“Project All Together” is designed to bring Shir Shalom’s preschool on-site, as well as to add educational, sanctuary and outdoor spaces for the congregation.
When Rabbi Dannel I. Schwartz envisioned Temple Shir Shalom’s West Bloomfield building, it was to look like a Torah Scroll. “I wanted it to look like a Torah, but we only had enough funds to make it look like a megillah,” he told the JN in 2013.
Now, his vision for Shir Shalom is set to become a reality. Shir Shalom will host a groundbreaking ceremony for its $8.1 million expansion on Sunday, April 24. The groundbreaking event will include opportunities for people to memorialize their thoughts, fond memories and dreams for Temple Shir Shalom, which will be placed in a buried time capsule for future discovery. The upcoming Sunday celebration will also feature carnival activities, a picnic lunch and a chance for people to make tiles that will decorate the new space.
Named “Project All Together,” the eagerly awaited initiative is so far about halfway funded, with funding coming from congregant donations. It is designed to bring Shir Shalom’s preschool on-site, as well as to add educational, sanctuary and outdoor spaces for the congregation.
“We’ve dreamed of this for a while,” says Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, who joined Shir Shalom as its current building was being constructed. Shir Shalom broke ground in August 1994, and the building— opened in late August 1995.
“In August 1995, the vision was that there’d be a phase two one day, that we could complete the Torah,” Moskowitz recalls. “It’s an honor to be a part of this kind of project, to see the excitement it brings to the community, and for us to fulfill our vision and our mission.”
The pandemic led Shir Shalom to rethink how its space could be used, Moskowitz says, and challenged Shir Shalom’s leadership to think about how to stay connected, build relationships and be even more inclusive. Rabbi Daniel A. Schwartz and Cantor Penny Steyer round out the Shir Shalom clergy.
During the pandemic, Shir Shalom sent out High Holiday packages and Chanukah packages to community members, ran religious school outside, hosted a cooperative preschool in the social hall, and even held Havdalah in the snow, offering hot beverages around portable fire pits.
“We’ve gained members in the pandemic and grown as a community,” Moskowitz explains. “We recognize the dynamics are changing in the Jewish world and the Jewish community, and we want to meet people where they are — our space helps with that as well.”
Changing with Congregants’ Needs
The facility will soon have room for its preschool to move to Shir Shalom from rented space at Adat Shalom, and additional educational space for adults. The expansion will also include a new sacred space, where people could gather for a meditation service, small luncheon or a bris, and two additional patios that could be used for onegs or classes, one of which will connect via a glass wall to Shir Shalom’s renovated social hall.
From the 30 families who met in a converted office building on Maple Road back in 1988 to the more than 900 families affiliated with Shir Shalom today, the community and its needs have continued to evolve, says Moskowitz. Ideas of how people need and want to be together have shifted, as well as what they appreciate and where they want to be, he says. The building improvements will give them options for being outside and allow for room to spread out, while spending time in a refreshed, enhanced space, he adds.
Brian Fishman, Shir Shalom’s executive director, says the pandemic gave people an even deeper appreciation for their temple community, and the spaces where they can gather. “The pandemic showed us how much we really like to be together and how tough that was to not be together,” he says. “This will allow us to be together for so many more things.”
Ian Sefferman, of Bloomfield Hills, says he’s sure the expansion will help take Shir Shalom’s preschool to the next level. He and his wife, Ashley, plan to bring their kids, ages 5, 2, and 8 months old, to the groundbreaking to see friends and watch the next chapter of Shir Shalom’s history begin.
In addition to the significance of having the community under one roof for programming and preschool, their excitement is around the people, he says. “The building itself is going to be fantastic, but the people who are going to be creating this building and filling this building are just the most incredible people we’ve been able to find, and we’re so lucky to share it with them,” he explains. “Everyone will really enjoy it.”
Dani Gillman, of Bloomfield Hills, says she’s glad to see the spiritual and educational home she selected for her family a decade ago, a place also so committed to social justice and social action, thriving. It’s been a welcoming and inclusive space for her and her husband, Ben Chutz, their son Julian, now 8, and her daughter Brodie, 17, who is disabled. “We feel like the rabbis, the clergy, really bent over backwards to make us feel welcome, and to include my daughter. And we instantly fell in love with everything the clergy stands for.”
Having seen her son Julian through Shir Shalom’s preschool at two different buildings, she says she also sees the value of centralizing the temple’s programming. “This puts us all under one roof and creates a real home for all of Shir Shalom’s activity,” she says. “It’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of, and we’re happy to be a part of a congregation that is forward-thinking and continuing to grow in numbers, in space and along spiritual lines.”
Remembering June Gurwin
The campus will be named in honor of the late June and the late Robert Gurwin. June committed last year to being a major donor for the project. She had met with temple leadership to see what needs she could help them meet, and after hearing about the building project, decided to make it a destination for her philanthropic giving.
“She was so excited to have the religious school all together in the same place, to be able to have a better social hall for events and a better outdoor space for events,” recounts her daughter, Fran Grossman, of Orchard Lake. “My mom thought that was a really, really good idea, and I was on board.”
Grossman says she hopes the project brings the community even closer, and that people realize even as a small congregation, they can achieve so much. The message: “You can be a part of this, we can do great things, and everybody can help.”
The expansion comes at a time when Shir Shalom is continuing to grow, despite a decreasing Detroit population, competition from other synagogues and temples, and COVID-19, says Franklin resident Steve Ziff.
“It’s a wonderful concept that needs to be executed,” says Ziff, who remembers hearing about Rabbi Dannel Schwartz’s plans for the congregation at its beginnings over tennis, where they met. Ziff, who joined Schwartz’s then-fledgling congregation, says he’s sure the expansion will bring about more programs and interaction, while keeping Shir Shalom’s hallmark focus on making everybody feel comfortable and like they belong.
“The expansion, I hope, is going to bring more new members, be it people who are just hearing about temple for the first time or friends of current congregants, and that it’s going to bring more children throughout the various grades of the school,” he said.
Meanwhile, Allison Woll Parr, Shir Shalom’s president, says she’s looking forward to seeing everyone at the groundbreaking. “After this difficult past couple years, for me, it represents coming back together, safely, and just celebrating something positive when our world can be so challenging, to create this legacy and look at the future of our temple,” she says. “It’s a stop on the way to our future, which I think is pretty exciting.”