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Temple marks 25 years with a look back, a look ahead — and a party.

Rabbi Dannel Schwartz carries a Torah during a march to the new Shir Shalom building in 1995.
Rabbi Dannel Schwartz carries a Torah during a march to the new Shir Shalom building in 1995.

The sentiment of a 25-year-old Jewish News ad still rings true today for its creator. It read, “Thank You, Jewish Detroit. Thank You For The Miracle Of Temple Shir Shalom.”

In 1988, on a full page, the words ran as an announcement of the phenomenal growth of the new congregation from 30 families, who met in a converted office building on Maple Road in West Bloomfield, to 487 families just two months later.

Today, the memory reverberates with members celebrating the silver anniversary of Shir Shalom with a Saturday, May 18, fundraiser at the synagogue. A Night of Comedy and Cocktails will feature Brett Kline, Mike Green and Mike Young.

Membership now has reached 950 families and synagogue leadership includes three rabbis: Dannel Schwartz, Michael Moskowitz and Daniel Schwartz, along with Cantor Penny Steyer.

The “miracle” ad and five others that included innovative and clever text with biblical illustrations, were the creation of Shir Shalom’s founder, Rabbi Dannel Schwartz.

“It was to show those who said we wouldn’t make it from our first meeting in the early summer of 1988 to the High Holidays,” said Schwartz, who formed Shir Shalom after leaving a position at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. “By the High Holidays, we had nearly 500 member families.”

To invite unmarrieds to join the temple, ads included one with a sketch of Noah’s ark and the lines, “You don’t have to come in pairs. Singles are welcome at Shir Shalom.”

Another, aimed toward the intermarried, used the words, “Ruth intermarried, too. At Shir Shalom, we would have made her part of our family.”

“That one ran after I did a needs-assessment and found nobody was servicing intermarried couples,” Schwartz said. “Some rabbis were officiating at intermarriage ceremonies, but no congregation was doing programming for intermarrieds.

“The ad ran in the Jewish News near the back of the paper. The ultra Orthodox community went berserk and the paper got letters. And those letters ran on page five or six, and let more people know about the temple — at no charge to us. So I wrote a letter back, and it ran, too. Free advertising. Next came an article describing how the ‘ousted rabbi’ responded to intermarried critics. And that was a game changer.”

He said not only did interfaith couples come, but so did their siblings and their parents. “Their families’ concerns had never been met either, and they saw we were dealing with their children and grandchildren positively,” Schwartz said. “It changed the face of how mainline congregations dealt with intermarrieds in Detroit.”

With minimal funds, the ads included illustrations taken from old Bible storybooks. “I used books that were out of print, so they were out of copyright,” he said. “Ours were the first full-page synagogue ads that ran. The Jewish News was our guardian angel. Without it, there would have been no way to spread the word — and there would be no Shir Shalom.”

Something New
Shir Shalom’s 30 founding families had been members at Beth El. When Schwartz left at the end of 1987, they came with him, hoping he would start a new synagogue.

Rabbis Dannel Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz inside the almost-complete Shir Shalom building in 1995.
Rabbis Dannel Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz inside the almost-complete Shir Shalom building in 1995.

“The first meetings were at our house and the homes of a few others,” recalled Dr. Norman Lynn of West Bloomfield. He and his wife, Dee Dee, were among the first six families to join together.

“We did a lot of legwork early on, had meeting after meeting and spent a lot of evenings making phone calls,” he said. “We told Beth El members, ‘We are considering starting a new congregation with Dannel, the rabbi you know and love, to lead us.’ We said we were not knocking Beth El, but rather that we wanted to be with Dannel.

“We told those who agreed to put their money where their mouth was. And they did. We put that money in escrow, and when we reached the right amount, we went forward with a steering committee and the project took on a life of its own.”

After leaving Beth El, Schwartz had been accepted to Yale Law School. “I thought I wanted to get out of the rabbinate, but I took a pass and decided to give it a year,” he said. “I told them I would work for free until we got our sea legs, but their job was to get 100 new families by the first High Holidays. By then, we had almost five times that amount and outgrew the building we were renovating and had to rent space in West Bloomfield High School for services.”

The congregation’s first home was in 11,000 square feet of rented office space. “We didn’t have to put up any money because the first six months’ rent was free,” Schwartz said. “And the landlord fixed up the inside. We were doing just fine. Except that we outgrew the building the day we moved in.”

During that first year, the congregation started to plan where they would move when they had the funds. By the second year, they had grown by another 200 families. A year later, they purchased land and then fundraised for the down payment on a building.

In 1993, Schwartz spearheaded the design and construction of the current West Bloomfield home of Shir Shalom and the 950 families who affiliate there.

Through the work of Neumann-Smith Architecture in Southfield, the building was created. “Kenny Neumann was a brilliant designer and Joel Smith made the details sing within the building,” Schwartz said.

The outside of the building was fashioned from Schwartz’s idea for it to look like a Torah Scroll unfurling from right to left. “I wanted it to look like a Torah, but we only had enough funds to make it look like a megillah,” he said. “The pattern of the walkway forms the leaves of an olive branch.”

Everyone Is Welcome
“I had three things I wanted when the temple was created,” Schwartz said. “I wanted a congregation that was post-denominational, that could identify as Reform, but with as many elements of other Jewish denominations as possible. I wanted everything that happened to be the result of everyone doing what they could to make it happen; for everybody to benefit from the relationship. And I wanted the rabbi to be the moving force of the congregation rather than just an employee.”

A major component of the plan was to be a place where every individual is made to feel welcome, accepted and comfortable.

“As much as a synagogue should be a center for all Jews, everyone should feel at home at any place of worship,” Schwartz said. Shir Shalom’s logo incorporates symbols of several religions.

Yartzheit tablets for people of all faiths are placed outside the building. “That is so everyone can see them,” Schwartz said. “The highest point of the Jerusalem stone that decorates the exterior is the interfaith garden with a purpose of teaching that the true essence of a temple is to be a house of prayer for all peoples.

Rabbis Daniel Schwartz, Dannel Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz
Rabbis Daniel Schwartz, Dannel Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz

“Those who are not of the Jewish faith who belong to the congregation are not asked to convert but to accept the Jewish people as their people,” he said. “Most often the intent of interfaith couples was the need for a Jewish education to insure a Jewish future for their children.”

Education For All
Education was part of Shir Shalom from Day One.

“We had pre-K through grade 12 classes right away,” Schwartz said. Once a week, the congregation rented vacant space in various office buildings for religious school classes, moving as the office space was rented out. “And while the kids were in school, parent workshops were held in the restaurant next door, which was closed on Sunday mornings,” he said.

The synagogue now has a preschool, run by Early Childhood Learning Director Marsha Mitnick. The religious school, with Hebrew and Judaic education for students in pre-K through high school, is overseen by Principal Cheryl Blau. B’nai mitzvah tutoring and adult continuing education programming are offered, and the rabbis organize a weekly Shabbat study group and an online learning resource.

A Shir Shalom rabbi since his ordination in 1995, Michael Moskowitz said, “Education always has been my priority.”

He helped create alternative, experiential educational programs, mostly with youth.

“First we moved our seventh- and eighth-graders out of the Sunday school into a curriculum that includes an informal camp-style retreat program, along with social action projects,” Moskowitz said. “We’ve sorted food at Yad Ezra and made a meal with our caterer [Zack Sklar of Cutting Edge Cuisine], and then took it to Ronald McDonald House in Detroit, along with students’ families.

“When Rabbi Daniel Schwartz came on board in 2007, we started to do it with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders also.”

High schoolers meet with Daniel Schwartz and Moskowitz on Mondays.

“Each week, we discuss a topic relating to living as a Jew in a non-Jewish world,” Moskowitz said.

He has led a bus on the Teen Mission to Israel, including Shir Shalom youth, every other year since 1996. He also helps staff URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Ind., each summer, with Shir Shalom kids attending.

With Daniel Schwartz now joining him in the education programming, Moskowitz said, “I am now also more involved in leadership and development as well as visioning for the future.”

Having worked extensively with youth, Daniel Schwartz also oversees the temple’s chapter of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).

Engaging, Musical Services
Dannel Schwartz created innovative and spiritual services that continue today.

“My great colleagues and I work as a team and continue Dannel’s guided meditation at every single service,” Moskowitz said. “And we do it to the music of Penny Steyer. I love doing it; it helps my own worship.

“We have also tried a yoga service with breathing exercises and, when there’s nothing on the calendar, we’ll go outside and find different ways to reach people during the service.”

“Shir Shalom means ‘Song of Peace,’” Moskowitz said. “And that’s very much a part of who we are in our worship. We want congregants to feel engaged and also feel comfortable. Many non-Jews walk through our door and should also feel comfortable.

“When the clergy is on the bimah and Penny is singing, we are doing what we love as well as being spiritually connected with the congregation through prayer, learning and music, which are highlights of the service.”

A producer, arranger, voice teacher and choral conductor, Steyer came to the temple in 1990, where she created an all-volunteer music program with Shir Shalom’s Shabbat Choir, High Holy Day Choir and Youth Choirs as well as multiple instrumental ensembles, including the Shir Klezmer Band, the All Stars Jazz Ensemble and the Shabbat Guitar Group.

25 Years Later
Shir Shalom’s board of directors is led by Lloyd Doigan. A member of the congregation for 17 years, involvement was serendipitous for his family. “We moved here from Connecticut, and Shir Shalom was the only place we could get a bar mitzvah date for our son,” Doigan said. “But my wife and I were drawn in by the rabbis, their accessibility, optimism and how they push the joy of Judaism. And we were enamored with Penny’s voice.

“Our children were all involved in the temple religious school, and my wife was in the sisterhood. We walked into a great thing. We had the opportunity to go back to Connecticut after three years, but one reason we stayed was because of temple.”

Involved in the community, Shir Shalom hosts the annual Walk for Israel, based at the synagogue and led by Executive Director Andre Douville.

Looking ahead, Moskowitz said, “I want to bring camp more and more to all things we create.”

Looking way ahead, he said, “I would love to have a camp of our own and have adult retreats to connect the community of adults and bring the joy kids get at camp to them. Since 2009, we’ve been having board of directors retreats every year. In addition to practical leadership, we are studying together and learning what is meaningful to us.”

In a synagogue where tikkun olam (repairing the world) is paramount, he said, “I want the future of the congregation to include more volunteering using social action and to grow the projects we have now.

“I want to see the joy that is inherent in Judaism to be what we always celebrate and bring into our lives. That is what our prayer should be. And that is what our programs should promote — that we are a faith that gives us hope and joy, even in the most difficult of times.”

Like others from the synagogue’s founding families, the Lynns spent the past 25 years involved at Shir Shalom. Both Dr. Norman and Dee Dee Lynn sat on the board, their children attended religious school and their membership now includes four generations, along with their son-in-law and his family.

“At the start, we didn’t know where the planning would take us,” Norman Lynn said. “It took hard work by a lot of people for us to grow to the level where we are now. Thank God, it was a great success.”

Inside the temple is a constant reminder of where the congregation began. Hanging on the wall of the office suite are rows of framed copies of those JN ads that ran in the early days of the synagogue that still is what it started out to be.

It remains, as its official temple description describes: “A house of study, a house of prayer and a house of meeting designed for people who wish to share a warmth of heart and spirit.” 

For information on Temple Shir Shalom or on the Saturday, May 18, fundraising comedy event, call (248) 737-8700. Cost is $75, including comedy show ticket, appetizers, cocktails and dessert. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; show at 8 p.m.

 By Shelli Liebman Dorfman | Contributing Writer

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