By Ben Falik

BenFalik-1005_web (4)Under the closing credits of Wall-e, Pixar’s 2008 epic robot love story, interstellar computer-generated images give way to the tale of a people, returning to their home planet after 700 years and rediscovering plant life and fire and agriculture and irrigation and architecture — in illustrations that evolve from cave painting to hieroglyphics to Pointillism to Impressionism, all to the sweet sounds of Peter Gabriel.

That’s what I feel like when I go to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. In the absence of either self-aware machines or a congregational rabbi to lead the way, there is a magical sense of rediscovering weekly something that is at once buried deep within us and on the tip of our tongues: clumsy and graceful, often off-key and sometimes on-key, peppered with awkward silences and spontaneous dancing.

So I gave them $18. I was one of more than 700 donors totaling $165,000. My gift put me in good company with the 120 donors who gave chai or double-chai dollars. Ultimately, the campaign was not about the money (except to the extent that it really was about the money and the critical improvements that said money will pay for) but rather capturing and captivating the spirit and stakeholders of the synagogue.

The campaign received remarkable media coverage, largely focused on their futuristic online crowd-funding approach. But the real story is rooted in its history. A Jewish News article from Nov. 4, 1960* —  appearing alongside a rhyming, all-caps advertisement imploring readers to “Make it emphatic, vote straight Democratic!” with JFK at the top of the ticket — tells of the transition: “Downtown Synagogue No Longer Privately Sponsored by Family …

“At an organizational meeting on Oct. 27, plans for a membership driver were formulated and a $15 minimum yearly membership fee was set.

“The synagogue will not sell seats for holidays, but will be maintained as a free synagogue sustained by donations and funds raised in membership drives.

“The synagogue welcomes Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, especially out-of-town travelers who may need a synagogue for Kaddish or Yahrzeit.

“It will hold its first open meeting, in the form of a brunch (emphasis emphatically added) to be served at noon Sunday, at the synagogue, 1442 Griswold. All are invited.”

Related Notes!

Urban Bean Co. is open for business. The uber-modern, two-story coffee shop’s orange facade is carved out of the Griswold Parking Structure at the south end of the Downtown Synagogue’s block. You can order the 313 (a small drip coffee and Dutch Girl Donut) and watch HBO’s The Wire on Tuesday nights at 8. Very important: The Grind, across the street, is not a coffee shop.

Eden Gardens Block Club, which has a deep and dynamic partnership with Downtown Synagogue, has been much more active than nearby City Airport of late. Eden Gardens garnered the most votes of the environment-themed finalists for the Do it for Detroit Fund micro-grant competition and took home $3,000 to support their efforts.

Related, in that Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is next door to the Downtown Synagogue, and Ryan Gosling has, on at least one occasion, been present at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy next door to the Downtown Synagogue: I am hopeful that Ryan Gosling will cast my son in his upcoming film How to Catch a Monster.

Judah was born to play the role of Frankie, “a feral-like boy who’s always getting in trouble for trying to run away from home and school … a quiet boy with an expressive face and the imagination to create a make-believe world.” Just saying.
* Soon everyone, irrespective of Jewfroishness, will have online access to 70 years of JN archives. More on that soon.