A Style Of His Own
New Federation president focuses on increasing funds and attracting young people.
Retired businessman Douglas Bloom of Birmingham, a longtime volunteer and leader in the Jewish community, has taken the reins as president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Last month he replaced immediate past president, Michael Horowitz, who had completed only one of his three one-year terms when he left to become executive director of the Atlanta Federation.
Bloom, 73, brings keen business expertise to the job, gained in dealings with the Big Three motor companies and other major corporations through his former business, Bar Processing, which grew to include five factories in four states. He sold the business when he retired in 1999.
A father of three sons — Matthew in Washington state, Andrew and David in Metro Detroit — and grandfather of one boy and four girls, he possesses a playful sense as well. He and his wife, Barbara, are intrepid hobbyists. She furnishes elaborate dollhouses; and he has an O-gauge Lionel train set-up in his basement that spans nearly 1,800 square feet.
“I’ve been nuts about trains since I was a little boy,” he said. The last train trip the couple took was on the famed Orient Express from Paris to Venice. When he entered the dining car in a tux, with Barbara in a formal dress, applause erupted.
This kind of fashion flair extends to his personal style back home, too, as he is known for his round red eyeglasses and his frequent bowties.
A member of Temple Israel and Temple Kol Ami, both in West Bloomfield, Bloom became a bar mitzvah at 61. He also studies weekly at his home with a rabbi as part of Southfield-based Yeshiva Beth Yehudah’s Weiss Partners in Torah.
Bloom deems himself a realist, and promises he’ll bring humor, surprises, seriousness and passion to his presidency.
Many in the community recognize Bloom’s name from the annual Barbara and Douglas Bloom Matzah Factory held each year at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. Hundreds of local Jewish children learn how to make matzah the exacting, traditional 18-minute way every Passover.
“We’re proud of the matzah factory, and we get to see the benefits while we are alive,” Bloom said of the program.
He and his wife also sponsor the Barbara and Douglas Bloom Acts of Loving Kindness Fund, which helps seniors with financial difficulties to remain in Fleischman Residence.
Bloom says he ramped up his volunteerism after a 1985 community mission to Israel, first rising through the ranks to become president of the JCC, then moving to its executive committee.
At Federation, he has been involved in the education and community service divisions, has been chair of the Planning and Allocations Steering Committee and a board member of Jewish Senior Life. He currently serves on the board of the Jewish Fund. He also has served on the boards of JVS, the Neighborhood Project and the Jewish Community Center Association.
The JN editorial team met recently with Bloom to discuss his plans, challenges and hopes for his term as Federation president.
What was your reaction to being nominated Federation president?
I was surprised I became president because a number of capable people were officers of the board. I have been a Campaign chair, an agency chair, and I do have well-rounded experience in Federation life. And I have lots of time. I don’t know how I’d do it if I weren’t retired. Also, there’s a remarkable staff of people at Federation.
What are some priorities and challenges for Federation?
I believe the Campaign should be of primary concern to every Jew living in the Detroit Metropolitan area. I believe we need to reach out to younger people, ages 20-35, to connect them to our community. If we can grow the Campaign and the number of donors, that will cure a lot of what’s wrong with Detroit. Detroit is Jewishly a remarkable community because we take care of so many people with such a small base of support. Our main challenge is to grow the base. When I first got active in Campaign, we had 18,000 donors. Now we’re celebrating we’ve gone over 10,000.
Is the NextGen effort (combination of CommunityNext and Young Adult Division) making a difference?
NextGen is making a difference and will make a much bigger difference in the future. The Federation has spent huge amounts of resources to try to engage young people and have them think positively about the Jewish community. I want to strengthen their feeling of Jewishness. I want them to think about being Jewish and about repairing the world — and know that what they do does make a difference, whether it’s an $18 gift, a $180 gift or an $1,800 gift. If I can do something positive about attracting young people and keeping them here and growing the giving base, I would be very, very happy.
Do you think Federation does a good job of getting the word out about itself?
We talked about Federation at the dinner table when I was growing up. I knew about Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, ORT and Hadassah.
… Barbara and I were bus captains on an Israel mission. They were all first-time visitors to Israel. We had a 40-minute drive [to the next destination] and I asked Bob Aronson [previous CEO of Detroit’s Federation] to talk about Federation. He was eloquent, and I was proud. We got off the bus and someone asked him, “You’re stationed in New York?” They totally missed it.
If we stand on our heads and tell what Federation is, people won’t get it unless they want to get into Fleischman or Teitel Apartments or need a service like Project Chessed [that serves the Jewish uninsured]. Until people actually need a service, they have no idea.
Why is it important to give to the Campaign?
Federation doesn’t print money. I’ve looked for the printing press. Federation gives money that has been given to them. There are all kinds of needs for that money … We can’t do programs without someone giving money first.
The Federation comprises 18 agencies, all of which are scrambling to stay alive. They’re getting cut by the state, they’re getting cut by the United Way, they’re getting cut by the federal government … and the need for their services keeps growing.
When I was Campaign chair, the intifada (Palestinian uprising) was going on at the time. At Prentis Apartments, residents gave me an envelope filled with fives, ones and tens. They had collected $1,050. That gift meant more to me than a $1 million gift. They spent their limited income to help people in Israel.
The economic crisis may be over, but the real needs aren’t over, especially with our older population, who saw the value of their homes — their life savings — disappear and are now forced to lower their standard of living.
Supporting Jewish education remains a priority as well. The scholarship money we provide to families is very significant.
What do you hope for your presidency?
At the end of the day, I want to think that I’ve done a good job and kept moving in a number of positive directions. I know there are people who aren’t going to like what I do. This job will never please everybody. I want to attract young people who want to be Jewish and increase the money we bring in. All the rest are issues, commentary.
By Keri Guten Cohen|Story Development Editor