When I saw the above commercial during the past Super Bowl, I didn’t immediately forget that Detroit is Dying ... Quickly. So who would have guessed that at the same time that Motown’s population is plummeting and its jobs disappearing, it’s Jewish life is being reborn?
When I was growing up in Detroit in the 1970s and 80s, the notion that Jews would return to the city—literally the areas of old Detroit that housed the core of the community for a hundred years—was a remote fantasy. The community had been moving to the suburbs since the 1950s. By the time I was born, the Jewish community, and all the synagogues and temples, had moved to the suburbs. My parents’ choice to live in the city was never quite understood. Two small shuls stuck it out.
However, Detroit’s Jewish community, whose members live almost entirely in the suburbs, is not ready to give up on a city that has such a rich and vibrant Jewish past. In addition to the new Moishe House, and a Repair the World volunteer, a landmark synagogue recently was saved. The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue was about to close its doors and sell the building after 90 years. The situation had been so bad that the synagogue needed to recruit the bartender of a nearby night club to make a minyan. A group of my contemporaries, old shul members and younger Jews have banded together and saved the shul. The compelling saga was even covered by NPR.
Detroit’s Jews are resilient. Instead of closing the Downtown Synagogue, they celebrated their 90th year with 300 people.
It’s good to see people sticking it out and rebuilding a dwindling community. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.