Although Martin Herman is the only Jewish person profiled, 12 others learned they had Jewish roots as the three-year project progressed under the direction of Marcus Lyon.
A strong commitment to education and spirituality — along with actions taken to realize those commitments in Detroit — has brought Martin Herman a place in a new book, i.Detroit — A Human Atlas of an American City.
The book, being introduced through digital programming on Oct. 15, spotlights 100 Detroiters chosen for their diversity in backgrounds and community involvement by a committee of civic activists.
Each person is profiled through what was said during interviews, what was learned through genetic testing completed under the direction of Max Blankfeld of FamilyTreeDNA in Texas and what comes across through pictures taken in familiar settings.
Although Herman is the only Jewish person profiled, 12 others learned they had Jewish roots as the three-year project progressed under the direction of Marcus Lyon, a British artist who has been at the helm of similar projects in Brazil and Germany.
“The purpose of a human atlas is really simple,” said Lyon, book curator and publisher whose family joined him in getting to know Detroit and its people up close. “It is to inspire a new generation to co-author their lives, not in the shadow of those who came before them, but in honor of them.
“Within the limitation of 100 Detroiters, we’ve tried to be as elegant as possible in reaching out and finding as many people who represent the city and the dynamic groups who are doing change here.
“With the i.Detroit project, we have the ability to explore leaders, unsung heroes and the change agents of this extraordinary city who are authoring dynamic and innovative ways of creating more hopeful futures.”
Mark Davidoff, chief executive officer of the Fisher Group and active member of many Jewish and cross-cultural community organizations, is executive producer of the project.
“I was in England in 2017 on a leadership development program and met Marcus Lyon,” Davidoff said. “Marcus had just completed his project in Brazil and wanted to do [something similar] in Detroit. He had some perspectives that the world is always watching Detroit.
“When I came home, Marcus sent me a copy of the book on Brazil, and I was fascinated by it. Often other people are telling our story, and it seemed to me that this was an opportunity to tell our own story in words of our own people.”
Davidoff secured funding from the Kresge Foundation.
“What surprised me most was that I did not know most of the people profiled,” Davidoff said. “They’ve never sought the limelight. They’re passionate about what they’re trying to accomplish in moving Detroit forward. Every one of them has a different story and arrived in Detroit in a different way.
“We’re talking about how we can use the book to create curriculum to teach about Detroit in public schools, universities and around the world. We plan to have an exhibit that can travel to tell Detroit’s story.”
Teaching, as related to Herman’s personal story, has to do with Wayne State University and the Society of Active Retirees (SOAR). Recruited to teach music history at Wayne in 1962, he moved to the city and later accepted administrative positions at the university before retiring in 1992.
A SOAR founder, he continues to teach his favorite subject while maintaining a strong role at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. Rabbi Ariana Silverman nominated him for i.Detroit inclusion.
“The book looks beautiful, but I was surprised I only knew a couple of people who were included,” said Herman, a northwest Detroiter. “It’s clear that all of us represent, in the eyes of those designing the project, different elements of concern for Detroit by attempting to improve those elements. I wanted to maintain a Jewish presence in the city while [supporting] a university with an urban mission.”
A map of the city is drawn on the hand that illustrates the book cover to give a sense of the emphasis inside, enthusiastically explained by Lyon during the program that will introduce the book. He will be joined by members of the nominating committee for a discussion that lasts an hour. Broadcaster Rhonda Walker has been asked to moderate.
“The three [similar] works are ‘slow books’ that require time and thought to experience the remarkable people featured,” said Lyon, tied to app-based oral histories. “I find this an inspiration at a time when so much information is shoehorned into sound bites.
“I.Detroit is an opportunity for us all to leave our preconceptions behind, open up our hearts and ears and realize that in our midst … are remarkable leaders. We should put to bed our prejudices and join [these people] to make our communities and wider society a more hopeful, sustainable and positive place for our families, friends and the generations to come.”
Information about i.Detroit, which costs $250, and the free introductory program — starting at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, and to be available digitally after that date — can be accessed at marcuslyon.com/artworks/idetroit and eventbrite.com/e/119132870623.