Hazzan Roger Skully blows the shofar outside the Allegria Village.
Hazzan Roger Skully blows the shofar outside the Allegria Village. (Courtesy of the Skullys)

In 2022, Roger and Sydney Skully hope to increase the frequency to biweekly services.

On a recent Shabbat morning, the chanting of Barechu, Shemah and Aleinu emanated from the 270-seat chapel at Allegria Village, a large retirement community located in Dearborn. 

Two of its residents, Roger Skully, an 80-year-old cantor, and his wife, Sydney, planned the service and think it may have been the first organized Jewish gathering in a city that boasts the largest Arab population in the United States.

The service was the first of what will start out as monthly Shabbat gatherings, with future ones planned for Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. In 2022, they hope to increase the frequency to biweekly services. 

Pre-COVID, the couple regularly worshiped at Kehillat Etz Chayim in Oak Park. However, during the height of the pandemic, they watched on Zoom, and that, they said, was not fulfilling. 

“We need to see our friends and sing together. Roger and I were longing for a ‘real’ service because we rarely leave our senior community. We want to have a Jewish presence here in Dearborn,” Sydney Skully said to the participants before chanting the haftorah. 

Cantor Skully, who has worked at several synagogues, most recently Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, said the idea to start a congregation in Dearborn arose from his desire to keep singing and the need for an organized Jewish presence in the area. 

The couple estimates that there are six Jewish residents at Allegria and many more in the area who do not have a place to worship because the Downriver congregations no longer exist.  

Sydney and Roger Skully
Sydney and Roger Skully
A Diverse Group

Fifty people attended the 90-minute service on Oct. 30. Cantor Skully estimated 15 of those participants were Jewish. The rest, he said, were residents of Allegria Village or members of an organization called the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION), a group the couple is actively involved with. 

Rabbi Dorit Edut, head of DION, helped publicize it, brought a Torah to the service and read the weekly Torah portion. Also participating in the service was Chaplain Yvonne Fant-Moore, also known to the Skullys through DION. 

“In our retirement community, which is going to be the home of this congregation, I think the only way it’s going to survive is if we’re able to bring in people of all faiths. My vision is that we have a Jewish format but a kind of interfaith service, one in which the non-Jewish residents will also be comfortable,” the cantor said. 

“Many of my friends here were very delighted to have a Jewish service and a Jewish presence. In the world of faith, at least in this country today, we all need to stand together. The best thing for us as Jews, and for most people, is to recognize our humanity and not let some of the divisiveness become a part of what we do,” he added. 

The Skullys are calling their endeavor Congregation Beit Chaim, a name that carries multiple levels of significance, Sydney explained during her d’var Torah, which she happened to deliver on the third anniversary of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

“The anniversary of the Etz Hayim tragedy made me think of life. I wanted to give our endeavor here in Allegria Village a name to make it come alive,” she said. “Everyone knows the toast l’chaim — to life. We are not a place where people go to die but to live. Also, the Hebrew word beit means house. We all literally live under one roof. You don’t have to go outside for anything. Just thinking of how the staff helped us put this service together made me think how true it is that ‘it takes a village.’ The word beit is also Arabic for house. We are here in the heart of Dearborn. Many of our dining room wait staff wear hijabs. We are proud of our diversity here and want to celebrate it.” 

For more information about Congregation Beit Chaim, contact Hazzan Roger Skully at (313) 600-8982 or Sydney Skully at (313) 600-9092.

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