Originally from the Upper Peninsula, Rebecca Starr shares her experience within the Metro Detroit Jewish community that exemplifies Detroit pride.
Detroit pride. We often see these two words associated with our local sports teams. While it is a nice idea to be proud of the skill and efforts of the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, I’ve been feeling a whole different type of Detroit pride lately. Pride in our Jewish community.
My time in the Detroit Jewish community has been short, relatively speaking. My husband and I moved here nearly 16 years ago. He is from Troy and grew up here; but these 16 years for me brought with them a steep learning curve both professionally and personally. My parents raised me in the Upper Peninsula, an experience that included many benefits. One benefit it didn’t have was access to an organized Jewish community. My home synagogue was small and important to my own growth and development, but it had 25 family units living within a radius of 100 miles.
I didn’t really understand what it meant to be part of such a well-organized community until I began, in 1998, my graduate work at the University of Michigan in the field of Jewish communal service.
Imagine my shock when I learned that working in the Jewish community was an actual profession. The Metropolitan Detroit Jewish community was my training ground.
Community lay leaders and volunteers gave their time and energy to assist in my growth as a professional. Philanthropists met with me to teach me about the art of fundraising, how to research and establish communal priorities, and they helped to fund my education and the education of so many professionals.
Numerous Jewish communal professional leaders from many agencies, congregations and other organizations served as and continue to serve as my mentors, close colleagues and friends. Detroit pride abounds.
Especially now, as the Midwest manager for the Shalom Hartman Institute, this experience is one that I have found to be a unique part of being in the community of Detroit. Whenever I travel or speak in other communities about my work and mention that I am from Detroit, I often get to hear about how lucky I am to live and work in such a place: a place where Jewish communal needs are prioritized, a place where a large percentage of the population participates in Jewish communal and congregational life, a place where dollars are given by generous donors on a scale of very few other communities in North America. Detroit pride abounds again.
As a perfect example of what our “small” Detroit Jewish community can do, just after completing the flurry of the holiday season, our community has access to events that include speakers like Dahlia Lithwick, Bret Stephens, Dara Horn, Lauren Berkun, Dennis Prager and Nikki Haley. The Jewish Book Fair will take place with a variety of visiting authors, and the community joined to celebrate Scott Kaufman as he transitions from his position as CEO at the Jewish Federation.
Also, numerous Melton classes and JLearn classes will be taught to hundreds of people by expert educators in our community; clergy members will offer inspiring words and teachings throughout the congregations as we remember the Pittsburgh 11; and social service agencies will feed, clothe and care for the orphan, the widow, the hungry and the stranger.
I know there will be many other moments over these weeks in which the Jewish community can be proud, but this snapshot of time exemplifies much more to me as a Jewish communal professional here in Detroit. We show up. We support with our dollars, our feet and our voices. We give time. We engage. We plan. We teach and we learn. Our Detroit Jewish community should be beaming with pride right along with me.
I am grateful my children are part of this community. I pray their generation will get the messages they are being sent and continue to carry on with the work of those who came before them.
I’m reminded of the line in Pirkei Avot, which says, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
We must all continue to live by this ideal in Detroit. It served us well for so long and will continue to do so if we take it to heart. This is the pride of Jewish Detroit.
Rebecca Starr is the Midwest manager of the Shalom Hartman Institute and faculty member of the Melton School in Detroit.