Adat Shalom Synagogue celebrates 75 years.
Above: Rabbis Herbert, Yoskowitz, Rachel Shere and Aaron Bergman and Cantor Daniel Gross
In the beginning, most of Detroit’s Orthodox and Conservative congregations developed along ethnic lines. There were Polish shuls, Hungarian shuls, Lithuanian shuls. Then a small group of men broke the mold, organizing a congregation to serve all Jews in their Northwest Detroit neighborhood.
That was the start of Adat Shalom Synagogue, celebrating its 75th anniversary this month.
The area around Seven Mile and Livernois was growing, but most of Detroit’s synagogues were located further south in the city. An informal minyan starting meeting in rec rooms of private homes, or, when larger quarters were needed, in a skating rink.
As the minyan grew, participants realized they needed an actual synagogue and, in 1943, the Northwest Hebrew Congregation and Center was born, with 52 charter members. At first, the congregation operated out of rented spaces, including Bagley School. In 1945, they broke ground for their own building at 7045 Curtis and, soon afterward, chose a new name, Adas Shalom Synagogue, congregation of peace. (The more common Sephardic pronunciation, Adat Shalom, would be used after their move to Farmington Hills in 1972). Alexander Moss was the first president. Jacob E. Segal was hired as rabbi in 1946.
The congregation also bought a 25-acre cemetery on Six Mile Road near Middlebelt, which became Adat Shalom Memorial Park.
A new religious school grew quickly as parents enrolled their Baby Boomer children. Soon Adas Shalom became the first synagogue to host a branch of United Hebrew Schools, a Jewish Federation agency that served the entire community.
Gerald Loomus of Farmington Hills has been part of Adat Shalom almost from the start, when his parents, Joseph and Betty, joined. Loomus celebrated his bar mitzvah at Bagley School and became the synagogue’s first junior congregation president. He’s still friends with some of his junior congregation buddies.
Now 85 and a not-quite-retired hematologist-oncologist, Loomus remembers Rabbi Segal, who led Adat Shalom until his death in 1975. “His sermons were brilliant intellectually and stirring emotionally,” he said. “I still remember some.
“He made the junior congregation feel like an important part of the congregation. We always participated in important events, like the dedication of the new building.”
Congregation President Sanford (Sandy) Vieder, 56, of West Bloomfield, likes to say his association with Adat Shalom began with his bris. Because his father, the late Larry Vieder, served the congregation for 50 years, first as sexton and then as cantor, the shul became part of his family.
“I have fond memories as a child going to Shabbat services, enjoying Kiddush treats and, of course, seudah shlishit, which was a festive time at the end of Shabbat with good food, singing and friendships. I used to love the balcony at the original building on Curtis, which my childhood friends and I would use as our ‘clubhouse’ during services,” he said.
A Challenging Time
Although Adas Shalom was very successful in Northwest Detroit, the Jewish community was migrating to the suburbs and, by the late 1960s, the congregation knew it would have to move to survive. But the move sparked an existential crisis.
The congregation’s new building was completed in 1972 on a 22-acre site on Middlebelt near Northwestern Highway. It was designed to echo the look of the Israel Museum, with huge windows that brought the outdoors into the building. But the area was still sparsely populated and membership dropped. Building costs were more than twice what the congregation expected.
When the congregation moved, Rabbi Segal, who had been instrumental in the fundraising efforts, was ill; he would succumb to leukemia in 1975 at age 62. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 absorbed a significant portion of the community’s fundraising dollars. A lawsuit filed against the general contractor tied up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In financial crisis, Adat Shalom Synagogue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1973. It was a humiliating but necessary move.
“It enabled us to pay our creditors and our bond holders 10 percent for 10 years without any interest,” said the late Irwin Alterman, president at the time. “It also shocked our congregants into action.”
Now Adat Shalom may enjoy the distinction of being the only congregation in the country to enter into and emerge successfully from Chapter 11.
“Everybody loves a comeback,” said longtime member Asher Tilchin, 92, of Farmington Hills, who was executive vice president at the time of the bankruptcy. “We weren’t ready to roll over and close shop.”
A New Beginning
The bankruptcy “shaped our philosophy as to how we operate,” said Alan Yost of Farmington Hills, who joined Adat Shalom as youth director in 1980 and became its executive director a year later. “We always remember that we are a synagogue first and a business second. We paid off the synagogue mortgage (in 1984) and operate today with no financial debt service.”
The area around Northwestern and Middlebelt began to grow rapidly, and Adat Shalom grew with it. A new nursery school attracted young families.
Seymour Rosenbloom, who had joined as assistant rabbi in 1972, succeeded Segal; he was followed by Efry Spectre in 1978.
The congregation welcomed Cantor Howard Glantz in 1993 and Rabbi Daniel Nevins in 1994. Nevins served until he was named dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2007. He will return to Adat Shalom for the 75th Anniversary Celebration weekend, when he will lead the Shabbat morning Torah study.
Aaron Bergman followed Nevins in 2008. Rabbi Rachel Shere and Cantor Daniel Gross round out the clergy team.
Bergman, 55, grew up in Oak Park and returned to the Detroit area in 1991 to become the first rabbi-in-residence at Hillel Day School. He later served as senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Abraham Hillel Moses (now Beth Ahm).
At Adat Shalom, members are welcome to practice Judaism in various ways, including Shere’s “soulful yoga” practice on Shabbat morning. There’s also a Torah study in the small chapel during the Shabbat Torah reading.
“We’re a large shul, but we offer a lot of programs for small groups,” Bergman said. “We don’t offer everything for everyone, but we have something for everyone. There’s a sense of balance.”
Adat Shalom’s only merger, with Congregation Beth Achim in Southfield, took place in 1999. “It was a genuine merger,” said Bergman, without friction between members of the two congregations. Beth Achim’s rabbi, Herbert Yoskowitz, served as rabbi, alongside Nevins and Bergman, until he became rabbi emeritus in 2018. “Beth Achim” has been kept as the name of the congregation’s religious school.
A Modern Congregation
The congregation recently hired Michael Wolf as director of outreach and spirituality.
Vieder says it’s the clergy — all of whom recently signed long-term contracts — that distinguishes Adat Shalom. “Each of them is very warm, welcoming and responsive to the needs of our congregants,” he said. “They are not afraid to try new things.”
But he’s also proud of the membership, now about 1,000 families. The congregation, he says, is “truly a melting pot of wonderful Jews from all walks of life. Each member is important. Each member matters. We don’t mind children running around and talking in services. We want them to feel comfortable and find the joy of just belonging — much like I did.”
Yost says Adat Shalom continues the philosophy that marked its founding.
“The congregation was formed to serve the religious, cultural, educational and social needs of a neighborhood community. We continue to operate within this framework.”
75th Anniversary Events
The highlight of Adat Shalom Synagogue’s 75th Anniversary Celebration will be a Diamond Jubilee Concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29. The concert will feature members of the Cantors Assembly, including Adat Shalom’s Daniel Gross, Jack Mendelson, Alberto Mizrahi, Alisa Pomerantz-Boro, David Propis, Pamela Schiffer and Marcia Tilchin.
Admission is $18 for Adat Shalom members and $25 for nonmembers in advance, and $36 at the door for all.
The anniversary festivities will kick off with a “Shabbat-Appella” singing service and Oneg Shabat at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.
Shabbat morning services Oct. 27 — and a Torah study with Rabbi Daniel Nevins and Soulful Yoga with Rabbi Rachel Shere — will be followed by a Kiddush lunch.
For more information, call the synagogue office at (248) 851-5100.