Ask Rabbi Herschel Finman why bringing Jewish programming to Ferndale is a top priority, and he’ll offer a simple, two-part response.
“There are no other Jewish ‘anythings’ in Ferndale,” he said. “But there are Jews.”
After a year and a half of arranging events within the city under the name Jewish Ferndale, it became time to establish a physical base.
“We have held classes and lectures, public Chanukah menorah lightings, Megillah readings and Purim parties, Lag b’Omer barbecues and a host of other programs,” Finman said.
In May, Jewish Ferndale — welcoming Jews of all denominations — found a home in a former dentist office on the western edge of the city’s downtown. With a grand opening set for the fall, the 3,700-square-foot building is currently undergoing renovations. An industrial kitchen and ADA-compliant bathrooms will be installed.
“The upstairs of the residence consists of four bedrooms and two full baths, which will be used for offices and rabbi’s living quarters,” Finman said of the project being funded by private donors. “The basement is ideal for a game room featuring a pingpong or pool table and couches. A living room with a fireplace will remain, and a cabana behind the garage may be made into a mikvah [ritual bath].”
An Artist’s Dream
The building’s two-car garage will become the Art Studio of Ferndale, for art to be created and artists’ work to be displayed.
Finman’s wife, Chana, co-director of Jewish Ferndale, looks for it to be a continuation of the Oak Park-based art studio she has run for many years.
“I also hope other instructors will be attracted to teach what they are passionate about,” she said. “I hope we can infuse a Jewishness in all these projects. Perhaps we will have trips to local studios, museums and even plein air [in the open air] painting. Commitment to Judaism, artistic development, friendship, support to artists and a safe place to learn is the goal.”
According to Rabbi Finman, “The city of Ferndale is doing everything in its power to facilitate our being there. They recognize a Jewish presence as being a great anchor for the neighborhood and a tremendous asset.”
Finman was awarded the Citizens for a Fair Ferndale 2016 Good Neighbor Award for his efforts in making Ferndale a welcoming and inclusive community and a better place to live.
“We already have a slew of programs ready to go once the building is finished, including being the site of 12-step program meetings,” said Finman, who is on-air facilitator and founder of the Jewish Hour, Michigan’s only Jewish radio show on WLQV 1500 AM and faithtalk1500.com, for which Chana Finman is the arts and culture representative. The rabbi is also an adult education Judaic teacher and provides Jewish-based learning — on video and in written word — through an email Listserv.
Upcoming uses of the facility include game/adult coloring book night, a pop-up kosher restaurant night, classes and lectures, a welcome center, a library and Jewish movie and popcorn night.
For Samm Wunderlich, the more the better. “I’ve attended menorah lightings and classes as well as helped plan last year’s Sukkah in the ‘Dale’ event at a local bar,” said Wunderlich, 28, who lives in Ferndale. “The Lag b’Omer event this year was wonderful, and I loved that the crowd was very diverse, not just young professionals and not just older community members. Different ages and different religious levels. Very welcoming and accepting.”
Plans have begun for the care of the three-quarters of an acre of land surrounding the building, with some classes meeting outside this summer.
“We have planted fruit trees along the property line in an area we will call chakal tapuchin kadishin, the holy apple orchard, that will provide a meditative reflection space,” Rabbi Finman said. “We have also been in contact with the Detroit Chapter of Hazon: Jewish Movement for Sustainable Communities. Its members are on board to provide volunteers to maintain the grounds by turning it into an urban farm. Jewish Ferndale would also provide an avenue for schoolchildren and concerned adults to learn about sustainable food and nutrition.”
An enclosed porch area will be used as a green house. “We are also investigating wind power and vertical gardens on the walls of the building,” he added.
“In addition, Solar Cascade, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supplying solar energy, has pledged to donate solar panels to help with energy costs. A well is in the plans to help lower the water bill for the farm and mikvah.
“Jewish Ferndale will act as a centralized clearinghouse for all things Jewish in Ferndale, including being a liaison with the community at large, city government, nursing homes and public safety,” said Finman, who is the official chaplain of the police and fire department and volunteer chaplain at both the city’s only nursing home and Kingswood Psychiatric Hospital.
“I also provide education and dialogue to assist in an understanding among the communities in Ferndale,” he said.
“Ferndale welcomes diversity. It’s a cool city with a vibrant downtown, and its central location makes it easily accessible to almost anywhere.”
For Wunderlich, “Having a Jewish presence in Ferndale is wonderful. Growing up here, the city has a strong sense of community and camaraderie, things I’ve also grown to love now with my increased involvement in the Jewish community,” she said. “I am also excited to see Jews living in Ferndale who may not be active in the community currently get more involved now that there is something here. I am just very excited to see this grow.” *
Jewish Ferndale is located at 1725 Pinecrest. For information or to make a donation, visit jewishferndale.com.
— Shelli Liebman Dorfman, contributing writer