All the dramatic increase of population has been suburban. As a matter of fact, the white population of the city has in the past ten years dropped dramatically despite the recent markedly increased birth rate, the significant immigration of southern whites to help man Cleveland’s heavy industry, and the fairly substantial migration from overseas following World War 2, all tending to increase the white population of the city. The places of the whites have been taken by the Negro community which has grown during this period from approximately 85,000 to close to 250,000.
In summary, then, as contrasted with 1940, the central city has far more Negroes; it is almost completely emptied of Jews, and its white population is somewhat more Catholic since the out-migration of Protestants to the suburbs has been at an even more rapid rate than has been the case among Catholics.
One obvious result of these changes can be seen in the political life of the city. Negro political awareness has grown markedly, with the Negro newspapers on almost a weekly basis stressing the need to elect Negro candidates. (As one editorial pointed out: “Particularly if they are well qualified.”) The major concrete result of this militancy has been the steady increase of Negro councilmen in the central city to the point where there were, in 1961, eight Negroes (out of thirty- three) as contrasted with two at the end of the war. In each case but one, the addition of a Negro to council has been at the expense of a Jewish representative, and at a recent election the last remaining Jewish Cleveland councilman was defeated, thus ending an era when Jews played an outstanding role in Cleveland’s political life.
Somewhat the same process can be seen in the (elected) Board of Education where the single remaining Jewish representative has served for almost three decades and will undoubtedly be the last Jewish member to serve on that important public body. When the Board of Education considers released time proposals or the city council considers legislation enforcing Good Friday closings, it makes a difference that not a single Jew is involved in the debate and even more important that the Jewish constituency has been completely eliminated. And policies arrived at in the central city often have a powerful effect on suburban schools and councils.
Religiously speaking, the decisive influence in Cleveland’s political life in recent years has been Roman Catholic. For more than two decades, Cleveland has had only Catholic mayors and it seems unlikely that the foreseeable future will change this pattern. Religion has in practice if not in theory become a test for high office in the city. During the same period of time there has never been more than a handful of white Protestants among the city’s thirty-three councilmen, and city council at present is almost exclusively either Catholic or Negro.
The dominance by Roman Catholics of the Democratic party machinery has its effect on certain county elections as well. The delegation to the State Legislature from Cuyahoga County is for all practical purposes chosen at the Democratic party primaries from a long list of names, often over 100 in number, largely of political unknowns. Party endorsement and a “good” name therefore become crucial, and the result has been that the delegation has been almost solidly Catholic. In 1961, for example, not a single Negro or Jew held any of the twenty- three places, and white Protestant representation was limited to one.
However, county elections involving national office, where candidates are far better known, present a significantly different picture. Cuyahoga County’s four Congressmen in 1959 included two Republicans both Protestant and both from the suburbs and two Democrats both from the city proper and both Catholic. This would seem to reflect rather accurately how the population movements of recent years have affected political patterns in the city and the county. Cleveland is overwhelmingly Democratic and elects Catholics. The county outside the city is (though far less decisively) Republican and elects Protestants.
Religion had a strong effect upon the 1960 election in Ohio. Many observers attributed Senator Kennedy’s loss of Ohio to the “Catholic issue.” In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) itself, the Democratic standard-bearer ran up a majority of 150,000 but this was 75,000 below expectations. A precinct breakdown suggests that Kennedy scored strongly among Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Negro voters; and Nixon was overwhelmingly ahead in Protestant areas. Despite the stratification of voting along faith lines, religious tension was not markedly overt in the campaign, perhaps because evangelical Protestantism is weak in Cleveland. Considerable anti-Catholic literature poured in from out-of-town but no organized campaign of bigotry developed in Cleveland.
The Catholic archdiocesan newspaper reported, more in sorrow than in anger, the incidents of anti-Catholicism in other parts of the country. At no time was Kennedy endorsed. Even after his victory, Roman Catholic leaders permitted no gloating to disturb the serious dignity with which they met the test of the strange and historic campaign of 1960.
The intense concentration of Jews in certain of the suburbs has led only slowly to the assumption of political responsibility. Although Jews constitute 70 per cent of the population in one of the eight suburbs in which most of them live, and form more than a majority in two others, there has never been a Jewish mayor in any community. With two exceptions, there is no more than a single Jew on any Board of Education. In the suburb where Jews have lived for the longest period of time since before the First World War there has never been a Jewish councilman who came to office originally through election. Both present representatives on city council, as well as their few predecessors, were appointed to fill vacancies by the administration in power and have subsequently been elected as “members of the team.”
The only real breakthrough has been in the past two years when the suburb with the highest Jewish density finally elected Jews to the majority of councilmanic posts. It may be significant that this community, as will be indicated below, subsequently almost split into two sections, with the non-Jewish section seeking through a long process to secede from the northern “Jewish” section.
In general, the “old settlers” retain a firm grip on the administration of suburban communities, and the incoming Jewish group makes inroads, if at all, slowly and fearfully, with a constant desire to include non- Jewish candidates on any slate that appears to be too strongly Jewish. The point of view of the newcomers (mostly Jewish) tends to be liberal and Democratic; the original group (mostly Protestant) tends to be conservative and Republican. No wonder tensions develop! The best symbol of the determination of the entrenched group to hold on to the machinery of power is to be found in the various appointive bodies which often remain almost completely Christian even in communities that are overwhelmingly Jewish. Not a single Jew serves on the Zoning Commission and only two of seven on the Library Board both appointive of the suburbs with the largest Jewish population, although, particularly in the former case, they make decisions which vitally affect Jewish institutions.
On the other hand, it is common to find Jews leaning over backward not to assume positions of responsibility too hastily. P.T.A. officers, for example, tend to remain overwhelmingly or predominantly Christian long after the school population has become mostly Jewish. In two instances, an unwritten rule is observed: one year a Christian president, the next year a Jewish one and all without public discussion. It is simply understood that such topics are for the closed conference of top leadership, not the public platform of general debate.
The few suburbs that have, even more recently, become predominantly Catholic, reflect no comparable reluctance to assume power. Roman Catholic mayors and councilmen are frequent in these circumstances.
Ethnic patterns often reinforce religious segregation. A recent survey of mailing addresses of local foreign language newspapers revealed that the movement out from the original nationality islands has not gone haphazardly into the suburbs. Particular ethnic groups almost all Roman Catholic move to specific new settlements. In Cleveland, if you name your ethnic background, it is not difficult to venture a well educated guess about where you live and into which suburb you are likely to move. But unlike Jews, the nationality groups do not totally abandon the old neighborhoods. Usually, they spread outward from a home base that remains identifiably and substantially Hungarian or Polish or whatever; the Jewish withdrawal is total and rapid. A Jewish leader recently took his children to see the house he lived in until the late thirties in what was then an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood. There was not a single Jewish family left on the entire street. Italian or Slovenian parents who have moved out of the old neighborhoods have no need to take their children on nostalgic tours of the past. In most cases, grandparents or an uncle or cousins newly arrived from the old country still live in the original family home.
Even within suburbs with strong Jewish or Catholic components, there is nearly always a clustering in certain areas rather than a general dispersal into the new neighborhood. A recent Yom Kippur survey of one of the suburbs, for example, revealed that of its ten elementary schools, four had Jewish populations well in excess of 90 per cent while two had virtually no Jewish students. Real estate agents accept as a perfectly normal part of their daily operations that Catholics will want to settle only near new suburban parochial schools, Jews around the many new institutions they have built, and Protestants in “their” neighborhoods.
Certainly, the pattern of housing and voting, both in the suburbs and in the central city, makes any claim that Cleveland has solved its interreligious problems seem shallow and incomplete. Conflict is rare, but so is integration, no matter how one interprets that all-inclusive term.
THE NEGRO COMMUNITY
Increasingly, a kind of high-level irritation with problems of Negro- white relationships breaks through the overlay of good feeling. The dramatic migration from the South in recent years of rural Negroes (and whites) unprepared for city living has resulted in a growing number of crimes of violence. One paper, reviewing 1958, reported that 55 per cent of all convictions for crimes in the Common Pleas courts of the county involved Negroes.
Much lively discussion has resulted on the question of group responsibility. Who should “educate” the newcomers? Does the Negro community as a whole have any responsibility for colored malefactors? Negro leadership rejects any such idea. It stresses that both Negro and white newcomers to the city are victims of inadequate housing and schooling and services. The problem is one for the total community, they claim.
Liberal white leadership agrees, but a sensational murder or rape by a Negro inevitably raises anew the question in the press, on the air, or in private conversation: “Why don’t they (Negro leaders) do something about conditions?”
Negro irritability and militancy also seem to be growing. A recent widely-heralded, privately-financed urban renewal project turned sour when the rents $105 a month proved too high, A “rent strike” flared up and the neighborhood was rocked by demonstrations. A reporter who interviewed the tenants found massive resentment of white owners, despite an inability to point out a single specific ground for complaint. Significantly the most bitter charge was: “They treat us like boys. We want to be treated like men.”
Negro-Jewish relationships are particularly complicated. Every morning at the bus stops in the central city, there are knots of Negro women waiting for buses to transport them from their ghettos to suburban homes often Jewish where they spend the day making white homes clean and comfortable. At the same hour, dozens of Jewish businessmen will be passing them going the other way from the suburbs to all sorts of business establishments in the city that serve the Negro trade. A substantial share of housing in the Negro area with all the attendant irritations is owned by Jews, partly because the neighborhoods are largely formerly Jewish.
Mistress and servant storekeeper and client landlord and tenant. Some of these relationships can be and are warm and creative. But the tendency is the other way. There are no peer relationships, few opportunities for meeting as equal to equal.
The picture is radically different, however, on the leadership level. The NAACP and the Urban League have always worked in close association with various Jewish agencies, in addition to the fact that a substan- tial number of Jews belong to both. There are few community relations questions where the leaders of the two minorities do not work together with considerable harmony and mutual respect. But this holds true only on the leadership level. Three new Negro organizations have come into being in the past two years sharply challenging the NAACP, Urban League, and the churches for being too “soft.” There is every reason to believe these groups will grow in influence, with an inevitable unsettling of Negro-white relationships.
In addition, a few Negro professionals and businessmen have succeeded in making the leap into the suburbs. In almost every case, it has been a leap into a Jewish neighborhood. One Negro social worker put it, “I wouldn’t think of moving anywhere except into a Jewish suburb. It’s the only place I’d feel safe.” Despite the official positions adopted by Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, and although fear and prejudice against the Negro is a Jewish as well as a Christian phenomenon, the Negro feels he has a far better prospect of acceptance in a Jewish neighborhood than anywhere else.
So the Negro-Jewish pattern is a strange mixture. Negro anti-Semitism co-exists with feelings of warmth toward Jews. The immediate symbol of the white hostile world too often happens to be a Jewish merchant or landlord, but at the same time, the opener of closed doors in employment or housing is also likely to be Jewish.
At least equally complicated is the feeling of Jews towards Negroes, compounded as it is of active support and understanding of a fellow minority, and uneasiness at the constant pressures on each successive neighborhood to which Jews move. The entire relationship presents a tremendous challenge to sober and objective social, economic, and psychological study.
What of religious relationships?
On the formal level a rather good report could be made despite such irritations as the exclusion of Jews from the higher Masonic degrees and a few other status organizations. The annual drives of the Catholic Charities, Jewish Welfare Fund, or the YMCA’s attract contributions from individuals of all groups. Bequests are frequently reported designating as beneficiaries the charitable institutions of all three faiths.
There are projects on which the three religious communities or more precisely, their leadership work closely together. The Cleveland Committee on Immigration, for example, is primarily composed of representatives, official and semi-official, of the three religious faiths.
All three faiths are on record as being profoundly concerned with problems of housing for minorities (euphemism, for the most part, for Negroes). The Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese and a Presbyterian minister have won civic awards and many kudos for their joint efforts in rehabilitating parts of the community. This Catholic- Protestant partnership has been highlighted regularly in news items; it is a rare enough occurrence to warrant feature treatment. Two tense neighborhood situations that developed because of the first purchase of a home by a Negro in a hitherto all-white neighborhood resulted in all three religious groups working actively to secure acceptance of the new neighbors by their constituents.
Hearings on civil rights proposals nearly always feature a Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish spokesman, and some kind of secular instrument is usually formed for interreligious consultation. It is significant that such secular instrumentalities are necessary for this purpose.
These kinds of cooperation, however, are a long way from creating strong and permanent bonds of association. Particularly in the case of the Roman Catholic community, activities are likely to be on a “separate but equal” basis. In each of the housing situations described above, there was no joint statement or shared program of attack on the problem as between the Catholic and the other two religious groups. Contact with the parish priest resulted in his undertaking to interview certain key parishioners and to speak on the problem at Sunday services. Attempts by the other two groups to involve Catholic leadership in an ongoing program of interpretation and consultation were fruitless.
Similarly, although the vast majority of refugees from abroad have been Roman Catholic, there has been a strong tendency by Catholics to view modification of the McCarran-Walter Act as a “Jewish” interest primarily. When Jewish representatives on the city’s Immigration Committee decided not to continue in the role of prime leadership, there was no assumption of responsibility by the Catholic groups. This was evidently not an issue that “counted.” Despite strong official backing by the Roman Catholic bishops of the state for FEPC, almost all the planning and activity for city and state campaigns for legislation (and proper enforcement after a bin was passed in 1959) was the result of the cooperation of Protestant and Jewish organizations with interested secular groups. Almost never has there been more Catholic involvement than the appearance of a spokesman at a hearing. Representation from Protestant churches and from synagogues and other Jewish organizations has not been paralleled by comparable support from Catholics. They are rarely “on the team.” Even a television program on “The Moral Viewpoint” could be initiated only with the understanding that Catholics would have their exclusive hour every third week with the rabbis and ministers joining to produce together the other two programs.
Deeper than the contacts in the area of community relations are the relationships that have developed in the health and welfare field. Cleveland has a reputation for being a highly-organized (or overorganized) community. Certainly, the innumerable committees of the Community Chest and the Welfare Federation of Cleveland with its six councils (for hospitals, children’s services, group work services, case work services, problems of the aged, and area councils) provide almost daily opportunities for staffs and lay leadership of various agencies, religious and non-sectarian, to work together on problems of services and finances in which they are all mutually involved.
The links between the Welfare Federation and the Jewish Federation are particularly close. The same building houses both agencies; the staffs hold joint meetings on regular occasion; Jewish health and welfare agencies place a high priority on work in their respective welfare federation councils. The immediate past president of the Community Fund was simultaneously a vice-president of the Jewish Community Federation.
The Area Council movement has its origin in Cleveland and is probably more fully developed there than anywhere else in the country. It seeks through its seventeen councils to bring together organizations and individuals in a given neighborhood to work on problems of immediate local significance traffic control, liquor control, zoning, lighting and policing, juvenile delinquency, and general neighborhood improvement. Churches and synagogues are basic members of these organizations and important interreligious cooperation has at times developed out of the shared absorption in common problems. Three councils have given considerable importance to intergroup relations problems, and colorful intercultural programs have been held, featuring the cultural diversities in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, area councils have had the least success in the sophisticated suburbs, and since the Jewish community has largely withdrawn from the central city, there is a decreasing impact of Jewish organizations and individuals on this important grass roots development.
Other formal interreligious contacts are moderately frequent. In addition to the program of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which is of course based on equal formal representation from the three faiths, exchanges of pulpits between rabbis and Protestant ministers occasionally take place and neighborhood interreligious Thanksgiving celebrations have become more common. The annual Institute on Judaism sponsored by a local congregation results in a fine attendance of Protestant ministers. The Catholic university has in recent years become more of a center for consideration of intergroup relations problems.
There is considerable question, however, as to the depth of many of these contacts. The Ministerial Alliance is exclusively Protestant and there is no medium of any kind for regular exchange of views by the clergy. Indeed, except for the leading figures, rabbis and ministers scarcely know one another. On the lay level, however, the staffs of the Church Federation, the over-all Protestant group, and the Jewish Community Federation consult frequently and are part of an over-all clearing house in intergroup relations that meets monthly and involves all agencies in the community except the Roman Catholic ones. The women’s organizations have a forum involving official representation from all three groups, but they are constantly bedeviled in program planning by the problem of addressing themselves to questions that are within the scope of all. A recent institute on housing, originally sponsored jointly by the Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic women’s organizations, led to the somewhat embarrassed withdrawal of the last group on instructions of church officials who felt that matters of faith might somehow be injected into the programs. A subsequent program on religious music of the various faiths was “unsponsored” by the Orthodox Jewish women as well as by the Catholic group.
Vital interreligious relations seem to result least out of directly religious concerns. They would seem to grow if at all from sweating out the numerous problems of daily living housing, education, employment.
What are the formal issues that divide the community religiously? A reading of the religious press would indicate that they are chiefly Sunday closings, the campaign against “indecent” literature and films, and problems of separation of church and state. The most space given to any single local issue during the past two years in the local diocesan paper is the need for some control of the mass media. “Art theaters and condemned movies are spreading like crabgrass in Cleveland,” pronounced the Roman Catholic bishop recently, and it is certainly true that, in an industry which has been generally de- pressed, the art theaters have shown remarkable vitality.
In the summer of 1958 a parish priest in a Catholic neighborhood announced to the general press that he had “lost all patience” with attempts to persuade the owner of an art theater in a Catholic neighborhood to modify his booking policy, and he was therefore instructing his parishioners that they must refuse to attend all movies at the theater until the owner agreed to conform more closely to Roman Catholic standards of decency. Ironically, the week he issued the statement the theater was playing Peter Pan. The boycott announcement led to a lively debate in the general press, but there is no indication that such official pronouncements have had much effect one way or another on the attendance at the offending theater. Although the organized Jewish community has refrained from adopting any position on the boycott issue, there can be no doubt that the fact that almost all the theater owners in question are Jewish injects a religious irritation into the situation.
Ohio was one of the last states to be forced by court decisions to abandon pre-censorship of films. The Roman Catholic diocesan papers of the state have for the past four years led vigorous campaigns in the Legislature to recreate an Ohio Film Censorship Board. Although token support has been given by the Protestant church women, no position of any kind has been adopted by the Jewish group, with the result that the campaign remains almost exclusively Roman Catholic.
Recently, attention shifted to attempts to police literature in drug stores and similar establishments. A Committee for Decent Literature was established on both the local and state level and considerable prominence in the Catholic press is given to any Protestant or Jew who joins the movement or publicly stresses the need to combat “smut and obscenity.” Considerable impatience is displayed with the American Civil Liberties Union or any other organization that raises questions as to the wisdom of censorship or the means by which it can properly be exerted. In general, civil liberties as contrasted with civil rights get little or negative attention in official Roman Catholic organs.
The leadership of campaigns to enforce Sunday closings has primarily been Protestant, with active support from the Catholic community. Unlike New York and many other states, Ohio enjoys full Sabbatarian rights and Jewish store owners in communities that enforce the state’s blue laws are given the option (which sometimes is an advantage) of closing Saturday or Sunday. Partly for this reason and partly because of the sensitivity of the issue, the Jewish leaders of the state, in- cluding Cleveland, have chosen not to participate in the campaigns for (or against) enforced Sabbath closings of business, although in principle their position is opposed to that of Catholics and Protestants. On these two issues censorship and Sunday closings Jews officially tend to be on the sidelines about as completely as the Catholics are when civil rights are involved, with this difference: Jewish leaders feel strongly they should be in the battle opposing censorship and Sunday closings, but are often not prepared to pay the price of opposition. Catholics feel mildly they should be in the battle for civil rights but usually are not sufficiently interested to enlist with enthusiasm in the various campaigns.
The real drive behind recent activities aimed at enforcing the state law on Sunday closings that has for years been unobserved is, however, economic rather than religious. More and more places of business, particularly in the suburban areas, have opened on Sunday and have begun to cut seriously into the business of the large downtown stores. In retaliation, an organization has been formed called “Sunday, Inc.,” which is an unusual combination of business and religious leadership. Its president has stated, “We have not approached this problem on religious lines. We have as our common bond a desire to keep merchants from doing unnecessary business on Sunday. The laws are on the books.” But the same article announces the officers of the organization: a number of key businessmen, the executive director of the Cleveland Church Federation “representing Protestants,” a leading Catholic official “representing Catholics,” and a Jewish businessman “representing Jews.” Here again almost all of the “offending” merchants are Jewish. Religious tension sometimes results, but as in the case of the art theaters, there would seem to be relatively little mass support by their constituencies of the official stands taken by the authoritative Christian groups, if one is to judge from the volume of Sunday sales in many neighborhoods that are certainly not Jewish.
Problems of church-state relationships occur most frequently in the public schools. This is an issue that strikes home. Every Christmas season the irritations break out with renewed vigor in Jewish neighborhoods.
On the one hand there is the organized Jewish community, committed to the separation of church and state, determined to resist tactfully butfirmly the annual Christological invasion of the schools. On the other hand, there are the Christian parents, some seeking to “put Christ back into Christmas,” others outraged that there should be resistance to “the perfectly beautiful celebration our children always enjoyed so much until. . . .” Still others warn of the terrible and certain dangers of juvenile delinquency and even Communism “if religion is banished from the classroom.”
Some liberal Christians are firm separationists and others plead the case for using the season for joint understanding. To complicate matters further, there are many Jewish parents who cheer every introduction of Chanuko despite the stern warnings of Jewish leaders. In a mixed suburban school, a teacher’s lot is not a happy one in December; many dread facing the annual problem of just what they are supposed to do anyway. In one overwhelmingly Jewish school, a parent violently objected to her son’s bringing home a red-striped candy cane because it was a religious symbol while another parent gathered money to buy the school an electric menorah!
Separation in general seems to be a fluid concept capable of a variety of meanings sometimes strangely contradictory. At a conference in the Church Federation office, a brochure was prominently displayed stressing the need to preserve separation of church and state by actively campaigning against an ambassador to the Vatican. The conference itself was devoted to the desire of the Church Federation office to conduct a religious census of school children under public school auspices. In one case separation was proper and “good”; in the other it was irrelevant and “bad.”
A Roman Catholic official vigorously denounced separation as a “shibboleth” when Christian celebrations in the public schools were being opposed on that basis; but when a Methodist minister told Protestant students at a high school that they had no obligation to keep a promise to raise children as Catholic if they intermarried, he commented, “Considering separation of church and state, is it proper for a minister to go into a public school even to conduct a counseling course?” The YMCA holds a position of official status in many public high schools, and at least one priest has forbidden his parishioners to join the Y, since it is a means of spreading the Protestant position.
Jewish community organizations, unlike some Jewish parents, have consistently adhered to a strict separationist policy. As a result, school superintendents in the suburbs with significant Jewish enrollments have, ia recent years, become sensitive to problems of Bible reading, prayers, grace before meals, and scheduling of school events on religious holidays. The rapid turnover of faculty in the elementary schools, and the need during the desperate shortage to import teachers from small communities where religion is accepted as an unquestioned part of the curriculum have, however, led to repeated classroom intrusions of religion despite official attitudes of the administration. One superintendent raised the interesting question as to whether the school calendar, which is obviously designed to accommodate Christian holidays, ought not to be revised to avoid conflict with Jewish observances since the community has become primarily Jewish. Although Jewish parents and the community insist upon the right of children to observe religious holidays, they avoid carefully any suggestion of tailoring school calendars or procedures along “Jewish” lines.
All these issues, however, paled in 1961 in compareson to the struggle over federal aid to parochial schools. Here is a real “bread and butter” issue that the local Catholic diocese has begun to feature far more than any other. The Protestant church for once was united; every spokesman has vigorously opposed such aid. A number of Orthodox rabbis for the first time broke the solid Jewish “separation front” by endorsing government aid, but the Federation overwhelmingly repeated its traditional support of the separation principle. There can be little doubt that this will for years to come constitute the most controversial of interreligious issues.
Problems which in other cities seem to raise interreligious blood pressures, have made little impact in Cleveland. Warm expressions of sympathy for Israel from the Christian clergy are not too frequent, for example, but on the other hand there is an almost complete absence of hostile comment, even when the Middle East situation is tense. Occasionally, newspaper stories will feature disputes arising out of adoptions across religious lines, but at no time has any real controversy developed. The general bland attitude toward issues in this area may well be a reflection of a certain absence of emotion connected with issues in general. Civic problems, war and peace, recession and recovery, are often conversation pieces, but rarely lead to stirring debate. Even the attitude toward the local baseball team is remarkably low pressured in recent years!
Considerably greater emotional involvement is seen when the issues touch home directly, rather than being concerned with philosophical differences. Almost any Jewish institution seeking to build for the first time in a new suburb is likely to encounter resistance. Twice in the past decade, cases involving the right of synagogues to build in suburban areas had to be carried to the Ohio Supreme Court.
One of the cases had an ironic ending. For years, counsel for the suburb fought through three courts with unprecedented tenacity to prevent the building of a synagogue. Despite all sorts of guarantees and assurances, it was alleged that the town would suffer from increased traffic problems, difficulties in providing services, and other similar situations. But the temple was hardly completed when the city fathers, faced by a desperate shortage of public school facilities, requested (and were granted) space in the new synagogue’s school until a new public school could be built.
Religious exclusions practiced in a number of the suburbs by the company that developed the area were broken in the mid-fifties only after a bitter campaign and threats of taxpayer suits that would have depressed land values considerably. One suburb enforces a complicated 25 per cent quota on Jews, and the northern section of a suburb that is half- Jewish has developed a neighborhood compact that has succeeded so far in keeping out all but a single Jew. One community was almost torn apart by a campaign for a second high school, which many contended was motivated primarily by the desire of the northern half of the community (strongly Christian) to have “their” school, while resigning the original high school to the southern, “Jewish” section. In another suburb, an election was held on the question of dividing into two villages, one overwhelmingly Christian, the other just as strongly Jewish. Both efforts failed but only after bitter campaigns. Permission to build a Jewish community center in a suburb was secured only after a long struggle, although a Lutheran high school was approved far more easily on an adjoining parcel of land.
In each of these cases there were more factors involved than religious differences. But no one who attended the various meetings of zoning commissions, city and village councils, or neighborhood town halls could escape the conclusion that, although problems of zoning and traffic and taxes were involved, religious hostility or unfriendliness were also powerful determinants of attitudes. Few situations present “clean” examples of bigotry; there is almost always a complicated intermingling of economic, sociological, psychological, and religious interests.
Sometimes, hostile attitudes are expressed crudely and in the unmistakable accents of the bigot, as in the case of the man who wrote in explanation of why neighborhoods run down: “In the first instance the Negro follows the Jew in housing; no Jews, no Negroes to follow. . . . The Jew is too greedy when it comes to the almighty dollar. You will think this man is prejudiced and biased who is writing this letter, but I am not! These are the facts; it is food for thought.”
Much more significant and typical, perhaps, is the attitude revealed in a tribute in the Roman Catholic diocesan paper to a converted Jew who had just died. “Dad always saw to it that we children did not miss mass on Sunday,” the daughter proudly writes. “If we were reluctant, Dad would threaten, ‘All right, then, we will go to temple.’ You never saw children hurry to church as we did.” That homely vignette reveals an attitude that may well be just beneath the surface of much of the “tolerance” that is so wide-spread.
Sometimes neighborhoods change so completely as to create religious problems where there is no bigotry at all. One worried Christian mother, whose daughter attended a junior high school that is overwhelmingly Jewish, described in a thoroughly rational and unpunishing manner how her child was treated with perfect fairness and friendship during school hours, but was increasingly excluded from the social contacts that were becoming important to her. The family subsequently and regretfully moved from the neighborhood since dating possibilities had become virtually impossible for the daughter!
Despite the occasional highly dramatic cases where Jews have achieved top leadership in various civic roles, the community as a whole is, in a quiet and undramatic fashion, divided along religious lines. Cleveland has an FEPC, but evidence indicates that perhaps one out of every four job orders filed with private employment agencies is discriminatory against Jews. Perhaps equally significant is the increasing self-segregation in employment. A leading utility in Cleveland, which had been closed to Jews for years, changed its policy and freely accepted Jewish clerical help. The local Jewish Vocational Service soon found itself encountering substantial difficulties in filling job orders, because the girls wanted to work in places “where they could meet Jewish fellows”!
Any observation that social life in Cleveland tends to follow rather closely along religious lines is often greeted with indignant instancing of various parties and gatherings of Jews and non-Jews. Nevertheless, these are overwhelmingly the exception and the so-called “5 o’clock shadow” is clearly visible in the community’s social life. Jews socialize for the most part with Jews; Catholics with Catholics; Protestants with Protestants.
In 1958 the executives of two well-established women’s civic organizations requested help in increasing Jewish participation in their work. The fact that these organizations contained few Jews could not be ascribed to discrimination; both have been eager for some time to expand their Jewish membership. Why, they asked, do Jewish women join so enthusiastically in the work of Hadassah, Council of Jewish Women, Sisterhoods, the Welfare Fund Appeal, and many other Jewish organizations, but are often so hard to interest in non-secta- rian groups? Surely Jewish women are civic minded; surely they have much to contribute.
An easy and truthful answer would be that opportunities for advancement to top leadership are best in one’s “own” organization. But like most easy answers, that explanation is only part of the truth. Over and over again, leaders of Jewish organizations described their impatience as they sat at meetings of a number of non-sectarian organizations, where the issues being discussed were “piddling” a budget item of a few dollars or a minor, unexciting program detail. The really successful Jewish organizations, they claim, present far bolder challenges. What is to be avoided at all costs is dullness. And, they conclude, those non-sectarian organizations that are truly not perfunctorily open to all women and that grapple with basic community needs do attract Jewish women. Unspoken is what may well be the most important factor: Jewish women in Cleveland are more comfortable with Jewish women. But in any case, the fact remains unchallengeably true that the overwhelming majority of Jewish (or, for that matter, Catholic and Protestant) women are “club ladies” within their own religious groups.
Although the world of business necessarily involves more contact across religious lines, it is nevertheless true that the husbands, too, eat lunch (when there is no business appointment), play golf, and attend committee meetings most frequently with men who are of the same religious faith. If they are Jewish, they are very likely to have a Jewish insurance man, a Jewish lawyer, a Jewish doctor except in the case of specialists. And, with variations, the same generalizations could be made about the other religious groups.
In summary, then, interreligious relationships in Cleveland might be characterized by the following generalizations:
1. Little overt conflict exists, and there is a pervasive atmosphere of avoiding tension situations. As a result, there is little “dialogue” among the religious groups, and the price of relatively little conflict is relatively shallow interreligious contacts. Blandness is the key everywhere.
2. Close interreligious cooperation, where it exists, is rarely on specifically religious projects. It is more likely to occur on civic, philanthropic, and business levels.
3. The Roman Catholic community is the most isolated of the three major faith groups. The Archbishop explains the withdrawal: “Our inferiority complex reveals itself even today in the tendency to isolate ourselves from the community as a whole.” There is only now, with the beginning of an interreligious dialogue, faint stirring toward increasing participation. These efforts are sparked by Catholic laymen.
4. Each religious group has issues in which it is primarily interested: the Catholic priority is increased policing of the mass media and gaining support for their schools; the Protestant, changing neighborhoods; the Jewish, church-state relationships. Closest cooperation exists, particularly between liberal Protestants and Jews, in the area of civil rights.
5. Almost all areas of daily living reflect an increasing sifting down into religious compartments. Churches and synagogues have become more central institutions; schools, housing, and social satisfactions are likely to follow religious lines. Even employment and (to a lesser degree) business patterns have increasingly an element of religious self- segregation. Weekly ads in the diocesan paper seem to symbolize the strange ways of this apartness: “Low cost hospitalization,” it emphasizes in large headlines, “available only to Ohio Catholics.”
6. The white population of all three religious groups is becoming increasingly suburban. Despite the growth of religious institutions and the separateness that has been described, religious issues and values seem to count less than the absorbing interest in material satisfactions that characterize all three groups. The “things” of suburban living outweigh religious values or differentiation.
Is Cleveland, then, the best location in the nation? If the negative test of absence of conflict is applied, the boast can be very largely madegood. But if the aim is a culturally diverse community where creative living of cultural groups is balanced by full and easy communication across religious lines, Cleveland, like most cities, still has a long road to travel.