Being able to put his imprint on the temple and community has been the case since the start for Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, with that freedom helping Shir Shalom grow from 500 families when he arrived to more than 900 families today.
Rabbi Michael Moskowitz remembers his job interview with Temple Shir Shalom in the spring of 1995, not even seven years into the temple’s existence.
In the construction process of its new building at the time, the temple was just a frame, with muddy surroundings and the cement only just being poured. Moskowitz, though, was still excited to see it coming together in-person.
Moskowitz was warned to bring work boots during his visit, but in the excitement, didn’t really think much of it, ruining his dress shoes in the process. That moment though, Moskowitz says, is reflective of his now 25+ years as a rabbi there.
“It was that excitement of, ‘I’m getting to watch the cement being poured here, literally, and I get to put my imprint on it.’”
Being able to put his imprint on the temple and community has been the case since the start for Moskowitz, with that freedom helping Shir Shalom grow from 500 families when he arrived to more than 900 families today.
Thinking back on his fondest memories at the temple, Moskowitz believes it’s all about the connections.
“The relationships that have developed over time, from the very start being welcomed into people’s lives and being able to help in the most difficult of moments and celebrate the most joyous of times, and how those relationships have just been nurtured is really such a blessing,” he says.
For Moskowitz, the relationships go beyond the temple walls, being a part of teen missions to Israel since 1996. Those trips have grown to become an example to other communities around the country.
For the past 14 years, Moskowitz has taken families to Israel in partnership with Temple Israel, and he’s now moving onto adult trips this spring.
“I love bringing people to Israel and sharing the joy of Zionism and the reality of what Israel is, all the good and challenging with that, but also it’s a vehicle to bring people closer together and to build community,” he says.
Moskowitz loves how temple has always been a “holy petri dish,” creating different ways to engage people with Judaism.
Moskowitz is proud of the growth of programs offered to youth at the temple, starting a preschool from the ground up as something really intimate to now beginning a building project where the preschool will be at the temple itself.
Moskowitz is also proud of the religious school, making it a fun and engaging “camp” as much as possible, wanting their children to love their Judaism and to feel comfortable and safe in it.
“I’ve had this freedom here at temple from the get-go to try anything for the betterment of education and community. There weren’t roadblocks; there was, ‘go for it, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something different,’” Moskowitz says.
‘Good’ From The Start
Originally from St. Louis, Moskowitz has grown to love the Metro Detroit Jewish community, noticing a sense of comfort from the beginning. Moskowitz remembers visiting Detroit for his interview, and after meeting and having dinner with the board of directors, they were all hugging.
“It was very natural,” Moskowitz says. “That’s partly Shir Shalom, but I think that’s also the Detroit Jewish community and how people are with one another.”
In reflection of his time at Shir Shalom, Moskowitz carries important lessons with him.
“To lead with curiosity more than with judgment, the idea of knowing that everyone has something to teach and share in our world and to look for the gifts in every person that you meet,” Moskowitz says.
Being able to both learn and teach while being “sandwiched” by the elder Rabbi Dannel Schwartz and younger Rabbi Daniel Schwartz has been a beautiful balance for Moskowitz.
“It was a good match from the start, and it continues to be a very good match for Temple Shir Shalom and Michael Moskowitz, and that’s really a blessing,” he said.
Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, who was hired by Moskowitz, thinks of him as a community connector.
One memory tied to that came in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018, when interfaith colleagues Moskowitz had formed relationships with reached out to him, wanting to show support for the Jewish community, Schwartz said. As a result of the network Moskowitz built over the years, Shir Shalom was able to have an archbishop, an imam and a variety of other religious faith leaders on the bimah to stand in solidarity.
“That’s just his personality. He can walk into a room and get to know people and build relationships with them immediately,” Schwartz said.
Keith Lublin, immediate past president of Temple Shir Shalom, has known Moskowitz since their freshman year of college in 1986.
“I know the same passion he has for community and Israel that he shows now is authentic because I’ve seen it since we were teenagers,” Lublin said. “That authenticity, sense of humor and his ability to connect with any age group, what you see is what you get.”
Lublin believes Moskowitz’ legacy is helping to build a strong, caring community and congregation that didn’t exist before he came to town.
“The reason I think Shir Shalom has been so successful over these past 25+ years is because of the caring clergy who have built something that very clearly was desired and needed here in town, and they’ve been able to bring people together in a way they wanted to be brought together.”