Two Jews (and the Christian Phone Book)

Dateline: Fri 18 Sep 2009

In reading the extensive obituaries of Mel Simon and Myles Brand in the Star as well as the New York Times, I was struck by the similiarity of their journeys: both from working-class famlies, both bright, both New Yorkers, both Jews, both landing in the Midwest -- and the rest is history.

That's a lot to reflect on -- the contributions of two very strong individuals who could have moved anywhere in the U.S. but chose Indiana as home.

But one has to wonder, at one level, wny they did. Indiana's population is more than 6,090,000; our Jewish population is 17,500. That "represents a decline in absolute numbers and in percentage of the population over the last 30 years of the 20th century," according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

Indianapolis, with 813,670 people, according to the 1997 Census, has a Jewish population of 6,379 -- making it the state's largest Jewish enclave, but still a small minority among a mostly Christian/Bible-belt demographic.

A Jewish friend told me a few years ago that when she had a conversation with a Roman Catholic priest, he confided, "You are the first Jewish person I have met in Indianapolis." For whatever reasons, we don't always mix well. Another friend, married to a Jewish man, said she was accustomed (when living in an upper-crust mostly WASP area) to hear repair or service people make anti-Semitic remarks.

Then there's the Star's poor Jay Harvey, who writes theater criticism, lambasted in a letter to the editor today for anti-Semitism because he referenced an actor's character as being "crafted with a sort of distaste only slightly less crude than the Jewish characters in Hemingway and Fitzgerald." It turns out the actor, who was playing a New York Jew, IS a New York Jew "...and put a lot of himself into that role during the creation of the play," writes Mark Armstrong, artistic director of The Production Company in New York.

I won't address the charge against Jay, a decent chap and a friend, but I can say that I was told years ago on the copy desk of the Star never to use the word "Jew" in a headline. "Mr. Pulliam (a member of the Episcopal church) doesn't like it," explained the slot man.

Oh, dear.

Then there's the Christian, up at Safeway at 56th and Illinois last week. (It is a freeby, in the stand that also gives away employment mags and apartment rags).

A Christian phone book? Really?

"Our goal is to empower you to find products and services of the highest quality as we seek to strengthen and unite the central Indiana community with a biblical worldview," writes publishser Randy Faulkner of Greenwood.

It turns out we may have the only Christian phone book in the nation, published right here in Central Indiana -- at least a Google/web search did not turn up any other such publications by the same name in other cities. And ours is into its second year; the first issue had former Colts coah Tony Dungy on the cover. The 2009 edition features financial Christian guro Dave Ramsey (not local).

It's not the end of the world, having a Christian phonebook in your midst. If nothing else, there are some laughs at looking at the ads -- lawyers who vow to throw THE BOOK at your enemies, painters who provide an artistic touch "Painting for the Master" and beauty spas where the goal is to compare yourself to Queen Esther (perhaps more fitting for a Jewish phone book, but never mind).

Realizing all this, one wonders again why Jews come here and stay. But we can be grateful that Brand and Simon did.

Or perhaps not...perhaps this simple commentary will unleash anti-Semitism?

Still, happy Rosh Hashanah.





Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Anti-Semitism is never far below the surface, here or anywhere.
As a kid I spent much of my time in the homes of my best friends, who happened to be Jewish, and thus was repulsed when I became aware of adult anti Semites.

I began my reading of the Holocaust when I was 14, with perhaps the first book published about the wholesale murder of Jews, titled "The Theory And Practice of Hell." It was eye opening for a kid. Consequently I absolutely support the Israeli addage, "Not again, and if again, not alone."

A world that would allow Israel to be destroyed by its Islamist neighbors is a world much in need of remaking anyway.

2009-09-21 14:27:33

hendy [Member] said:

Discrimination sucks.

The history of the KKK in Indiana is enough to rattle the non-white Christians here, mightily. One side of my family were KKK members from Boone and Johnson County. Others weren't members at all. The other side of my family were bent towards egalitarian social justice.

Jewish peoples in Indiana have made astounding contributions, viz the Glicks, the Simons, and others. Beyond their religious affiliation, they're people. People do these things and may nor may not be representative of others practicing a specific theology. There are good Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, Sikhs, and so on. Citing a specific religion is a bit dicey. Applauding people and their actions is perhaps the right thing to do.

And there are gay phone books, Christian phone books, and many many more versions of them. Maybe I should start a geek phone book. But then, we would never buy from each other....

2009-09-21 14:31:52

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

Are you implying that the Christian Phone Book amounts to anti-Semitism?

2009-09-21 17:36:35

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Calm thyself, Vlad. I think it was a bland observation, no more.

2009-09-21 18:19:11

ruthholl [Member] said:

No anti-Semitism per se in the Christian Phone Book, Vlad. Just an interesting juxtaposition in these life and times in Indiana.
As TTT says, "a bland observation, no more."
My larger point is that Indiana isn't that hospitable for Jews, but they seem to come here and thrive, despite it (us) being a Bible-belt stronghold.

2009-09-21 18:43:22

hendy [Member] said:

Is a gay phone book discrimination against hetero people? In a way, it's discrimination by exclusion. In another way, it's self-defense.

A bozo phone book would just be recycled. We get to associate with whom we want. Are Christians discriminated against? Some believe this. We're human: we discriminate. Do we exclude? Yes. Do we include? I hope so.

Little stars forced to be worn on the chest. Never forget.

2009-09-21 22:58:19

Johnny [unverified] said:

The Christian phone book is nothing new. Neither is a directory of black entrepreneurs. Or Carmel merchants. Or gay-friendly busineses. It's a form of marketing.

2009-09-22 09:17:50

Seneca [unverified] said:

"Is a gay phone book discrimination against hetero people?"

Is a hetero phone book discrimination against gay people?

2009-09-22 10:11:49

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

Broadmoor Country Club.

Need I say more?

2009-09-22 13:11:06

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I live near Broadmoor, Geezer. Please enlighten me. What in the hell are you talking about?

2009-09-22 15:37:48

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Many-- most-- country clubs had exclusion clauses against Jews. Which is why some clubs had Jewish founders: the only way they could become members of a CC was to start one.

2009-09-23 13:18:34

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

Tom Greenacres is being too coy.
Broadmoor was established because Jews were excluded from membership Indy's country clubs (as were blacks and those of Asian ancestry).

How quickly we forget!

2009-09-23 13:29:45

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Oh, now I get it.

Well, Geezer, that story isn't too far removed from reality or today.

I am quite familiar with one Mr. Murvin Enders, who was the local Chrysler plant director in the early 90s. He was entitled, as a job perk, to have his country club dues paid anywhere. He chose Highland.

He asked a friend to help him join. The friend, not a member, was nonetheless close to many members, including a former mayor, but nonetheless this friend was naive in the ways of modern Indy country clubs.

Long story short: Mr. Enders was denied entry because of his African American heritage. He pursued remedies through our State Civil Rights Commission, and won.

I'm not sure if he used his state-ordered Highland rights, but you should've heard the backlash. He and his friend who helped him locate sponsors, were very poorly treated. Highland spent tens of thousands in legal fees to fight the Civil Rights Commission. Lots of hurt feelings all over the place.

This wasn't that long ago. And Highland was hardly alone.

Within weeks of that decision, every private club on the northside was quickly searching for a few tokens to augment their membership.

It's a little more open now. If you've got the cash. The Meridnan Hillses, Highlands, Hillcrests, and Woodstocks of the world cost tens of thousands a year to belong.


2009-09-23 15:36:36

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Is the premise of this blog post that all evangelical Christians are prone to be bigots? Admittedly, I may not be picking up on some of the implied nuances.

Thomas Merton, the great social justice Catholic monk/writer, said; "One should never judge another human being by his (or her) religion, but by his character."

I believe this also applies to evangelical Christians. These days, we're all being "lumped together" by many in the media and elsewhere and this is absolutely not fair or rational.

I suggest to anyone who questions whether evangelical Christians can be social justice-oriented and tolerant: visit the website of an evangelical Christian organization called Sojourners.

2009-09-23 15:55:22

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

The far-edge of any religious group too often defines the entire group.

I have many evangelical friends. In some respects, I suppose I'm an evangelical, too.

But the nutcases among them/us--like today's unwelcome despot Fred Phelps--cause concern. Justifiably.

Incidentally, Ruthie dear, the North Central kids are planning a quiet but large counter-demonstration after school today. And to show their solidarity for the school pay regarding Matthew Shepherd, they're going. I am told it's nearly sold out all weekend, starting tonight.

Sometimes the youngester surprise and challenge us. Happy dance.

2009-09-24 07:25:05

whosear [Member] said:

Why they stay? Indianapolis has two faces through modern history. At the turn of the 20th century, IPS was integrated and a bright beacon of progressive education while the rest of the US couldn't figure out how to teach the 3 R's. Then came the 10's & 20's...KKK comes to Indiana.

I think this legacy still lives on today. So there is the part of Indianapolis that is tolerant and accepts other descent folks.

2009-09-24 11:51:27

Gary [unverified] said:


My grandfather came to Indianapolis from the lower east side of NYC in the late 1910's by mistake. He thought he was going to Minneapolis. He arrived established a foothold and part of our family has been here ever since.

2009-09-24 17:30:35

thinkingitthrough [unverified] said:

Where I used to live in Southern Indiana there was a Christian business directory. It seemed there more about all those who were not "saved" Christians rather than anything at all about Jews although they of course would be part of that group. Then members of my Catholic parish wondered if they should have a parish business directory, to help support those who are more like "us" I suppose. I can't remember what happened to that idea.

I do know for sure that my mother-in-law, back in the '50s, would only patronize Catholic businesses, and as a consequence, my husband's early dental care was substandard and he has had problems because of it ever since. Not sure why she couldn't find a good dentist who was Catholic instead of a good Catholic who was a dentist.

2009-09-26 20:47:58

boomer [unverified] said:

To answer your question, Ruth, other cities in the Midwest have a Christian phone book printed by the same publisher. It's not just Indianapolis. And it's a place where businesses can advertise to a specific audience they want to reach. Not sure why this is such a deal. It's been around for a long time.

2009-09-28 12:10:20

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