Rabbi Alana Alpert on piano and Jake Ehrlich on guitar lead a musical service.
Rabbi Alana Alpert on drums and Jake Ehrlich on guitar lead a musical service.

Known for its inclusivity, T’chiyah says a third of its member households include at least one LGBTQ+ person.

Congregation T’chiyah, Ferndale’s resident Reconstructionist congregation, has a central goal of providing meaningful programming and spiritual experiences for its members while also integrating deep commitments to social justice in a warm, welcoming and inclusive community. T’chiyah’s goals, which align closely with the Reconstructionist movement as a whole, have also aligned with the congregation’s growth over the past seven years. 

Reconstructionism Judaism was founded in the United States in the mid-20th century, based on the ideals of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. Kaplan understood Judaism as the “evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people” that is continually reconstructed as it responds to contemporary society, rather than being fixed and unchanging. Kaplan was also committed to a vision of social progressivism, a hallmark of Reconstructionist communities.

T’chiyah means “revival,” “rebirth” and “renaissance” in Hebrew. When Congregation T’chiyah was founded as a chavurah (circle of friends) in 1977, the founders picked the name as an homage to the newly built Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit, a reflection of its approach to Judaism. 

The congregation has had a few homes over the years, including space in the St. Mary’s Community Center in Greektown and the David and Miriam Mondry Building in Oak Park on the Taubman Jewish Community campus. The congregation now gathers in a dedicated room in the First United Methodist Church in Ferndale on the west side of Woodward Avenue between 8 and 9 Mile roads.

After years of being led and supported by its own membership, visiting rabbis, rabbinical students and scholars, Rabbi Jason Miller became the congregation’s first rabbi in August 2008. The congregation engaged Rabbi Shawn Zevit as its visiting rabbi for the 2012-13 year. During the 2013-2014 year, services were lay-led. 

Alana Alpert
Alana Alpert

Seven years ago, the congregation hired Rabbi Alana Alpert as a part-time rabbi. Since her arrival, T’chiyah’s membership has nearly tripled in size and attracted a group of enthusiastic millennials and new families from diverse backgrounds. Rabbi Alana’s flexible, creative services are a beloved feature of her leadership, facilitating a holistic experience of spirituality incorporating music, meditation and poetry.

Rabbi Alana has enhanced the congregation’s social justice efforts in a major way. During her seven-year part-time tenure, she was also the executive director of Detroit Jews for Justice (DJJ), the community organizing initiative that grew from her hire and T’chiyah’s desire to become the social justice shul in Metro Detroit. DJJ has seen rapid development and growth, as has the congregation, which led to T’chiyah recently bringing Rabbi Alana on as its full-time rabbi. 

Outgoing president Mary Ellen Gurewitz believes Rabbi Alana’s work and the synergy between DJJ and T’chiyah has attracted people — serving as a pathway for many Metro Detroit Jews to delve into social justice work in a Jewish way. 

“The opportunity to engage in social justice activities through a Jewish organization is clearly something many people are very responsive to and grateful for,” Gurewitz said. 

Koby Levin
Koby Levin

Koby Levin, whose dad, Andy Levin, was president of T’chiyah some years ago, became president in May 2022. Gurewitz served as president for the last four years. 

T’chiyah also hired Jake Ehrlich, now operations and engagement manager, thanks to a grant from the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Foundation in June 2018.

With the significant growth and forward change, T’chiyah has seen a shift in membership.  

“We now have well over 100 families, which even 10 years ago would’ve come as a surprise to the leadership of the congregation,” Levin said. “Many of the new folks are younger. We have families, and we have older folks who see the vibrance of our community and are drawn in.” 

T’chiyah programming has expanded thanks to its growth. 

“We have (a program) called Getting Good at Getting Older that appeals to the older generations, introductions to Jewish prayer, a conversion track for folks wanting to either reconnect with Judaism or connect with it for the first time, and to me that’s been a clear draw,” Levin said. “We get folks in these programs who are not members and once they spend some time with us, they tend to stick around.” 

Known for its inclusivity, T’chiyah says a third of its member households include at least one LGBTQ+ person. 

A service at Congregation T’chiyah
A service at Congregation T’chiyah

When Levin attended T’chiyah growing up, he says he was one of a small number of young people who attended. That’s since changed in a wonderful way, according to Levin, who believes his new role as president is an opportunity to participate in a generational shift that’s already taking place.

“This growth has happened organically. We didn’t set out as a synagogue to grow,” Levin said. “It just turned out amid the pandemic and many other challenging things going on in the world over the last five to 10 years that many folks out there are looking for the same thing. We’re happy to welcome them and share space with them.” 

Watch “Ask the Rabbi” with Rabbi Alana Alpert below:

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