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Rabbi Bruce Warshal; Interview Part 2

Rabbi Bruce Warshal; Interview Part 2 image Rabbi Bruce Warshal; Interview Part 2 image
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This is the second part of a two-part interview with Bruce Warshal. Formerly the rabbi at Beth Emmet Temple, Warshal is best known for his talk show program Community Dialogue, on Cable 3. Warshal recently moved to a new post in New Orleans, and this interview is his summary of what he learned about Ann Arbor from talking to its residents on his show. In the first part, Warshal talked primarily about city politics and the Republican party (See SUN, July 4-18, 1975). Here, he goes on to deal with the other two parties. Ann Arbor media and his own project of a jointly owned Jewish-Christian religious center.

SUN: What do you think about the present makeup of City Council?

WARSHAL: I think the future of the city is in much better hands now, because there is a 6-5 Democratic/HRP majority. At least six people on Council will agree to the fact that this city has to be shared by everybody, and one culture cannot begin to step on another. I don't want to wipe out the Republican culture, but I don't want them to wipe out the alternative culture - and they tried. lt's a mature analysis of life. You have to look around and say: where am I living. When you understand this your whole way of running the city begins to change.

SUN: You said earlier that two out of three parties had screwed it in Ann Arbor. You've already talked about the Republicans. What about the Human Rights Party (HRP)?

WARHSAL: HRP made several very fatal errors; first of all in tactics. Going back to the Bea Kaimowitz election (she was the HRP mayoral candidate in the 1973 elections in which the party lost in every race). They took themselves too seriously. They really thought they had a chance to win on the city-wide level. Again, you have to look at your surroundings and realistically analyze how much strength you have and how much you don't. And if you think you can rule the world, and you can only rule in the Second Ward, you're in trouble. Rather than concentrating and building their strength in the First and Second, which they did when they won originally (Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck took these two seats in 1972), they went into a city-wide campaign. They did not spend their money where they should have and as a result, they lost.

SUN: They raised everybody's expectations to believe that they could win.

WARSHAL: They didn't, and worse than that. They had to keep the Second Ward and they lost it to Carol Jones (Democrat, first elected in 1973, reelected in 1975, each time by defeating Frank Shoichet). First of all, they didn't pour enough money into Shoichet's campaign because they thought they could win a city-wide election. Secondly, they had a weaker candidate. I think Carol's a first-rate Councilperson. In 1973, Carol was nineteen, she's a woman. The Democrats were brilliant - they came along with the right candidate and out-HRPed the HRP.

SUN: Why do you think people became disillusioned with the HRP? In 1972, whole dormitories of people would go to the polls and vote for Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGrieck. Then a year later that wasn't happening.

WARSHAL: I'm not sure. Obviously there's the national trend somewhere away from radicalism, somewhere towards the middle. And you had all the internal battling within the HRP. They basically didn't produce except for Jerry. I have respect for him - he was a good Councilperson.

SUN: After losing in 1973, the HRP narrowly won the second ward with Kathy Kozachenko. What do you think of that?

WARSHAL: You know why they elected Kathy? Because the Democrats came up with a weaker candidate. Let's not kid ourselves.

SUN: What was her name? Maryann something . . . (Mary Richards, Second Ward Democratic candidate in 1974).

WARSHAL: Old what's her name, the law student. She had the same problem in public image that Frank Shoichet had - a very grating, abrasive personality. I know many Democrats voted for Kathy. She is a very nice human being although I don't always agree with her on politics. She's pleasant, she's sincere and she still squeezed through.

SUN: But what about her role as a Councilperson?

WARSHAL: I really like Kathy as a human being and therefore it's very difficult for me to say that I don't think she's a good Councilperson. Kathy has a good mind, but it's the kind of mind that has to sit and think about it - a poetic mind. Her temperament is such that she really shouldn't be in politics. That's the mistake of the political party; you don't run people who shouldn't be in politics.

SUN: Do you think if the HRP had chosen a different candidate that a radical third party could have had more of a chance to succeed? If they chose people who could articulate their views a little bit better?

WARSHAL: I don't know, that's one of those questions. I'm neither, to quote Amos, "a prophet nor the son of a prophet"- that's the book of Amos in the Bible. I don't know because what happened was inevitably going to happen as soon as a third party came out - the Democratic Party was going to the left.

The HRP could have done much better, but I see the end of it in this city after the next election. They'll lose, and then one time after that they'll try and lose again. So we're talking about a life of about two years.

SUN: Do you think there's an importance for a third party in Ann Arbor?

WARSHAL: Oh, I can be very critical of how HRP's run, but it's done a tremendous service for this city. It jolted the Democratic party to better represent the alternative culture. When the HRP originally came out it was a young image, of students or people of the student age against a very middle class Democratic party. The Democrats were qualitatively different than the Republican party, but it didn't look different - at least not to students. In other words, Bob Harris (Democrat and Mayor, 1971-73) looked very much like Jim Stephenson (GOP mayor, 1973-75). Now there is a qualitative difference, but when the Democratic party got rid of that kind of leadership - I'm not down on it - and came forth with people who looked the same as HRP and sounded the same as HRP . . .

SUN: People like Jones and Wheeler. . .

WARSHAL: Yeah, then it was inevitable that the HRP was going to lose.

SUN: What do you think of the present Democratic Council members?

WARSHAL: I happen to think the present majority is superb. The more I see of Al Wheeler (the current Democratic mayor), the more l'm impressed. He is just a solid human being.

SUN: Do you think they can hold onto their majority? They would need to take the Fourth Ward next spring but a Republican took it this year.

WARSHAL: Trowbridge says he won it because he knocked on God knows how many doors. Another important thing he pointed out - where he canvassed. He left all the Republican neighborhoods alone. He never knocked on my door - I happen to live amidst, if you'll excuse me, a bunch of Republicans. But Trowbridge knocked on all the Democratic doors. He went into the coops. He cut into the traditionally Democratic areas of the Fourth Ward. And l'll be honest with you. I don't know whether the Democrats will keep the Fourth Ward or not.

SUN: Maybe we should move off politics...

WARSHAL: l'd like to say this by the way. We've been very harsh on the Republicans, but let's take one who went to the middle - it can be done. l'll point to Clarence Dukes (former president of the School Board, Dukes was reelected last June). Dukes came on to a Board that was dichotomized - with the liberals screaming at the so-called conservatives and so on. This was when Ted Heisel was chairman of the Board, and Duane Rankin was on the Board (in 1973-74). Dukes brought that Board to the middle. He accomplished in the arena of school politics what the Republicans had a chance to do in city politics, and didn't.

SUN: Let's move on to something else. What is your impression of the media in Ann Arbor. For example, how do you react to the Ann Arbor News?

WARSHAL: l've lived in cities with really lousy newspapers. I lived in Cincinnati and I almost gave up daily newspaper reading, it was so bad. But for a small town paper I think the Ann Arbor News is decent. Now I know you weren't expecting that answer. I'll tell you this, they have some God-awful portions of the paper and some very good portions. For one problem, it's a newspaper that is sitting on top of all the cultural wealth of this city yet they have absolutely no reviewing worthwhile.

SUN: What about their political bias?

WARSHAL: Worse than bias, it's inane. There hasn't been an intelligent provocative editorial in that newspaper in the seven years that l've been in this city! And of course they're sitting on top of an intellectual city and they carry no columnists to speak of. My God, Good Morning Michigan carries more exciting columnists - a small, put-together, rag-time operation. The News could probably be a first-rate, good, small-town paper, but for some reason they just don't do it.

SUN: Do you think their bias extends into their news reporting? They overrepresent the Republican point of view . . .

WARSHAL: Probably somewhat. But l've seen greater sinning. I'll tell you who does worse than anything - the Michigan Daily. The Daily is probably the worst edited newspaper in the United States. I used to say that you read the Daily and read the Ann Arbor News, and the truth is somewhere split down the middle. The Daily's, bias is very often my bias, but that's neither here nor there. They are irresponsible; more irresponsible as editors than the News.

SUN: What do you think of the SUN? 

WARSHAL: You know I'm a subscriber to the SUN, and I like it. But you don't have the responsibility that the Daily or the News has. You make it clear where you're from to begin with. You're printing bi-weekly to produce a point of view. That doesn't say you don't print truth, it says that you don't have to give equal time to the Republicans or anybody else. That's legitimate, but I think the Daily and the News have different standards because they're in a different ball park.

SUN: Why don't you talk about the project you've gotten involved in, the joint ownership of the church.

WARSHAL: I think it's very exciting. It's the first time in the world, actually, that a building - a religious structure - is jointly owned, fifty-fifty, by a Christian and Jewish congregation. As I pointed out in the dedication ceremony, it isn't phony. I can't stand phony ecumenism, "let's all get together and love one another." It drives me up a wall. This is joint ownership, put into a third corporation called Genesis of Ann Arbor.

Basically, Beth Emmet Temple is rented from St. Clair's Episcopal Church for a four year period. It came time in the life of our congregation that we had to have our own building - one, for purposes of room and secondly, for identity purposes. You can't live off of other people, you have to carry your own overhead. The key choice then was should we grow up like other good, Jewish congregations and build a little plot of Jewish land that we could envelope in our arms and call our own. Or you look around and say, isn't this stupid. We need another church structure in Ann Arbor like you need a hole in the head. We're sharing this building quite nicely; why don't we just buy half of it. Which cuts down overhead, which means that we have money to put into people, not to put into brick and mortar. It was a natural thing to do, and we get along beautifully. That's what I call true brotherhood because basically you're doing it because it works and because circumstances evolved that you should do it rather than setting up mass experiments. I suspect people who want to set up experiments. Life doesn't work that way; life works by slow steps - living it.