Fred and Arlene Frank each lead a local synagogue
Siblings may occasionally have some rivalry, but a brother and sister who serve as executive directors at different synagogues aren’t in conflict; in fact, they both are content in their second careers and are there for each other.
The siblings both started their fulltime positions in November but in different years. Fred Frank is closing in on three years with Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in Oak Park. His younger sibling Arlene Frank came aboard in 2016 at Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS), a Conservative shul in Detroit.
These are second careers for both Franks. Retired attorney Fred previously was a senior partner with the Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn law firm in Detroit.
Former director of the OCC Womencenter at the Oakland Community College-Orchard Ridge Campus in Farmington Hills, her position was eilimnated. She eventually departed OCC after 23 years.
“IADS came along at an opportune time,” Arlene said.
“I would not have imagined that Fred and I would be in the same position at different congregations,” she added.
Fred, Arlene and their brother Bobby are children of the late Anne and the late George I. Frank, Shoah survivors from Vienna, Austria.
“Our father was picked up on Kristallnacht in 1938 and taken to the Dachau concentration camp,” Fred said. “He managed to get to England about six months later.”
The Franks lived on Forrer Street in northwest Detroit. The children attended Bow Elementary, Coffey Junior High and Henry Ford High School.
Fred earned a bachelor’s degree at Wayne State University’s former Monteith College. He graduated with his JD degree from Wayne State University Law School.
Arlene has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from University of Michigan. Her future was influenced by her early success at Temple Israel, which the Frank family joined in 1960.
“At age 14, I was the first girl elected president of the Reform Jewish youth group at Temple Israel, running on a feminist platform,” Arlene said. “I thought I was really making a difference.”
Union activities became her way of correcting inequities. She attempted to organize workers while employed at Evangelical Deaconess and the old St. Joe’s hospitals. She also was a union steward at Harper Hospital.
Fred recalled working part-time in the Temple Israel religious school after high school.
He chose to stay with his parents’ Reform Judaism. “It is the successor to the ever-evolving Judaism from the rabbis,” he said. When he and his wife, Kathleen Alessandro, were shul shopping in the 1990s, they chose Temple Emanu-El.
“All three of our children became bat/bar mitzvah at temple and graduated from the high school program,” he said. The immediate family includes Sarah Frank and Clint Spaulding of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Josh and Mallory Frank and son, Levi, of Clarkston; and Rachel Frank of Royal Oak.
Fred’s participation in Synagogue 2000, a Reform movement initiative, spurred his interest in becoming more involved. Ticking off his temple accomplishments, Fred said he was “on the board, treasurer, religious committee chair, religious vice president, involved parent, involved in Federation’s education partnership with synagogues called CSI Squared and chaired the synagogue’s curriculum committee.
“My Jewish journey took a U-turn,” he said, when leadership asked him to take the executive director position. Martin Leibowitz is the temple’s president.
Unlike Fred, Arlene began feeling like more of a secular Jew during college and afterward. She found the right progressive community for herself, husband, Dr. Robert Egan, and their son, Aaron Egan, at Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. She’s served as chair since 1997 and previously was vice chair. Also active in the national organization, WC/AR gave her an achievement award.
Among other involvements, Arlene was chair for 13 years of Detroit Women’s Forum while it was a program of the American Jewish Committee and continues on its board. She’s been a board member of National Council of Jewish Women for several years, and was a trainer/presenter for NCJW’s Teen Dating Abuse education program.
Arlene received the Harriet Tubman Feminist of the Year Award from Detroit Chapter of NOW; Diversity Champion Award from Birmingham-Bloomfield Task Force on Race Relations and Ethnic Diversity; and the Rainbow Recognition Award from the Multicultural/Multiracial (MCMR) Community Council of Farmington/Farmington Hills.
For his part, Fred serves on the board of JCRC/AJC, was community relations associate and board member at Jewish Community Relations Council, and past president of the local American Jewish Committee. He graduated from the two-year Melton program for adult Jewish learning.
Serving Their Shuls
The position of director differs at various synagogues, so Fred said he wasn’t surprised when his secular Jewish sister was hired at IADS.
“Some people may associate some religiosity with the position or spiritual fulfillment and to others that aspect is less important,” he said.
Fred’s duties include “facility manager, HR department, program planner, troubleshooter and more. Today, I was in the basement dealing with the A/C compressor not cooling off the sanctuary.”
Among the temple’s activities, he noted that this is the third year of a joint religious program with Congregation Beth Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in Oak Park.
Something Arlene likes about her job is that she works just over a mile from her Detroit home. Her duties are primarily administrative. Jodee Fishman Raines is synagogue president.
“I enjoy interacting with a wide variety of people who belong to the synagogue, who support the synagogue and who walk by the synagogue and didn’t know it was here,” Arlene said.
IADS is open to partnerships with neighbors to affirm its commitment to the city. “We’re doing programming with the Bethel Community Transformation Center, where our Rabbi Ariana Silverman is on the board, and bringing the IADS High Holiday services to the home of the former Temple Beth El” on Woodward at Gladstone in Detroit, Arlene said.
“It’s a return to one of the significant spaces in the life of our Jewish community,” she said.
Arlene never hesitates to call on Fred for guidance.
“I have a sheet on my wall that has my brother’s picture and says ‘WWFD?’ for ‘What Would Fred Do?’ When I’m trying to figure something out, I’ll call or email him because he has experience. I have found his help invaluable.”
Information on High Holiday services at the siblings’ congregations can be found at:
14450 W. 10 Mile Road
Oak Park, MI 48237
Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue
Detroit, MI 48226.