Unless you are from Chicago and, even then, only if you continue to be excited by its political history, will you know who Leon Despres was. Len died at the age of 101 last week. He was a Chicago Alderman, renowned for his vocal dissension from many of the policies of De Mare, the original (and oh so original) Mayor Richard M. Daley, Richard the 1st. If Len opposed what he and others perceived as an abuse of the Chicago Machine, he would stand on the City Council floor and argue for democracy in his own way, often exasperating Mayor Daley to the point of shutting off Despres' microphone.
Len Despres was a Chicago original. As Bill Singer, my contemporary, and a one-time firebrand and Alderman himself, said of Despres "...he taught us it was important to raise the issues even if we were sure to lose." Great lessons were taught by Despres. If Len were involved in national Jewish life today, under the premise of some, Despres should have just shut up and gone away. And, oh my, what we would have lost.
I had an epiphany as I thought about Len. The data in the 1990 National Jewish Population Study disclosed the incredible rate of Jewish intermarriage. Back in the mid-90's I used to jokingly tell my friends, "You know, if we hadn't had that damn Population Study, we wouldn't have any intermarriage." Many looked at me askance, others caught the "irony."
Friends, we can't hide the facts by deciding to suppress them. All we do then is postpone dealing with them. For example, in early 2008, a decision was made within UJC not to use the "R" word -- pretend that the "Recession" which was so predictable by then, was not to be mentioned. While that decision, I suppose, was strongly influenced by the pressure from some federations, all that it did was pull UJC back from doing any North American planning for confronting the economic tsunami now facing us. (Of course, you could argue, UJC still could have quietly done some quiet planning for this catastrophe...and you would be right...but they didn't.)
They may have temporarily turned off Len Despres' microphone, but they couldn't stop the truth of his message. May his memory be a blessing.