Local organizations team up to create Jews of Metro Detroit, highlighting stand-out Jewish teens in the community.

By Stacy Gittleman

In the spirit of the photoblog sensation Humans of New York, youth professionals at Temple Israel, Shir Shalom and Temple Beth El teamed up with the Jewish Federation to create Jews of Metro Detroit — a website propelled by and written about ambitious and community-oriented teens who call Detroit home.

The project, launched this year and funded by a grant from the Schulman Millennium Fund, gives selected teens the opportunity to hone their interviewing, videography and photography skills as they interview their peers about their pursuits, challenges, and connections to the local and global Jewish community.

Currently, there are 14 mostly young Jews highlighted with more added each week. The next profile just might be someone you know if you nominate him or her on the website jewsofmetrodetroit.com.

On the website’s staff is Temple Israel’s Youth Director Zach Goldberger. A transplant from Raleigh, N.C., he said he is enjoying getting to know and appreciate the deep-rooted connectedness of Detroit’s Jewish community. A graduate of North Carolina State, where the Jewish student body is under 1 percent, Goldberger said he still managed to make a Jewish community there for himself with Hillel on campus and hopes to impart the lesson to teens that no matter where the next chapter in life takes them, Judaism can always be a part of it.

Goldberger said there is one year of funding for the project with the opportunity to reapply for a second year. The stories range from kids deeply connected to Judaism through their involvement in their temples to teens who have struggled and are coping with mental health issues.

“There is a plethora of stories out there,” Goldberger said. “Our students are great at telling their stories and connecting with their peers to encourage them to share, and we know they will keep the stories coming.”

Maddy Iwrey

Already profiled include Youth Federation of Temple Israel (YFTI) seniors Mac Bauer and Maddy Iwrey. Iwrey will be attending Oakland University in hopes of becoming a clinical psychologist. She said she has gained leadership and Jewish communal skills from the youth group.

“Not only have I learned about what it means to be a leader, but also how to create something from a different standpoint and show people what it’s like to build something from the ground up,” said Iwrey, who added that her involvement with the website has helped her develop her listening and interviewing skills — skills she will need in her intended profession. “YFTI is a place where you can find who you really want to be,” she said.

Bauer needed some coaxing from his mom to stick with Monday night school and youth group at first and is now YFTI president. He will be studying business at Miami University of Ohio. Outside of presiding over YFTI, Bauer is a basketball enthusiast and likes to coach and teach younger children, including those at Friendship Circle, the ins and outs of the court.

Their complete stories and those of more of Detroit’s stand-out Jewish youth can be found on the site.

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com