South of the border ... from the US lies - yes, Canada: This is Riverfront Park in Windsor, with the Skyline of Detroit as background. Windsor, Ontario, is actually south of Detroit, Michigan

Taking a page from Detroit’s NEXTGen, Windsor’s young professionals launched the EmergingGen group to build Jewish community.

By Ron Stang

Who knew there was a connection between cannabis and Judaism?

But a speaker to the first gathering of the city’s Emerging Generation, or EmergingGen, group, heard that the word cannabis is derived from Hebrew.

“There’s definitely a correlation. I think Jews have been around for a long time and I think cannabis has been around with them,” Attila Sherman, co-chair of the new organization, which learned about the relationship between Judaism and marijuana from Roni Leibovitch, a Detroit area polymath and data scientist, and who was the guest speaker at the group’s inaugural event.

Taking a page from similar groups across North America, not least from the Detroit Jewish Federation’s dynamic and well established NEXTGen division, Windsor’s EmergingGen, affiliated with the city’s Jewish Community Centre, seeks to create bonds among the area’s Jews under 40 years of age.

Like in other cities, this group was set up to help bring together a newer generation that may not have strong ties to the Jewish community at large.

“Windsor especially has a really aging Jewish population, and it’s sad to say but every day we’re having somebody passing away and there’s not that many of us younger ones to fill in the gaps so it’s really important that we know each other and build a strong community,” Sherman says.

Co-chair Josh Cheifetz was blunter, saying the group is designed “basically just so the Jewish community here doesn’t die.”

Cheifetz said up to now he’s personally had to travel to Detroit for that kind of interaction.

“There’s a lot of people in our age group who are unaffiliated,” he says. “Personally, I come to Michigan for a lot of stuff like this. It would be nice to not have to come to Michigan, it would be nice to have a group like this in town.”

Cheifetz and Sherman are ideal community leaders.

Cheifetz, a lawyer who practices commercial and corporate law, was called to the bar in 2013 in both Ontario and Michigan and has extensive contacts. “I’ve grown up in this community, so I know a lot of people,” he says.

Sherman owns two innovative and award-winning raw pet food stores.

“Both Josh and I like to do events and we know quite a few young Jews,” he says. “We’re always looking to kind of get people together anyway.”

EmergingGen has no formal objectives, but obviously those who attend might coalesce with others and become more active in, say, the Jewish Federation or their religious organizations.

“For me it’s not necessarily a religious thing,” Sherman says. “There might be a more holiday-driven event at some point but at the end of the day we all are Jewish. For now, I just want to bring the people together.”

About 25 people attended the first event, which was deliberately designed to be topical.

“We like to keep it pretty informal,” Sherman says. “Keep it interesting, keep it light and then I think the conversation just happens naturally.”

Focusing on news of the day, such as marijuana legalization, injects a theme that may be relevant to this generation. The next event, which includes a dinner at a local restaurant, likely will be about nutrition and health.

“The Jewish religion isn’t necessarily the healthiest one,” Sherman joked.