In 2003, the family celebrated the 100th birthday of Fannie Whiteman, center, at Fleischman Residence. Fannie is the mother of Evelyn (Louis) Berlin, grandmother of Renee Krauss, Steven (Jill) Berlin and Joyce (Jeffrey) Weingarten, and great-grandmother to their children: Jonathan, Robert, Arielle, Aviva, Emily and Elliot. Now these great-grandchildren are all married; four of them have children.
In 2003, the family celebrated the 100th birthday of Fannie Whiteman, center, at Fleischman Residence. Fannie is the mother of Evelyn (Louis) Berlin, grandmother of Renee Krauss, Steven (Jill) Berlin and Joyce (Jeffrey) Weingarten, and great-grandmother to their children: Jonathan, Robert, Arielle, Aviva, Emily and Elliot. Now these great-grandchildren are all married; four of them have children.

While marking the JN’s 75th year, we also spotlight multi-generational families.

As the 75th anniversary year of the Jewish News comes to a close, we are sharing the stories of a sampling of multi-generational families.

In addition to these accompanying profiles, each edition of the Jewish News will include a new multi-generational family story through May 3. That’s when the community gathers at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield to celebrate our 75th anniversary and recognize the Davidson-Gerson-Wetsman-Saulson family as exemplars for the myriad families — from all walks of life — that have helped to make Detroit one of North America’s most respected Jewish communities.

Consistent with the theme of connecting our past, current and future generations, we are inviting readers to share multi-generational family photos with us, along with a brief description of those pictured. We plan on utilizing many of these photos at the gala event. We also intend to digitize these photos and include them in a “photo album” that will be available through our website.

Email digital photos (1mb jpgs or 600 dpi) to msmith@djnfoundation.org. Include names of people in all photos and what is going on. Family statements also can be emailed to msmith@djnfoundation.org; if your photo has been snail-mailed, indicate that in your emailed statement. 

Thanks! We will enjoy sharing your family with the JN family.

Three Generations of Mohels

Rabbi Solomon Cohen passed on the tradition to his son Rabbi Avraham Cohen, right, and grandson Rabbi Erza Cohen.

The Cohens of Southfield are a cut above the rest and they’re clearly used to cutting jokes as they are now three generations of mohels.

It began with Rabbi Solomon (Shlomo) Cohen, who immigrated from Israel to Rochester, N.Y., at age 24 in 1947. When he discovered there wasn’t a qualified mohel around, he promptly filled the vacancy himself. During the next 40 years, Solomon circumcised thousands of Jewish baby boys in Rochester and its surrounding cities.

Family lore has it he was once pulled over for speeding and, after a quick game of Jewish geography, discovered he’d been the mohel at the cop’s bris. (No ticket after that revelation.)

Solomon cherished being a mohel until he passed away in 2002.

Like father, like son. In 1980, Solomon’s son, Rabbi Avraham Cohen, relocated to Israel, where he became a certified rabbi, sofer and mohel. He trained under Shaarey Tzedek hospital’s well-known mohel, Rabbi Yossel Weissberg. For six weeks, Avraham attended between 8 and 12 circumcisions per day (except Shabbat), getting more hands-on experience than most certified mohels get in their first few years of practicing.

Avraham returned to Detroit as a mohel and his family grew. His children had a front-row seat at every bris and his son, Ezra, was particularly fascinated, always peppering Avraham with questions afterwards. When people tried to move the young boys, Avraham joked they were MITs (Mohelim In Training).

Rabbi Solomon Cohen
Rabbi Solomon Cohen

The joke became reality. Rabbi Ezra Cohen debuted as a mohel in 2008 at the bris of his second son, named Shlomo after the first mohel in the family. Avraham helped Ezra break into the market by encouraging clients to use him while he oversaw the bris.

To date, Avraham has done thousands of circumcisions (including grown men) and Ezra has done hundreds. They often attend each other’s brissim, observing each other and improving, particularly in terms of minimizing the pain for the baby and parents.

Both Avraham and Ezra say they love being part of people’s simchahs and helping them perform this important and special mitzvah. (Find out more at detroitmohel.com.)

These days, Ezra uses his “bag of honor,” the same bris bag his grandfather used. He has noticed that his 12-year-old son has been observing him perform brissim with the same fascination he had years ago, so both Rabbi Cohens are hoping to have a fourth-generation mohel in the family one day!

— Rochel Burstyn, Contributing Writer

Three Generations Of Piano Teachers

Julie Witt knows that talent can run in families. Her grandmother was a piano teacher, she’s a piano teacher — and now her 13-year-old daughter has her own roster of piano students.

Julie Witt watches her children Samantha and Brandon play piano.
Julie Witt watches her children Samantha and Brandon play.

Somehow the musical gene skipped Witt’s father, Burton Weintraub, a retired internist.

Her grandmother, Mathilda Weintraub, taught piano at the Detroit Conservatory and introduced Witt to the instrument when she was 6.

 “She had six grandchildren and I was the only one who developed a real love for piano,” Witt said.

Witt studied communications at Michigan State University, with minors in piano and dance.

While in college, she put ads in the MSU State News and the Lansing State Journal offering piano lessons, and soon she had 10 students. They would come to her dorm’s common room, and she would just go downstairs to teach.

Today, she has 32 students who come to her West Bloomfield house for lessons.

When Witt started out, she didn’t expect piano instruction to be her career. She worked for seven years in radio (promotions, news, traffic and weather), but turned down a gig as a local TV weather reporter because it would interfere with her piano teaching. After she married her husband, Frank, and had children, giving piano lessons was a perfect job.

Witt started her daughter, Samantha, 13, and son, Brandon, 9, on piano when they were 4. They practice twice a day, before they head off to Hillel Day School and after they come home.

“They are so good!” said their proud mother. “Samantha won the Detroit’s Got Talent competition [for young performers] six years ago, when she was only 7!”

At her bat mitzvah last November at Temple Israel, Samantha played piano to help illustrate her d’var Torah. For her mitzvah project, she played for residents at Fleischman Residence, where her grandmother lives.

Now Samantha has started to teach. To prepare her, Witt let her observe lessons for a few months. Then Samantha, who is in eighth grade, started teaching some beginning players.

After six to nine months, the newbies will graduate to lessons with Witt, and Samantha will take on new pupils.

 “The kids love her,” Witt said. “She’s still a kid, and she knows how to make it fun.” And her mother is always within earshot to make sure a lesson is going well.

— Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer

Berlin Family, Jewish Senior Life

Looking back on the three generations of her family who have benefited from Jewish Senior Life, Joyce Berlin Weingarten says, “I can tell you, we take care of our own.”

In 2003, the family celebrated the 100th birthday of Fannie Whiteman, center, at Fleischman Residence. Fannie is the mother of Evelyn (Louis) Berlin, grandmother of Renee Krauss, Steven (Jill) Berlin and Joyce (Jeffrey) Weingarten, and great-grandmother to their children: Jonathan, Robert, Arielle, Aviva, Emily and Elliot. Now these great-grandchildren are all married; four of them have children.

When Weingarten’s great-grandmother moved there, it was no longer called the Jewish Old Folks Home. Borman Hall in Northwest Detroit was run by the Jewish Home for the Aged, and that is where Weingarten’s “Bubbie Goldie” Litvak spent the last years of her life. 

“I felt sad that she had to leave her home, but my mother explained to me that this would be good for Bubbie. And it was,” said Weingarten of Bloomfield Township, who tutors bar and bat mitzvah students at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills and is on its executive committee.

Her grandmother, “Bubbie Fannie” Whiteman, lived at the new Fleischman Residence in West Bloomfield, overseen by an agency that had a new name and a new philosophy for helping seniors: Jewish Home and Aging Services.

“She thrived there,” Weingarten said. “After a while her sister, our Great-Aunt Ida Lewis, moved in and they were together again. She also reunited with a childhood friend from Horodok in Russia, where she lived before coming to America as a teenager in 1920.

“It was a safe place, a good place and a Jewish place,” she said. “She had regular visits from her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was an important part of the younger generation’s upbringing.”

When Louis and Evelyn Berlin, parents of Joyce, Renee Krauss and Steven Berlin, decided to move to a community setting, their first choice was the Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield, run by what is now called Jewish Senior Life. Sadly, their mother died three weeks after they moved six and a half years ago.

“It was a difficult time, but the people at Meer supported our father,” said Weingarten, adding that her whole family sleeps well knowing he is in an environment where he can have support while maintaining his independence.

“We will be eternally grateful for Jewish Senior Life,” Weingarten said.

— Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer

B’nai B’rith League’s Top Bowler Carrying On Family’s Name

Three generations of Radner men and the Brotherhood-Eddie Jacobson B’nai B’rith bowling league are intertwined.

Eddie, Aaron and David Radner
Eddie, Aaron and David Radner

Eddie Radner, 81, of Commerce Township, who is still working part-time as an accountant, bowled in the league from the early 1970s to 2010. His son David Radner, 57, of West Bloomfield, an attorney, bowled in the league from 1982-2010. The Radner tradition is being carried on these days by David Radner’s son Aaron Radner, 23, of Farmington Hills, also an accountant. He’s in his first season in the league as a full-time member after bowling as an occasional substitute the past few years while he was a student at Michigan State University.

League play began in 1959. Country Lanes in Farmington Hills has been the league’s home since the 1986-1987 season.

For the Radners, family has been as big a part of bowling in the league as the camaraderie among the competitors and strikes, spares and splits.

David Radner bowled on the same league team as his father from 2003-2010, often encouraging him good-naturedly to “Hit the head pin!” on his first shot.

Remembering how much he enjoyed those days, David Radner hopes to be on the same league team as his son someday.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “The bottom line is I’ll have to be a good enough bowler to be on his team. I think I’ll have to try out. Aaron is super competitive. He wants to win.”

If David Radner does join his son’s league team, he’ll pick up where he left off several years ago. He was averaging a career-best 202 when he left the league.

Just as David Radner watched his father bowl in the league when he was a youngster, Aaron Radner watched his father bowl in the league when he was a kid.

“I loved having Aaron there because I knew back then that he had such a passion for bowling,” David Radner said. “I also knew that he was going to be a great bowler someday because he was already such a student of the game.”

“It was cool watching my dad bowl when I was a kid,” Aaron Radner said. “Plus, I was in youth bowling leagues at Country Lanes at the time, and it was good for me to see better bowlers, more serious bowlers.”

Aaron Radner is the best bowler among the three Radner men. Neither his father nor grandfather would argue with that statement.

“I’m so proud of Aaron,” David Radner said. “He has the potential to be one of the top bowlers in Detroit B’nai B’rith history or be a professional bowler if he wants to pursue that.”

Aaron Radner’s 223 average leads the Brotherhood-Eddie Jacobson League and is tied at the moment for the highest season average in league history.

— Steve Stein, Contributing Writer