The Up North getaway location, Charlevoix, has attracted Jewish Detroiters for summer vacation for generations — here’s why.
Featured photo by Jennifer Lovy
Ask Michiganders what they most frequently associate with a Michigan summer and likely the answer will be an Up North vacation. Ask a Jewish Detroiter and the answer could very well be time spent in Charlevoix.
The number of Jewish visitors, especially those who own property in Charlevoix, is so significant that it’s nearly impossible to spend a summer weekend in this picturesque town without seeing a familiar face. And Charlevoix, unlike any other vacation destination in the state, is a getaway location that transcends the memories of generations of local families.
Those who spent time there when they were young now bring their children and even grandchildren to this charming city known and loved for its pristine beaches, quaint downtown, memorable drawbridge and iconic red lighthouse.
“This is where we always went on vacation to spend quality time together as a family,” recalled Glenn Wachler, originally from West Bloomfield but now a permanent Charlevoix resident.
Wachler, 54, thinks back with fondness to his childhood, recalling time he spent with his family, particularly his dad. Together they would fish, search for Petoskey stones and watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. Wanting to create similar memories for his children, he and his wife, Ellen, along with their three kids, spent many summers in Charlevoix and moved there 13 years ago.
Despite what was once a seven-hour drive, Jewish families have been vacationing in Charlevoix for at least 100 years. In 1916, the year the Detroit Jewish Chronicle was founded, the paper’s community gossip page began mentioning it as a travel destination.
Wachler’s father, Jeff, 91, started going to Charlevoix in 1932. Eventually, he purchased a condominium there. His father (Glenn’s grandfather) also owned property in this northern Michigan town. Glenn still finds it amusing that at one time his grandfather rented an apartment in Detroit but owned a home in Charlevoix.
There was a period in the city’s history where openly anti-Semitic sentiments, such as deed restrictions in a few neighborhoods, were hard to ignore. However, Jews were not deterred from vacationing or owning homes in Charlevoix.
Rick Berman, a Charlevoix aficionado, has a postcard from a now-defunct hotel that says: “Having a great time, beautiful hotel. They do not allow Jews or dogs.” It’s one of approximately 1,500 postcards in his collection from the city and surrounding areas. These days, blatant displays of discrimination are gone.
Today, returning tourists are accustomed to things unique to this particular northern Michigan town. A longtime favorite includes watching the drawbridge on the north end of the downtown open every half hour so that larger boats can travel between Lake Charlevoix on the east side and Lake Michigan on the west side.
Visitors also looked forward to seeing the Dexter Bus, a 43-foot boat consistently parked for the summer at the Charlevoix City Marina. This year marks the first time in 44 years the boat won’t be there. Its owners, Michael and Margo Goldman of West Bloomfield, sold it last year when it became too difficult for Margo to get on and off the vessel.
Other regulars, including Berman of West Bloomfield and Carol Hooberman of Franklin, have never missed a summer there.
“I’ve been up to Charlevoix 65 years in a row. I think it’s paradise on Earth. It’s is just an amazing place,” said Berman, who has more postcards in his collection than the town’s historical society. The oldest dates back to 1896.
Berman’s father, Jimmy, started visiting the area in the early 1940s with his father. He fell in love with the city and eventually built a house there. That home is still owned by members of the Berman family (there are five brothers). Berman himself bought a home there 21 years ago, and one of his brothers owns one as well.
In 1943, the same year Hooberman was born, her parents, along with an aunt and uncle, had a house on Dixon Street. She recalls spending many of her childhood summer days at one of the local beaches while evening activities consisted of shuffleboard, biking or catching a movie at the one local theater in town.
Although Hooberman’s family sold the house in 1964, she continued the tradition of heading Up North in the summer. For many years, she and her husband, Paul, along with with their children, spent a week or more at either the Lodge or the Weathervane, two longstanding hotels on Bridge Street. The Lodge was sold and renovated, and it is expected to open in coming months as the Hotel Earl.
In 1986, the Hoobermans purchased a condo a few blocks down the street from her childhood home. Now their Charlevoix summers include visits from the grandchildren with trips to the beach, taffy store and walks up and down Bridge Street.
Hooberman said her parents, like so many other families, chose to buy a house in Charlevoix because her older brothers suffered from hay fever and the cleaner northern air made it easier for them to breathe during the summer when homes were not air conditioned.
Alan Hayman, first cousin to Hooberman, said his parents went north for the summer to avoid exposing them to polio when there wasn’t a vaccine for the debilitating disease and because of his brother’s hay fever.
“My parents literally picked me up on the last day of school in June and went right Up North. We came home in September, the day before school started. The thinking was, ‘You got your kids out of Detroit in the summer months when the incidence of polio seemed to be higher.’ If they could, parents took their kids away from the more densely populated areas to avoid polio,” said Hayman, a West Bloomfield resident who would later continue the tradition of vacationing there with his own family.
Nostalgia and Natural Beauty
It’s not completely clear why Charlevoix became such a favorite place to visit or own property except to say that its natural beauty, relaxed pace and the desire to create or continue family traditions appeal to many.
“Everything here feels like it did when I was a child,” reminisced Glenn Wachler. “There has always been a little downtown area with a bridge. There is still the same number of traffic lights in town (two), and the bell on the bridge makes the same sound as it did when I was 5. I don’t feel any older living here because so much about Charlevoix hasn’t changed except now I’m the dad and not the kid.”
Brian Freund, also a Charlevoix transplant from West Bloomfield, added: “There aren’t many places that are more beautiful than what you see in Charlevoix. I walk my dog every morning around Round Lake and often watch the sunrise. It’s always so gorgeous. It never gets old.”
In 2015, Freund and his wife, Emily, opened That French Place, a café on Bridge Street specializing in crepes, pastries and coffee. Two years later, they opened Brian’s Ice Cream Experience. Seventy-five percent of their income is generated between Memorial Day weekend and the end of October.
Freund isn’t the only native Detroiter with a business in the downtown area. Brothers Bill and Jack Schulman started Schulman Paddleworks with their wives, Lori and Marcia, in 2011. The store opened the same year they sold Camp Sea-Gull, a northern Michigan overnight camp that attracted kids from Metro Detroit.
“We call Charlevoix the ‘West Bloomfield of the North’ because during the summer it feels like I see everybody I know from high school and Temple [Beth El]. My parents’ friends are regulars up here, too,” said Freund, a 1988 graduate of Andover High School.
The popularity of Charlevoix wasn’t lost on Todd and Jennifer Kroll. When they bought their summer home in 2010, they counted the number of other people they knew with vacation properties.
“I think we came up with something like 23 or 24 families with homes in the area,” said Todd, who has consistently visited the area for the last 18 summers. He knows this because his oldest daughter is 18. “Right away, we got a generational feeling from being up there, and it was something we wanted to start with our kids.”
Because of the large number of Jewish families who chose to vacation in Charlevoix, Temple Beth El began hosting a yearly outdoor Shabbat service at East Park, located downtown and overlooking Round Lake.
This summer’s service, scheduled for Aug. 16, is the temple’s third. The first two attracted more than 300 people, including members of Temple B’nai Israel of Petoskey, the only permanent synagogue in the area.
Now there is a Chabad presence in Charlevoix as well. Mendel Shemtov of West Bloomfield and Mendel Goldman of Oklahoma City, both 23, moved in July 12. They plan to host a variety of programs ranging from Shabbat dinners and lunch-and- learn sessions to putting up mezuzahs on vacation homes of those who are interested. There also are plans to host some kids’ programs. Shemtov and Goldman decided to spend part of the summer in Charlevoix with the encouragement and support of residents Mark and Shoshana Schulman.
“This is a way where people can have a dose of Jewish fun in the place where they vacation,” Shemtov said. “We’re open to hearing suggestions from the community about what else they are looking for. We want to offer things in a fun, relaxed, summertime atmosphere.”