Article from the Jewish News in 1980
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

Forty years ago, Detroit was the host for the Council of Jewish Federation’s (CJF) 49th annual General Assembly (GA).

I usually find my topics for “Looking Back” columns during my cruises in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Whenever I enter the Archive to do research for one subject, I usually find interesting stories or reports on another subject about Jewish Detroit.

The idea for this week’s Looking Back, however, is from my friend, Allan Gale. Did I know, he asked, that 40 years ago, Detroit was the host for the Council of Jewish Federation’s (CJF) 49th annual General Assembly (GA)? Well, I did not know that. So, I dove into the Archive and soon learned all about the GA from reports in the November 1980 issues of the JN.

William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Although the CJF had met before in Detroit in 1940, 1946 and 1960, the largest was the GA in 1980. It was held Nov. 12-16 at Detroit’s Plaza Hotel, the hotel in the Renaissance Center at that time. More than 2,500 delegates and guests, lay leadership and professionals from 800 communities representing all 50 states and Canada were in attendance. Detroit Jewish leader Dulcie Rosenfeld was the chairwoman of the Host Committee,

The GA opened with Rabbi Richard C. Hertz from Temple Beth El delivering the dvar Torah. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young extended greetings to the audience. Detroit Jewish Welfare Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit) President George M. Zeltzer and CJF President Morton L. Mandel led the event.

William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

Many leaders from Michigan and Detroit’s Jewish community participated in the GA. There were presentations from Rabbi Irwin Groner of Shaarey Zedek, Rabbi Efry Spectre of Adat Shalom and Rabbi Daniel Allan of Michigan State University’s Hillel.

Representing the CJF Women’s Division were Detroiters Carolyn Greenberg, the national vice-chairwomen, and Executive Committee members Dulcie Rosenfeld and Shelby Tauber. On Thursday, Michigan Gov. William Milliken welcomed the delegates, and the state’s junior senator, Carl Levin, was on a panel (sure is hard to imagine him as a junior senator!). To be sure, these are just a very few of the many Jewish Detroiters who contributed to the organization of and programming for the GA. 

The GA addressed a wide range of topics such as the plight of Soviet Jews, peace in the Middle East, Jewish education, young Jewish leadership and health care. The full program is on page 10 of the Nov. 7, 1980, issue of the JN.

Nathan Vicar | Detroit Jewish News

The recent U.S. presidential election was another topic. Ronald Reagan had just been elected to the presidency. Reagan was nominated at the Republican convention also held in Downtown Detroit in August, another major national event for the city in 1980.

The highlight was the plenary speaker, Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel. Begin was introduced by Max Fisher and spoke about the importance of the Jewish diaspora and current affairs in Israel.

A lot has changed since the GA was held in Detroit in 1980. The Jewish Federation moved to Bloomfield Township in 1991. Detroit has endured a bankruptcy. Instead of Max Fisher and Al Taubman, Dan Gilbert is among those now shaping modern Detroit.

Many of same issues discussed 40 years ago, however, are still important for the Jewish community today. This is interesting reading.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at

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