With more than a year under their belts, Metro Detroit’s six new congregational rabbis have adjusted to their synagogues or temples and the feeling is unanimous: They’re thrilled to be here.
For two of the new rabbis, the year brought family milestones as well as professional ones. Brent Gutmann of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield and his wife, Jill, welcomed their third daughter, Lyla, on Jan. 3. Yonatan Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield met and married Meredith Cohen, daughter of longtime members Linda and Ron Cohen.
“I also picked up an amazing family as part of the package deal,” said Dahlen, who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa. “The joke in the synagogue since the High Holidays has been, ‘How can we wish Rabbi Dahlen a shanah tovah? How’s he going to top last year?’”
Rabbi Megan Brudney said she made the right choice coming to Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.
“When I interviewed here I knew it was the right fit, but I can’t believe how many times it was confirmed over my first year,” she said.
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy said mutual trust and admiration with the congregation seemed to grow throughout the year. “I’ve found myself admiring their kindness, their thoughtfulness, their humor and their concern for each other,” she said. “I feel humbled and blessed to have found such a sweet home.”
Several of the rabbis said they were impressed by the spirit of the greater Detroit Jewish community.
Brudney has connected with millennials through Jewish Federation’s NEXTGen and enjoys spending time with fellow clergy across the area.
“I was surprised by the warmth of both Temple Beth El and the larger Jewish community,” said Brudney, who comes from Athens, Ga. “People have been so kind and welcoming to me.”
Dahlen agreed. “I continue to be surprised by just how supportive this community is, especially in the diversity of Jewish life. Never have I been in a city where such an exchange of ideas, programming and Yiddishkeit exists, regardless of movement or level of observance. It allows for a truly pluralistic embrace of Jewish tradition.”
Ahuvia said she was excited by the intellectual vitality of the metro area’s spiritual community. “I feel fortunate and blessed to count myself among spiritual leaders in this area, and look forward to contributing to our greater community’s continuing strength.”
New Ideas Bloom
The rabbis have made an impact on their congregations. Kol Ami had its first membership growth in more than a decade, Gutmann said. One of his favorite programs was bringing in a blacksmith to beat a spear into a pruning hook at Kol Ami’s Rosh Hashanah family service.
Brudney organized a Women’s Retreat, led a teen trip to Toronto and took part in Beth El’s first summer Shabbat in Charlevoix. Dahlen is building a social group, Rimonim, for members in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
At Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, Rabbi Shalom Kantor helped his education team kick off the PB&J (post b’nai mitzvah Judaism) initiative for high school students.
Rabbi Arianna Silverman of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS) helped move the congregation’s High Holiday services back to the city. The synagogue’s own sanctuary is too small for the holidays and, for many years, the congregation held services at the Holocaust Memorial Center. This year they moved to the Bethel Community Transformation Center (the former home of Temple Beth El) at Woodward and Gladstone.
Frustrations and disappointments were few.
“What surprised me most was how much there was to learn about little things: Where the secret extra key to my office was taped, how the sound system worked, how to upload photos to Facebook,” Ahuvia said. “These are the types of challenges they don’t train you for in seminary!”
Dahlen had to adjust to Detroit’s slower pace after moving from New York. “I was accustomed to going to a restaurant at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night or picking up a prescription or a pack of Oreos in the middle of the night,” he said.
And Kantor, an outdoors enthusiast, said he wished he had more time to enjoy Michigan’s abundant natural resources.
The rabbis are planning some exciting new programs for the current year. Kantor says B’nai Moshe will be bringing its Hanukkah Light Parade, with a 10-foot-tall menorah, to several different neighborhoods. Each parade will end with a party at a member’s home. He’s also planning to expand adult education, including a Passover University with a wide range of programs about the holiday.
Silverman said IADS will continue to grow its partnerships with other Jewish organizations in the city, including Detroit Jews for Justice, Repair the World, Hillel of Metro Detroit and Chabad, and with Breakers Covenant Church International.
Gutmann is starting a new Shabbat Live musical ensemble in which he will play sax. On a personal level, he is hoping to complete Ride for the Cure, a 300-mile bike ride in northern Michigan to raise funds for breast cancer research.
Ahuvia and her husband, Aaron, look forward to hosting “cozy, informal Jewish gatherings” in their new Huntington Woods home. She plans to expand adult education and programming for young children and to hold monthly family Erev Shabbat services followed by dinner.