There is demand for a real, religious Jewish community within Detroit’s city limits.
Picture this: it’s a Friday night, and you’re getting dressed up to go to a friend’s house for Shabbat dinner. While you could drive, you’re in the Shabbat spirit, and you choose to walk the short distance over to your friend’s house.
You make Kiddush, eat a home-cooked meal, bench, play some board games and leave long after darkness has fallen to walk home.
Sounds like a typical weekend in West Bloomfield, Oak Park or Huntington Woods, right?
Well, in this story, that’s not where you are; you just had a fantastic Shabbos dinner experience in Detroit.
In the months leading up to the pandemic, there was hardly a Friday night where I didn’t have a place to be for Shabbat dinner. When Hillel of Metro Detroit at Wayne State (HMD) or Chabad weren’t doing anything, my girlfriend (now fiancée) and I would use HMD’s Shabbatote program to host a dozen of our friends and classmates at our house in Woodbridge.
Of those dozen, which changed week-to-week, the majority would walk over, participate in the Shabbos aspects of dinner — not just the eating — and would stay after to veg without technology being an essential component. There were people who would end up spending Shabbat at the house — something my roommates and I were always happy to accommodate.
At the same time, I was working with a group of friends to get a regular Shabbat-morning service going. Per the custom of most of the group, we were looking for 10 guys to commit to at least one Saturday morning every month, simply to get a regular service going. In early March of 2020, we had eight guys and a few women who wanted to participate as well. We had anticipated starting right after spring break; spring break ended and the shelter-in began.
Of that group, there was a solid mix of young professionals living in the greater Downtown area, and a mix of graduate and undergraduate students at Wayne State.
Why bother telling you all of this? To say that there is demand for a real, religious Jewish community within Detroit’s city limits.
For myself, many of my friends and many more people who I don’t know, but am trying to locate through this essay, the options are a) figure out how to create and live a Jewish life in Detroit or b) move to an urban area that already has such infrastructure.
The goal isn’t to mess around in the city and then get serious in Huntington Woods or West Bloomfield; many of us don’t see our futures in any suburbs, anywhere. The goal is to build a thriving Jewish community with a shul, school, access to kosher shopping and kosher dining, and more, in Detroit.
Many people still seem to think that the only Jewish people living in Detroit are hipsters or have no interest in being members of a Jewish community; hopefully, this demonstrates that that’s not true.
Today, there are multiple organizations that exist in Detroit that are constantly enriching Jewish life: Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit, Hillel of Metro Detroit and the Downtown Synagogue. While each of these entities provide wonderful Jewish programming, that’s often where it ends: programming. The Downtown Synagogue is a wonderful place, and I’ve spent dozens of Shabbat mornings there, but in all my pre-pandemic discussions, the intent was to create a community that fell somewhere along the lines of Modern Orthodox or Orthodox.
As Detroit continues to attract new businesses, new developments and new investments, we’re continuing to lose scores of young Jewish professionals to urban areas with large Jewish communities, like New York, Toronto, Chicago, LA and Miami, to name just a few. There’s really no reason why Detroit can’t compete with these cities.
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve grown my network to include other Jewish professionals in Detroit, including a number of people in the real estate development world who share the same interest in the creation and growth of a Jewish community in Detroit.
Prior to writing this article, the idea was that a Field of Dreams approach might work: “If you build it, they will come.” As it turns out, there are companies and individuals who would work hard to build it when that demand presents itself — I’m hoping to find through this article who will come.
Jeremy Rosenberg lives in Detroit, working in transit and real estate development. He invites people to reach out to him at email@example.com.