Young Jewish Detroiters Heading Eastward
Local young professionals and families are finding the good life in the Woodward corridor.
By Esther Allweiss Ingber
The “nostalgic lifestyle” of Huntington Woods was a factor when Ilana and Adam Block, both professionals, chose the inner-ring Detroit suburb for their home seven years ago.
“At the time we purchased our home, both of us were working in Downtown Detroit so the location was a major consideration for us,” Ilana said, adding that Huntington Woods appealed to them as they noticed “people walking to the parks and riding bikes on the sidewalks, and kids playing outside together with their neighbors.”
Both 34, Ilana is an attorney originally from West Bloomfield while Adam hails from Cleveland and is chief investment officer at Beartown Capital Management LLC. The Blocks and their children, Talia, 6, Judah, 4, and infant Shira, are members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
The Woodward corridor communities of Oakland County, from Nine Mile to 13 Mile roads, are home to a growing population of Jewish young adults age 40 and under, according to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s 2018 Jewish Population Study. West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Hills and Southfield still represent the core (80 percent) of the Metro Detroit Jewish community — also including Oak Park — but the demographic has been shifting southeast since the last survey was conducted in 2005.
The new population study recorded 7,581 Jews living in 2,836 households in the four communities of Huntington Woods, Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak alone. That’s compared to 3,341 Jews living in 1,320 households in 2005. Birmingham, also touching Woodward, is gaining traction, too. Fourteen percent of Detroit Jewish households, 4 percent higher than in 2005, live within the study’s grouping of Birmingham with Bloomfield and Franklin.
With a total Jewish population of 71,750, Metro Detroit is currently the 26th largest Jewish community in the U.S., down from No. 21 in 2005, and similar in size to Las Vegas and Dallas, according to demographer Ira Sheskin, who conducts similar studies for select Jewish communities across the U.S.
Long-established cities along the Woodward corridor offer an urban lifestyle with many of the amenities and Jewish institutions their younger residents seek. Yet progress continues. Economic development projects now under way or being developed are designed to make life even better for city dwellers and visitors.
Jackie and Joey Yashinsky never considered making their home anywhere else but Huntington Woods.
“We were drawn to the city because of its location. Everything is just 20 minutes away,” said Jackie, 29. She is Tamarack Camps’ teen and family programs coordinator. Joey, 35, writes for multiple publications. They are both Michigan State University graduates and members of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.
“We appreciate how friendly the neighbors are and having sidewalks,” she said. “There are tons of young Jewish families in the neighborhood, too, which will be great for Elizabeth [their 1-year-old daughter] to grow up in. We were also happy to live close to Joey’s grandmother, who lives just minutes away in Oak Park.”
The appeal of Huntington Woods is undeniable, going from 720 to 1,575 Jewish households since 2005. Indeed, last year’s survey noted that two out of every three households, or 65 percent, are Jewish. The statistic represents much growth for a city that once wasn’t very welcoming to Jews.
Huntington Woods City Commissioner Jeff Jenks, also a former mayor, said, “My house deed didn’t allow my home to be sold to Jews although I’m Jewish.”
Rabbi Dan Horwitz, 35, directs The Well, an award-winning program serving young, sometimes unaffiliated Jews. He grew up in West Bloomfield. His wife, Miriam, 38, a self-employed American Sign Language interpreter, is a native of Albany, N.Y. They, too, chose Huntington Woods, relocating from Washington, D.C. The family, including sons Jonah, 4, and Micah, 2, are members of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
“To make the move from a dynamic urban center to Metro Detroit was challenging in many ways,” Dan said. “We wanted easy access to the city and to the Metro Detroit suburbs with great downtown areas, such as Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham. Living in the Woodward Avenue corridor became the obvious choice. In terms of Huntington Woods specifically, we had a number of friends who were living in the neighborhood and sang its praises.”
Jaimie Powell Horowitz, 40, and Jeff Horowitz, 41, met at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and moved to Huntington Woods nine years ago. Members of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, they have a daughter, Aidan, 10, and a son, Asher, 6. Jaimie heads the Fair Michigan Justice Project, a partnership with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. Jeff is a partner at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohen.
Seeking a new home, the couple “looked for a neighborhood with lots of young families that would be close to temple and in between our places of work,” Jaimie said. They put a high priority on being able to walk to a downtown with restaurants and shopping, such as they had living in Royal Oak.
She says she wouldn’t change a thing about their life in Huntington Woods, praising Burton Elementary School, the Rec Center and its programming, city parks and library. Visiting neighboring communities, they enjoy Oak Park’s “great city pool and great parks” and Ferndale for “city festivals throughout the summer.”
“The Woodward corridor has always been an attraction,” said 34-year Realtor Judy Palmer, who works under the umbrella of RE/MAX Showcase Homes in Birmingham. A Ferndale resident for 35 years, she grew up in Oak Park.
Palmer said newer synagogues opening in the inner-ring Detroit suburbs are another draw, noting that the Orthodox congregation Woodward Avenue Shul in Royal Oak is also close to Huntington Woods and “families can walk to Jewish Ferndale on Pinecrest Street.”
Oak Park remains popular with 8,810 Jews living in 2,550 households. Combined with Huntington Woods, the population study found 35 percent of Jewish households had children under age 17 at home. Unique among Woodward corridor cities that might offer only one or two shuls, Oak Park is home to multiple synagogues catering to all streams of Judaism. They include Young Israel of Oak Park (Orthodox), Temple Emanu-El (Reform), Congregation Beth Shalom (Conservative), Aish Detroit and Kehillat Etz Chaim (Modern Orthodox), the latter renting space from Beth Shalom.
Recently hired young rabbis with families are Rabbi Matthew Zerwekh, who returned last year to lead Emanu-El, his home synagogue, and Rabbi Shaya Katz, who officially becomes spiritual leader at Young Israel in July.
“The vast majority of our new younger members are coming from Huntington Woods and Oak Park,” said Beth Shalom Rabbi Robert Gamer, “but we also get them from other cities on the Woodward corridor, including Berkley, Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham.”
Pearl Schwartz, 6, frequently visits Beth Shalom, where her father, Aaron Schwartz, 43, is secretary on the synagogue board. He works as a document controller at Ghafari Associates in Dearborn. Her mother, Rachel (Zerwekh) Schwartz, 36, is a postpartum doula and a teaching assistant at Emanu-El’s Early Childhood Center.
Aaron and Rachel, who grew up in Metro Detroit, found their Oak Park home in 2006. “We liked the good housing stock, the community atmosphere and that we often saw kids outside,” Aaron said. “And being in the Berkley school district was a bonus as well.”
For those who keep kosher, Oak Park also is close to One Stop Kosher Market and several kosher restaurants, including Kravings, Prime 10, Jerusalem Pizza, Dave’s Gourmet and a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins.
A charming small town distinguished by an abundance of single-family housing on tree-lined streets, Berkley attracts Jewish families “because of the good schools, location and prices. You can afford to buy a house there,” said longtime Realtor Linda Solomon of Berkshire Hathaway HWWB Realtors in Birmingham.
Students from Huntington Woods and the northern part of Oak Park join their counterparts from Berkley at the well-regarded Berkley High School on Catalpa Drive. Berkley schools, in general, have an excellent reputation.
Nechama (Finer) Lurie and Jason Lurie are four-year Berkley homeowners. Both 34, he grew up in Troy and she’s lived in several American cities. They moved back to the U.S. from Israel. A trained tour guide, Nechama Lurie works for the national Birthright Israel and does homework tutoring in Hebrew and Judaics. Jason Lurie is an executive at CARite and a freelance business intelligence consultant.
The Luries belong to Kehillat Etz Chaim and also attend Aish HaTorah on Coolidge in Oak Park.
“We didn’t know we’d find other Jewish families in Berkley,” Nechama said. “But [Berkley] seemed like the logical place for ‘spillover’ from Huntington Woods and Oak Park and had Jewish organizations and shuls close by. There are quite a lot of developers building in this area and we’ve seen three mezuzot go up on those new homes.”
Nechama stays close to people she knows in Huntington Woods and Oak Park because “Berkley touches both of those. I can walk to most of those friends and shuls within 15-30 minutes.”
Elwin Greenwald, owner for 26 years of Elwin & Co. on Coolidge in Berkley, said a large influx of young Jewish couples is moving into Berkley and visiting his store for its baked goods and prepared Jewish-style food. He believes those outgrowing smaller Berkley homes usually relocate to Huntington Woods or Royal Oak.
He and his late partner, Dale, moved 20 years ago to the Woodward-12 Mile section of Royal Oak because “we wanted a larger lot and a ranch home, and they’re not available in Huntington Woods.” Greenwald also notices a growing Jewish presence in his neighborhood.
Brittany Feldman, 27, Hazon Detroit’s manager of sustainability and outdoor engagement, attends events at Jewish Ferndale. A Ferndale resident for almost five years, Brittany calls her city “open and welcoming.”
“I enjoy walking and biking to downtown Ferndale, where I spend a lot of time with friends enjoying the variety of restaurants, bars and local shops,” she said. “I also love attending the various festivals in the summer, such as the DIY Street Fair and the Funky Ferndale Art Fair.
“On a typical Sunday, I can usually be found having brunch at Imperial with friends then heading across the street to the Rust Belt Market to check out the Michigan-made products sold by local vendors. The city definitely deserves its nickname, Funky Ferndale, and I’m proud to call it home.”
Could the Jewish community be doing more for young Jewish residents of the Woodward corridor? Nechama Lurie would like the Jewish Federation or other organizations to welcome young families new to Detroit. Volunteers knowledgeable in the variety of Jewish lifestyles could drive newcomers through various neighborhoods and offer advice on schools, synagogues, drugstores, doctors and other needs relevant to the family.
“Setting up everything from scratch can be overwhelming and involves a lot of trial and error,” she said.
Realtor Linda Solomon said local families would like a gathering place to replace the former Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, which was closed in August 2015.
“The Jewish community needs to re-evaluate its presence in this area, with all these numbers showing this is where the population is and wants to be,” Solomon said. “Jewish people could use a new facility. They don’t need a big fancy building with a pool, but a gym or space to congregate would be welcome.”
“The JCC programming in West Bloomfield is too far away for us to take advantage of,” Dan Horwitz said. “We’re hoping they start offering more opportunities to connect with their featured programs — especially things like the Matzah Factory — on our side of town.”
JCC CEO Brian Siegel says the JCC and its JFamily division are always looking for ways to engage young families “outside its walls.”
In the Woodward corridor, PJ Library plans events such as playdates, family meet-ups, Shabbat groups and volunteer opportunities. JBaby Bumps, a five-part series for expectant mothers, meets at four locations, with the closest to the corridor being Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
Federation agencies do have a presence in Oak Park. Jewish Family Service operates an office in Crown Pointe Plaza on Greenfield Road at Lincoln. Also, Jewish Senior Life maintains the Teitel and Prentis apartments, including Coville Assisted Living, on the Taubman Jewish Community Campus on 10 Mile Road.
• The Kroger chain was granted state tax incentives to take over a former 7.9-acre Kmart property at 26200 Greenfield Road, south of 11 Mile Road. The Kroger with gas pumps and drive-through pharmacy will open in 2020.
• Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, Metro Detroit’s largest Jewish day school with 1,063 students, is building a new elementary and middle school for girls on 10 Mile Road and the east side of Church Street. On the west side of Church is Bais Yakov High School and Meer Preschool, a 55,000-square-foot facility that opened in August 2013.
• MoGo Detroit Bike Share is partnering with local municipalities to bring the bike-share system to southeast Oakland County. Oak Park will have five stations, strategically placed across the city, when the service becomes available to residents in late spring to early summer.
• The small, mostly residential community has 12 parks: two on Coolidge, four on 11 Mile and six in the city’s interior. Other attractions include a pool, golf course, Rec Center day camps and classes. Some residents live close enough to the Detroit Zoological Park to hear the animals.
• The city’s amenities include a Recreation Department and an ice arena.
• For new development, a Michigan State Federal Credit Union is set for construction on Coolidge, near 11 Mile. Berkley is considering proposals to redevelop the former La Salette Catholic School on Coolidge into multiple-family residential housing.
• Tucked between I-696 and train tracks at the Ferndale-Pleasant Ridge border, Iron Ridge Marketplace is an evolving entertainment and retail destination at 404 E. 10 Mile Road. The $35-million brownfield redevelopment project is on the site of a decaying 1940s wire factory with 231,000 square feet of vacant space. Started in October 2017, a fitness center is open, and food, a brewery and other attractions are coming. Urbanrest Brewing Co., in Ferndale since 2017, is a few blocks south of Iron Ridge Marketplace.
• The city will see completion this year of the Woodward Corners by Beaumont project on Woodward at 13 Mile. Henry Ford Health System’s high-tech outpatient medical center will occupy the downtown Royal Oak City Center by April 2020.
• “Rethink” Royal Oak is a development project to build a new city hall, police station, downtown park, private office building and 581-space parking deck. The project will transform the downtown area to a gathering place for the entire city as well as provide necessary updates to buildings designed more than 60 years ago.
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