Popular Articles

Over 83,000 Jews live and thrive in the Motor City

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit is an important part of attracting and retaining young people to participate in Jewish life

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Back in the summer of 2019, long before we could imagine a world where the virus Covid-19 would curtail leisure travel, I had the opportunity to visit Windsor and Detroit.  I cannot imagine wanting to hover around the US border now — but back then, it was very exciting.

My enthusiasm aside, I did notice some raised eyebrows when I mentioned my plan to vacation in Detroit. After all, the Motor City has endured a high crime rate, loss of the auto industry, mass exodus and bankruptcy.

Undeterred, I went on that jaunt, specifically to check out the 4th annual Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival and to look for Detroit’s Jewish presence both past and present.

It was an hour on Porter Airlines from Toronto to Windsor. Both Windsor and Detroit have historically had significant Jewish communities. Windsor still has a thriving JCC and a popular kosher restaurant called Mazel Tov.

From the pretty Windsor waterfront, I peered across the river at Detroit’s stunning skyline which includes both historic and modern edifices. We then crossed the border by cab and went straight to the downtown area. 

In its heyday, Detroit was the fifth largest city in the USA and Jews have played a significant role in Detroit’s journey.  By 1937, 71,000 Jews resided there, making it the sixth most populated Jewish city in the US. During that period, Jewish architects and entrepreneurs built many lavish and ornate buildings. I was fortunate to stay in one of these: the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel.  Originally developed by the Jewish Book brothers, who bought the former Cadillac Hotel, this historic building has gone through many incarnations from lavish grand dame to its present status as a modern hotel, with an emphasis on service and wellness.

Famed for being the place where Lou Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase in 1939, as well as the location where Frank Capra’s 1947 movie State of the Union was filmed, the hotel continues to celebrate its history through a tasteful presentation of pictures and artifacts from the past.

From my comfortable room, I had a nice view of the Lafayette Greens Urban Garden, one of many such spaces being maintained by The Greening of Detroit. Filled with flowers and herbs, it is a relaxing place that is a testament to the commitment of city dwellers to beautify Detroit in spite of the years of abandonment. Food from this garden is donated to local food banks.

Detroit’s population fell from 1.85 million in 1950 to 701,000 by 2013 as a result of steady job loss, racial tension and corruption. During these difficult times many Jews fled to the suburbs. 

Get thej.ca a Pro Israel Voice by Email. Never miss a top story that effects you, your family & your community

Since the Jewish population has remained spread out — going to the Hazon Jewish Food Festival was the ideal way for me to get a quick snapshot of Jewish Detroit. This 5-hour event is the largest Jewish Food Festival in Michigan and in 2019,  7000 people came to interact with 125 Jewish organizations, justice groups, and local vendors of sustainable products.

Director Marla Schloss is proud of the event’s success. “We connect Metro Jews to urban movements, sustainable practices … with the Jewish wisdom tradition of deep connection for relationships between people and with the earth.”

This free event was held in the historic Eastern Market and was a joyous jumble of people representing all aspects of the Jewish community in Greater Detroit. There were Chabad shaliachs and Anti Defamation League activists, Hadassah ladies and synagogue representatives. Kosher food providers sat next to entrepreneurial vegans. Kids enjoyed petting goats and sheep while recycling and sustainable farming were promoted throughout.  I tasted organic teas, kosher pickles, and locally sourced honey. I even made a pin from a slide provided by the Detroit Art Institute; one of many “upcycle” activities available.

Goodstuff Cacao provided kosher dairy free snacks, while caterers such as Kravings and Soul Care offered kosher certified choices.  Admittedly there was more vegan, veggie and kosher style than kosher. Food trucks offered innovative takes on Jewish food, including Truckshuka (vegetarian Israeli street fare), Nosh Pit (Jewish classics made veggie) and Nu Deli (deli and Indian fusion from a Jewish/Indian couple).

Throughout the afternoon, musical performances added to the fun. My favourite was the Gratitude Steel Band playing Hava Nagila. Fusion was the order of the day. 

In 2019 the 5-hour Jewish Food Festival in Michigan drew 7000 people to sample treats and interact with 125 Jewish organizations

My understanding of the “Comeback City” deepened after a few hours with Pat Haller, owner of the Show Me Detroit tour company.  The Detroit native is filled with pride and through her vast knowledge, was able to weave together the story of Detroit with its many highs and lows. On the positive side are  four thriving sports teams, affordable housing, new businesses and hardworking friendly citizens. She drove us by signs of inspiration in the midst of deserted streets and abandoned buildings such as the famous mural by artist Sheefy Turner with the slogan “Detroit Never Left”.

One key player in the city’s rejuvenation is Jewish entrepreneur, Dan Gilbert. The billionaire was born in Detroit and has been injecting life into the city through his company, Quicken Loans. He moved his headquarters to downtown Detroit in 2010, purchased a number of buildings and is a leader in the Downtown Detroit initiatives.

We stopped at the Fisher building—an ornate art deco wonder that was designed by prolific Jewish architect Albert Khan.  Inside, I found a unique store called the Peacock Room which was created by Jewish business woman: Rachel Lutz. Beautiful items can be found here that are inspired by vintage décor.

In a city where most of the brand stores have left, new ventures are welcomed with open arms.   We visited Avalon Breads, a popular organic bakery known for being one of the first new values based ventures during this comeback era. 

No visit to Detroit can be complete with a trip to the Motown Museum

A tour of the Motown Museum is a must do, to learn about the incredible launch of Motown Records by production guru Berry Gordy. The docent regaled us with stories of how stars including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye  and the Jackson 5—were neighbourhood kids who came in to record in this tiny studio.

A tour highlight was The Heidelberg Project. In 1986 artist Tyree Guyton returned to Heidelberg street, where he grew up on Detroit’s East Side, and found it in shambles. He began cleaning the vacant lots. From the garbage that he collected, Guyton transformed the street into a massive art environment. Now, he has partners who are helping him to transform the buildings into arts studios and housing for artists.

A significant number of younger Jews are now returning to the downtown area and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue is a gathering place for them. Projects that bring the African-American and Jewish communities together are on the rise.

During the tour. I realized that the Jews who have stayed, reflect the resilience and strength of the city itself. The murals, the Heidelberg project, and the urban gardens are all signs of regrowth and repurposing after loss and abandonment. Like the Jewish people–Detroit keeps on going. It is the ultimate survival story. I am looking forward to returning when it is safe to do so as I only touched the surface of the many sides of Detroit.

Neilia Sherman is a social worker and a widely published freelance writer. She specializes in personal essays, travel, Jewish issues, psychology and health. She can be reached at [email protected]. Check out her Blog: socialworkertravels.blog,

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Read More

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

Breaking News

Recent

Features

News

Current Events

Opinions

Politics

Religion

Culture

Memoriam and Obituaries

PodcastS

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Previous
Next