The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s NEXTGen Detroit Board met for its monthly meeting on…
To The Future
A crop of leaders in their 20s share their dreams for Jewish Detroit.
As we begin a new year, it’s natural to look to the future. At the Jewish News, we are looking at future leaders within the community. Throughout the year, we will present a series of stories looking at leaders in their 20s, 30s and 40s. These people represent the geographic breadth of the community as well as different streams of Judaism, different professions and different passions.
Many names may be new to you, but keep an eye on them. They will help shape the Detroit Jewish community of the future.
We asked each of the 20-somethings profiled here to share their dreams for Jewish Detroit and tell how they are working to make those dreams come true.
Shanah Tovah — a happy, healthy 5772 to all of you!
Miriam Liebman grew up in Farmington Hills, but her interests and passion for social activism have taken her around the world — and home again.
Liebman, 25, graduated from the University of Michigan, where she earned a degree in Middle East and North African Studies. She spent a semester abroad at the American University in Cairo and also studied in the Balkans as an Abraham’s Vision fellow.
Earlier, at age 16, she attended Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine, which brings together kids from different areas of conflict, the main focus being Israelis and Arabs.
In 2009, she moved to New Orleans as an AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps member. AVODAH’s mission is to cultivate Jewish community through communal living and fight urban poverty while addressing issues of race and class. In New Orleans, Miriam worked as an outreach assistant at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center fighting housing discrimination. Her experience in New Orleans, through both the Jewish and justice communities, allowed her to realize she wanted to move to Detroit, a city experiencing many of the same problems for many of the same reasons — and yet only 20 miles from where she grew up.
“I wanted to learn more about Detroit, what happened to the city and its people, and how to systemically work to make the city a better place,” she said.
Now Miriam, the daughter of Judy and Marty Liebman, lives in Detroit, where she is active with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and works part-time at the Harriet Tubman Center as a community organizer helping low-income tenants and working with faith-based communities.
Just over two years ago, I moved to New Orleans because, like so many other young adult Metro Detroiters, I told myself there was nothing here for me. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
Shortly after moving, I was reading one of Time magazine’s pieces online about Detroit and saw a link that read: “Click here to view the remains of Detroit.” Growing up, Detroit was a place of memories but not of remains. We may have suffered a significant loss of population, but over 700,000 people living their lives does not make a place barren.
As [Northwestern University professor emeritus] John McKnight argues in his essay, “Why ‘Servanthood’ is Bad,” healthy communities are built on the capacities of people, not on deficiencies.
I’ve lived in and traveled to countries where the majority of the population lives on only $1 a day and, somehow, at times, Detroit feels like the most destitute place in the universe. In the developing world, it seemed like extreme poverty and corruption could be expected. Not in Detroit, where the American Dream should be a reality.
Yet today, Detroit is at a turning point. We can be like no other city in America. We can bring in business, industry and jobs that take into account the needs of current communities as well as new ones. We have the privilege and opportunity of learning about our history as Jewish Detroiters to ensure that we do not replicate cycles of injustice that have allowed Detroit to become what it is today.
After Katrina, New Orleans lost approximately half of its Jewish population. The rabbis I knew there all came after Katrina because they loved the community, but also because they wanted to be part of building a community. I feel the same way about Detroit. Through my involvement in the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and my work as a community organizer, I want to be part of building a Jewish community that holds itself to high standards of justice and equality. I believe Detroit can be a place that draws out and highlights the strengths and capacities of all of its people.
Noam Kimelman moved from Boston to go to school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and he became immersed in the community in ways far beyond college classes.
Kimelman, who lives in Detroit, is an active member of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. He is the congregation’s Friday night service leader and a Shabbat and High Holiday Torah reader.
He recently accepted a position as one of the synagogue’s liaisons to the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion’s Riverfront East Congregational Initiative, a Detroit-based, interfaith, inter-congregational effort that works to develop and support community concerns.
Noam, 25, is also a member of the Detroit Area Community Leadership Initiative, sponsored by the Jewish Funds for Justice and Progressive Jewish Alliance.
A graduate of Maimonides, a Jewish day school in Boston, and U-M, he is now studying toward a master’s degree in public health in health management and policy, also from U-M.
The youngest of four brothers, Noam’s parents are Rabbi Reuven Kimelman, a professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and Hava Kimelman, a professor of Hebrew Language at Tufts University.
Professionally, Noam serves as the CEO of Fresh Corner Cafe, which provides healthy food choices in the city of Detroit’s convenience and party stores. He founded the business along with U-M classmates as an extension of a class assignment to develop a business solution to a social concern.
Seven years ago, I lived in Boston. Six years ago, I lived in Israel. Five years ago, I lived in Ann Arbor. Four years ago, I lived in Italy. Now I live in Detroit, and there’s no place I’d rather be.
I moved to Detroit about a year and half ago because of a cause. Like many newcomers, I had an idea that was rooted in misinformation and ignorance of existing efforts and networks. I studied the literature, spoke to leaders on the ground, surveyed community members and, subsequently, considered my four-month immersion adequate to assume the role of resident expert. I then launched an ill-advised business called Get Fresh Detroit, whose mission was to solve the commonplace urban crisis of fresh food access.
It was simple: Wrap a few vegetables in plastic wrap, convince a few corner stores to sell them, develop a sustainable business model around fresh produce in small stores, and replicate in the 800-plus corner stores, liquor stores and gas stations throughout the city. Fresh produce would overflow into the streets, corner stores would become more community-oriented and obesity would fade into the distant darkness.
Naturally, I was encouraged by my peers and professors, who were similarly misinformed, and I proceeded with the gall that often leads to embarrassing (and comical?) failure.
My only redeeming qualities were the willingness to admit failure and the perseverance to adapt, reinvent and keep trying. I immersed deeper into the community, developed a better understanding of the realities, shifted the product focus to prepared healthy foods, raised $30,000 in funding, purchased a refrigerated truck, changed the company name to Fresh Corner Cafe, and pushed off the completion of my master’s degree so that I could dive in 100 percent. Fresh Corner Cafe now sells fresh salads and wraps in 15 stores, and our products are moving off the shelves faster than ever.
The future looks bright, but every step forward has, and will continue to be, a battle. And I’m OK with that. Because if it were luxury and simplicity I was after, I wouldn’t be here. And as my friends, surroundings and many an inspirational teabag continually remind me, “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”
So now I’m here. It’s the cause that brought me here, but it’s the tight-knit, supportive and collaborative community that has kept me here. When I envision my ideal Jewish community, I imagine a diverse gathering of all ages, ideologies and backgrounds united around the nostalgic desire for a beautiful yet simple home-cooked Shabbat meal. I imagine animated conversations that discuss current affairs, debate social policies, dispute effective forms of social action, and meditate over the relevance of our ancient texts and traditions. At the end of it all, unconstrained by the ideological distance or the degree of conviction on either side, I imagine that disagreements are set aside, common experiences are recounted, and harmonious melodies carry us back to our shared roots and deep-seated aspirations. And then I look around, and I realize I have it right here in Detroit. And that makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.
Lavie Golenberg grew up in Farmington Hills. As a youngster, he lived for four years in Haifa, hometown of his mother, Zipora. He and his two sisters speak Hebrew, though he admits his American-born father, Ed, speaks more fluently than he does.
Lavie attended Hillel Day School and graduated from North Farmington High School before getting his undergraduate degree in product design at Michigan State University. He followed this with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in human factors and ergonomics, both at Wayne State University.
He says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He’s currently working on a project to develop portable surgical equipment.
“I like a challenge — that’s what drives me,” says Lavie, who turned 30 late last month. (For the record, he was selected while he still was 29.)
Professionally, his goal is product development and he’s attracted to anything high tech. He’s been working for Chrysler for the past six months managing product design for the Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango lines. Anything a user touches or sees, he makes sure it’s properly designed.
Lavie participated in a formative roundtable discussion of the Southeastern Michigan Jewish Alliance. He serves on the Hillel of Metro Detroit board of governors, and has met a lot of young Jewish adults this way and through leagues for ComePlayDetroit. He says he’s surprised how many people his age live here.
Lavie wants to stay in Detroit. He has family here and a lot of professional business contacts, and he’s energized by the social programming for people his age.
My vision of a strong Jewish Detroit is one that has both a vibrant social community and an economy that keeps our college graduates here. To achieve this goal we need an economy that provides students with a variety of jobs and economic opportunities, a vibrant city with a strong social scene, and an engagement of young Jewish adults in the Jewish community organizations.
Once young adults are here and view themselves as part of the community by molding and contributing to it, their identity becomes the same as the Jewish community.
We have some of the best universities in the nation that attract Jewish students from all over the U.S. The challenge is to get them involved.
I believe that Hillel of Metro Detroit is an integral part of strengthening our Jewish community in Detroit. I have the privilege of serving on HMD’s board of governors, where I have helped create direction for keeping Jewish students engaged while still in college.I believe that Hillel acts as an ambassador between Jewish college students and the Jewish communities that they will be entering when they graduate.
One of Detroit’s challenges in the past has been a lack of social programs uniting Jewish young adults in the Metro area. Recently, we have seen a development of great new programs in our community that are capturing and engaging young adults that are out of college. Organizations like CommunityNEXT, ComePlayDetroit and social clusters that bring people together through a variety of interests are creating a fun social community and filling the void.
The challenges that remain are to maintain such programs and to transition the identity and energy of the young adults into involvement and ownership of the community at large. Community agencies and boards, synagogues and cultural institutions must actively recruit this generation to be active committee members. In turn, our generation must take up this challenge and responsibility and become full contributors, and shape our Jewish Detroit.
Ashley Aidenbaum is committed to helping build a positive future for the city of Detroit, promoting its revitalization and contributing to efforts that help to attract and retain talent.
A University of Michigan graduate, Aidenbaum is a group publisher for Issue Media Group, a Detroit-based media company that creates weekly online magazines focusing on growth and investment in various cities.
Aidenbaum, 26, has working to drive the Inc. 5000 company’s expansion into larger markets, including Baltimore, Tampa and Toronto.
She participates in the publication of Model D, an online magazine highlighting stories of Detroit’s development, creative people and businesses, vibrant neighborhoods and places to live, eat, shop, work and play.
Ashley, who lives in Ferndale with her husband, Ryan Hertz, also has been an urban policy consultant for the state of Michigan and is published in the Michigan Journal of History.
In 2008, while consulting for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, she helped plan the Creative Cities Summit, an international conference in Detroit that focused on issues facing post-industrial cities.
Growing up in West Bloomfield, Ashley was involved with the BBYO and belonged to Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. Her parents — Connie and Guido Aidenbaum of West Bloomfield — are now members at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, where Ashley will attend services on the High Holidays.
So many experiences have shaped my love for cities and for Detroit in particular. My Jewish upbringing fostered curiosity, a thirst for learning and a deep appreciation for community. But it wasn’t until my first trip to Israel in my adolescent years that I saw how a particular place could contain and facilitate these values.
As a publisher, I travel to cities like Baltimore that share many of Detroit’s challenges as well as cities like Toronto that have realized an impressive culture of inclusion and innovation that has helped the city to prosper.
All cities experience crime, struggle with forms of inequality and tension, and have to adapt to economic changes. We publish in other Rustbelt cities, like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, that also had to make a major transition into the new economy. Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis is perhaps one of the most powerful accounts of Detroit’s distinct story, and helped me to understand the injustice and intolerance that tore apart our city.
In spite of this troubling legacy, Detroit continues to emerge as a creative hub ripe with opportunity to create art, business and social change; we find stories for Model D every week about companies hiring and expanding, new neighborhood and downtown growth and redevelopment, and community leaders doing great work — highlighting especially young people choosing to return or relocate to the city.
Chip and Dan Heath demonstrate the effectiveness of studying “bright spots” in their recent book Switch, which struck me as an encouraging validation of our approach. Our publications focus on success and what’s working rather than focusing on failure and loss. So much is possible!
One effort we will continue to publicize and support in particular is the “Global Detroit” initiative, spearheaded by former State Rep. Steve Tobocman (supported by the New Economy Initiative), because in short, to transition to the new economy and facilitate economic growth, Detroit must embrace its future as a global city that welcomes new Americans and embraces diversity.
We should care about the future of Detroit and its residents regardless of whether they are Jews, but precisely because we are Jews. I envision a future Detroit that is dense, thriving, inclusive and sustainable. Jews have a rich tradition of the kind of entrepreneurship and leadership required to help facilitate the emerging revitalization of Detroit; part of what compelled me so deeply about my first trip to Israel was imagining the barren land that is now so thriving and fruitful. I hope that through my current work and future efforts that I can play a part in Tikkun Olam — which I’ve decided must begin with my home, Detroit.