The “commUNITY” get-together — an evening of live music, kosher food and drinks at a beautiful back yard in West Bloomfield — attracted close to 300 young people.
In a first-of-its-kind event, 10 diverse Jewish groups joined forces last month to throw the ultimate young adult end-of-summer send-off.
The “commUNITY” get-together — an evening of live music, kosher food and drinks at a beautiful backyard in West Bloomfield — attracted close to 300 young people. It took place on Aug. 25 — but the concept, in reality, was years in the making.
The invited partygoers included members of Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit, Chabad Young Professionals Detroit, Detroit City Moishe House, EmergingGen Windsor, Hillel of Metro Detroit, Jewish Young Professionals of Ann Arbor, Moishe House Royal Oak, Partners Detroit, Platform 18 and The Well. The Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC also sponsored the event.
The outdoor party had a beautiful, yet rustic feel. “It felt like you had showed up for something special,” said Erin Stiebel, an educator at Partners Detroit. “Everyone was so excited to have an in-person event. There were reunions everywhere you looked with people who hadn’t seen each other in years. It was a crossroads of everyone coming together.”
For Lauren Soifer, NEXTGen Detroit associate director, a native Detroiter who recently returned home from several years in Atlanta, it was the first big event she went to since she came home.
“It was just so amazing to see all the organizations together with the same goal in mind,” she said.
“I don’t think a lot of other cities would be able to replicate it. Detroit is unique, based upon our history and that so many people from here have been here for generations.
“It’s like a family — very tight-knit community. A lot of other Jewish communities, like Atlanta, don’t have that — they are more transitory. Here, there’s a sense of ownership that makes an event like this possible.”
Of the 250-300 people who attended, more than 25 from Jewish Young Professionals of Ann Arbor joined the fun. Due to the border situation, unfortunately, no one from EmergingGen Windsor could attend.
The event brought out many new faces, including the leader of the musical band, who was Jewish, too, and lived in Ann Arbor, hoping to see some friends from Birthright Israel.
A Long-Held Dream
Joshua Goldberg, involved throughout the community, was the president of NEXTGen Detroit until his term ended on Sept. 2. It was his idea to create a council that would unite diverse organizations that focused on engaging Jewish young adults. The dream had been simmering in his mind for years.
Goldberg serves professionally as director of expansion for Moishe House, a global role not focused on the organization’s Detroit-area houses. He also hosts the Jewish News’ video series Bubbie’s Kitchen Detroit.
As part of his NEXTGen Detroit presidency, he envisioned “five points of connection,” all with the aim of increasing connections internally and externally. One of his points was to create a council that would strengthen ties within the community.
“In September 2020, I announced my five points in my speech at NEXTGen Detroit’s Annual Meeting,” he said. “My exact words were: ‘We’ll organize a council to forge connections with other Jewish groups in our community who work with our demographic.’”
And that’s what he did. While NEXTGen Detroit itself had relationships with various groups, no forum existed to ensure that relationships exist between all the similarly-focused groups in the area.
That fall, he developed the parameters of which groups would be invited to join the then-unnamed council. The keys would be groups that “focus exclusively on Jewish community-building for young adults” and to consider Metro Detroit in a regional way.
“My thought was to keep the council small to facilitate discussion, and I’ve sometimes referred to it as a ‘core council,’” he said. “In contrast, I imagined there being a much broader group that could be open to any interested party. I wasn’t yet sure what the function of that larger group would be, though.”
In December 2020, he emailed the designated groups. “Prior to this email, the council existed only in my mind and in the one-on-one conversations I’d been having with leaders from each group,” Goldberg said. “With the email, the council became real.”
Aside from NEXTGen Detroit, the invited groups were Chabad Young Professionals Detroit, Detroit City Moishe House, EmergingGen Windsor, Hillel of Metro Detroit, Jewish Young Professionals of Ann Arbor, Moishe House Royal Oak, Partners Detroit Young Jewish Professionals and The Well.
Stiebel of Partners Detroit was thrilled to be invited to sit on the council. “Joshua’s vision was for a unified Metro Detroit Jewish community; often we find ourselves fragmented. I was so excited when he reached out to me to be a face for Partners on this community council.”
Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh, executive director of The Well, said, “Part of the mandate of The Well is to help when there are opportunities to do so. I was personally and professionally drawn to the council as I’m in favor of working together as a community. I think it was a natural evolution that groups working with a similar demographic coalesced into this council.”
The Council Gets to Work
Each organization was invited to bring two members to the initial virtual meeting in January. A few months later, the council met for a second time, again on Zoom.
Prior to that second meeting, Rabbi Noam Gross, director of Partners Detroit Young Jewish Professionals, discussed with Goldberg the idea of a community-wide event.
“I thought we could try to do something historic with all the organizations together,” Gross said. “It had probably never been done anywhere, but it’s a testament to the strength of Detroit’s Jewish community that we could make it happen here.”
Gross pitched the idea at the meeting, where it was met with a nice but brief reception. “The other council members reacted positively, but I don’t think everyone thought it would necessarily really happen,” Goldberg said.
Between April and July, Goldberg and Gross strategized about the best way to get all the groups to buy into the idea. “In general, there was openness toward doing it, even between groups that hadn’t previously partnered together. But actually bringing it to reality involved the various group’s internal politics and scheduling needs,” Goldberg said. “And, ultimately, we needed each group to commit to being all-in on the idea, which was even more tricky given the continuing uncertainty around COVID-19.”
In July, the council met for the first time in person at Platform 18 in Royal Oak, hosted by Partners. “That first in-person meeting where we finally sat down face-to-face gave me the opportunity to strengthen relationships and create new ones,” Gross said.
Stiebel added, “It was powerful sitting in that first in-person meeting and seeing faces of every facet of this Metro Detroit community, including Ann Arbor and Windsor, all fostering a stronger Jewish Detroit.”
During the meeting, potential names for the council, which hadn’t yet been named, were discussed. Goldberg said, “One particular word had been in my mind for the prior few weeks — achdut — which means ‘unity’ in Hebrew, and I thought it would be an apt name. George Roberts, then NEXTGen Detroit president-elect and now president, suggested pairing it with the word ‘Detroit.’”
After considering name options for the council, its members then discussed preliminary plans for the event, which became called “the commUNITY soirée,” or just “commUNITY.” Stiebel of Partners stepped up to chair the event. “I worked with every organization on the council so they could all feel a part of it. We all felt ownership of this event,” she said.
Stombaugh said that The Well was part of the logistical team and helped with some creative elements. “We got to lend our expertise. Every organization was able to be showcased in a way at the event.” He added that The Well is already using the council’s collaborative model for its “Sukkot Sounds” event, a series of live musical events in back yards, with an “open invitation for other organizations to help sponsor an event.”
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson of Chabad Young Professionals said, at the core, his organization is an “engagement organization, not an event planning organization. A lot of the efforts go into event planning. If we pool our efforts, it’s much more efficient.”
Goldberg watched as his vision became a reality. “In the weeks that followed, leaders from different groups worked with each other in ways that simply hadn’t previously happened,” he said.
Enlarging the Tent
Registration for the event went live in early August, with registrants able to select which groups, even multiple groups, they were affiliated with since many young adults are involved with more than one.
Most people remained unaware at this point of the existence of the Achdut Detroit Council, as the groups were listed as holding the event without any mention of the council. “But as community members inquired, I started to explain the bigger picture,” Goldberg said. “This led to other groups wanting to be part of the event, if not the council.”
“The result was perfect, since that was always part of the plan,” he said.
Goldberg reminded the council of the idea to have a broader group that would be an extension of the council and include others as well, now calling the extension the “Achdut Detroit Chaverim” (chaverim meaning “friends”). While the council could remain small, comprised of groups that focus exclusively on Jewish community-building, any other community organization or synagogue that has investment in Jewish young adult outreach in the area would be welcome to join the Chaverim. The Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC was the first group to do so and helped sponsor the event. Repair the World Detroit was the second.
“In the Jewish young professionals’ community, where so much is going on and so many people are involved, I think the council will have a huge impact,” Gross said. “People like to see different organizations working together and getting along. It acts to strengthen the community and provides more opportunities for everyone involved.”
An Evening to Remember
The Aug. 25 festivity proved to be a rousing success.
The different sponsoring groups were highlighted in various ways, including on a drink menu that offered a speciality drink from each group, complete with a tagline to showcase itself and its drink. Examples included the “NEXTGin Detroit and Tonic,” a gin and tonic that’s “Classy, but came to party” and the “Tree Town Toast,” a mojito that’s “Green, leafy, fresh, and sweet … everything to love about Jewish Young Professionals of Ann Arbor.”
“Erin Stiebel did an amazing job organizing each groups’ efforts and overseeing this event,” Goldberg said.
“I think that the event showed the council what it was capable of,” Stiebel said. “I hope it leads to further partnerships and opportunities for groups to work together and bring our own unique strengths to the table. This is just the beginning.”
Rabbi Bentzy Schechter of Partners Detroit said, “The turnout showed us that there was an interest and thirst for this kind of event. I hope it will unify young professionals and spur more engagement.
“As Jews, we tend to highlight the differences between each other,” he added. “This event showed us that we share so much more in common than what might divide us. As leaders, we need to create that sense going forward — that we see the best of each other and of each organization.”
Pinson of Chabad Young Professionals was pleased by the execution. “Never before have we worked with so many organizations,” he said. “In this case, we had one organization [Partners Detroit] take the lead with all the others there to support it. It allowed us to have a magnificent event. It felt like we all did it together, but nothing fell through the cracks.
“This is a new perspective for collaboration among Jewish organizations. We get more done for fewer dollars — and more engagement. It’s better to be team players than competitors.”
Addressing the crowd at the event, its originator Joshua Goldberg said, “There is such beauty here — being able to include so many different groups — groups that had never partnered together before.
“Achdut means ‘unity.’ and the groups in the Achdut Detroit Council focus exclusively on building Jewish community. That’s the commonality. But they’re also diverse — in size, in religious orientation and in specific geography.
“This is incredibly special, and it doesn’t happen in other communities.”