Detroit City Moishe House
Indian Village location can create a hub of young Jewish life in the city.
Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood has had a Jewish presence going back to its earliest years. Noted lawyer and philanthropist Leo Butzel, who began a legal firm to represent Great Lakes shipping concerns, lived there. The legal firm he founded, now known as Butzel Long, exceeds 140 lawyers in its 160th year.
Architect Albert Kahn’s daughter, Lydia Malbin, a major collector of European art, lived on Jefferson Avenue. Benjamin Gladwin, prominent in business and social circles, lived at 866 Iroquois, a mere four-minute drive from 3460 Iroquois, where Moishe House opened its 86th location in late January.
The location in Detroit’s historic Indian Village is designed to create a hub of Jewish life for post-college 20-somethings and help revitalize the city, which has seen a recent influx of young graduates and new energy.
Detroit City Moishe House (DCMH) is home to five dynamic residents: Gabe Neistein, Hayley Sakwa, Abby Rubin, Paul Green and Dan Hacker. These young adults, ages 23-28, are eager to build and create their own grass-roots community by hosting at least 60 programs annually that will ultimately reach more than 1,000 in total attendance over the course of their first year.
The new launch is part of a major Moishe House international growth initiative that aims to double the number of Jewish, young adult, peer-led communities worldwide by 2017. Residents of the new Moishe House in Indian Village will provide young adults in their 20s a home where they can connect with each other locally and also build off the continued successes of the Moishe House already thriving in Royal Oak.
Hayley Sakwa, originally of West Bloomfield, is now a community associate at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Sakwa is drawn to building meaningful community partnerships and hosting Shabbat dinners that inspire others.
“I was inspired by people around me in Jewish spaces who were actively involved in community, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of opportunities in the Jewish community that allowed me to gain professional skills and encourage my peers to get involved in something meaningful.
“I’m excited to be partnering with great friends to kick off the Detroit City Moishe House,” she said. “I believe in the power of communities to create positive change. I’m passionate about enacting that change in the city of Detroit, and I’m constantly learning and working to achieve that goal.”
Gabe Neistein has been a fan of Moishe House since it originally opened in Detroit five years ago. The Tamarack Camps alumni director said, “My first-ever Moishe House experience was at the first Detroit Moishe House on Ferry Street. I had just moved to Detroit in Midtown and knew many of the residents. It was my first real, engaging Jewish experience living in the city and one that I attribute to why I continue to stay involved.” Neistein’s commitment to Detroit is inspired by the energy and resiliency of Detroit residents.
“The Detroit Jewish community gave me so much growing up and continues to do so,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to the next generation. I have had the pleasure of working with so many great leaders in the community, and I am motivated to follow in their footsteps.”
Paul Green sees the new Moishe House as “a place in which individuals and organizations can coalesce for social and service-based events.” Green, an assistant manager at Moosejaw in Detroit, grew up in Huntington Woods. He’s drawn to making the community a “better, more vibrant, more equitable place.”
As a child, the only exposure Green had to the city was through the occasional trip Downtown to a Tigers game or for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. When Green realized he’d have an opportunity to be part of an intentional community within the city limits, he wasted no time. Even with the imperfections within the city, Green feels it is an incredible place to be right now.
Abby Rubin is the only resident who did not grow up in Michigan. The Cleveland native feels right at home in the new house.
“Detroit has welcomed me with open arms, and there is so much opportunity here,” she said. “I grew up hearing about all of the problems in the city, but after living here for more than a year, I know the amazing things that are already happening, and I want to be a part of it.” The former Repair the World Fellow is now a volunteer coordinator at Arts & Scraps, a nonprofit organization in Detroit.
The fifth resident, Dan Hacker, is a 23-year-old music producer and student. Hacker said his excitement around being a resident is drawn from his desire to “help cultivate a sense of community” in Indian Village.
Moishe House is fortunate to have the support of local community members and philanthropists and an initial investment from the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies to open the Downtown location and several other locations in North America.
Philanthropic giant Mandell “Bill” Berman recently visited DCMH and met residents to share stories of his own charitable work and to learn about their vision for giving back to the community. That week, Berman and the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation elected to provide charitable support for DCMH.
“Detroit has a proud Jewish history — and rightly so,” said Berman, a graduate of Detroit Central High School and a tireless advocate for Jewish life in the Detroit area. “Initiatives like Moishe House are inspiring Jewish young adults to spend time in Detroit and give back to Detroit. There is no ceiling to what these young people can achieve in this city we all love so much.”
Detroit’s Jewish Fund also stepped up to support Moishe House’s work in the Detroit community.
“The Jewish Fund is very pleased to support Detroit City Moshe House’s programming, which will provide creative and meaningful engagement opportunities for young Jewish adults within the city of Detroit,” said Margo Pernick, Jewish Fund executive director.
The residents have already hosted a housewarming event that included Havdalah and the installation of their mezuzot. Sakwa has spoken at a Jewish Learning Series about how Judaism informs her work around food access in Detroit.
In early February, DCMH hosted a group discussion with friends titled “How We Live Matters” about how they intend to have a positive impact on their community and the city of Detroit.
It’s not all serious stuff at the spacious new Moishe House, which seeks to welcome native and new Detroiters alike. At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, the residents will host a Purim party — celebrating the joy of Judaism in Indian Village.
To learn about upcoming events, go to moishehouse.org/houses/detroit-detroit-city.
By Adam Finkel | Contributing Writer