This year marks an anniversary for a more recent, yet historic, event in Detroit: “Menorah in the D.”
For me, writing about the history of Detroit’s Jewish community usually means finding stories from 20, 30, 50 or 100 years ago in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. However, there really is no set time limit for when an event, place or person becomes important history. Here is a case-in-point for Chanukah 2020.
This year marks an anniversary for a more recent, yet historic, event in Detroit: “Menorah in the D.” For the 10th time, a 26-foot tall menorah will be lit in Campus Martius/Cadillac Square in Downtown Detroit to celebrate Chanukah. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year will be a bit different; the lighting ceremony on Dec. 10 will be a virtual affair.
First held in 2011, Menorah in the D was a collaboration of The Shul of West Bloomfield with the Chabad-Lubavitch Foundation of Michigan and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s CommunityNEXT (now, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit’s NEXTGen Detroit Division). Along with Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit, the Shul-Chabad Lubavitch and the Jewish Federation are still the partners and organizers for the event. There have also been a host of community supporters over the years.
The original and primary intent of Menorah in the D was to create an event that brought Jews together for a show of unity and as a source of inspiration. In this, it has been a great success. As Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of The Shul in West Bloomfield said in Stefani Chudnow’s report in the Dec. 19, 2019, of the JN, “People from all walks of life come together to launch Chanukah for the city of Detroit and ignite a flame that brings warmth and light to the hearts of so many … For the Jewish community, it’s a moment of inspiration and pride.”
When Menorah in the D was first held, an estimated 600 people attended. The audience grew to 1,500 the next year and to 3,000 by its fifth year. With the inclusion of such activities as crafts, LEGOs, a zip line and face painting, Menorah in the D also became a family-friendly event. And, along with Rabbi Shemtov, the event has featured local luminaries such as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, and other Jewish and non-Jewish speakers.
Since 2012, the ceremony highlight is the lighting of a 26-foot-tall menorah, designed and built by the Nordin Brothers, Erik and Israel. There is a good story in the Dec. 15, 2016, issue of the JN about their artistry.
I found other interesting stories about Menorah in the D. In the Nov. 19, 2015, JN, there is a story about the event leading to the first Jewish-themed Detroit Red Wings game. In an excellent Sept. 9, 2017, article about the work of Sarah and Benji Rosenzweig, the origins of Menorah in the D are discussed by Benji. Finally, there is a bitter-sweet report about the 2018 event that commemorated the victims of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting, as well as honored “8 in their ’8s” like 8-year old Ariella Bednarsh and 98-year-old Martin Abel.
I really hope that 90 years from now, someone will write about the 100-year anniversary of Menorah in the D. Happy Chanukah!
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.