Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at U-M fail to silence Jewish student
Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
Expressing relief that the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government (CSG) Ethics Committee had cleared his name on Dec. 7 of charges of hate speech because he spoke out at a pro-Palestinian demonstration, Jesse Arm, a CSG student representative, said he looks forward to “getting back to work on making campus a better place for all students.”
“Freedom of speech is of critical importance, and all students should recognize that truth,” Arm told the JN shortly after the ethics committee hearing — the first time in the CSG’s history a student serving in a student governmental position had ever been brought up on an ethics violation. “I hope that, in the future, all students will be able to engage in respectful dialogue freely without fear of repercussions for their ideas,” he said.
Under the charges brought up by the pro-Palestinian group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), Arm faced possible removal from his student governmental seat for emotionally, but peacefully, criticizing their Nov. 19 demonstration.
The demonstration featured SAFE members costumed to look like Israeli soldiers pretending to harass others at a mock checkpoint in front of two large, wall-like signs that included a dove targeted in a rifle’s crosshairs and the words “To Exist Is To Resist.”
Arm told the JN, “I objected to the use of that phrase in particular because I believe it to be a plainly regressive way of looking at the conflict no matter what side you are on. To exist is to coexist. To exist is to dialogue. To exist is to compromise. To exist is to strive toward peace.”
The incident occurred on the same day Jewish students on campus learned of the terrorist murder of Jewish American Ezra Schwartz in Israel, though campus media reports that the timing by SAFE was a coincidence. Arm, who passed the demonstration on his way to a class, spoke out and offered his contact information to later discuss the issue, but a SAFE representative was not interested in continuing a dialogue.
The Ethics Committee reviewed the incident, which was documented in a video presented by SAFE. SAFE’S own video, however, proved that Arm acted appropriately — and it wound up supplying the evidence that exonerated him.
The Ethics Committee concluded, “Arm should not be penalized; and members of student government have the right to speak passionately … and advocate on behalf of the causes they believe in. [Arm] remained well inside his First Amendment rights and … he never attempted to speak on behalf of Central Student Government or even mentioned the governing body.”
To justify their ruling, the CSG cited Article VIII, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Student Body of the Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan, which states that “no authority, academic or civil, shall infringe on a student’s freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully assemble, or freedom to demonstrate grievances.”
The Ethics Committee also stated “SAFE has the right to continue to discuss these important issues, just as Representative Arm should have the right to continue to speak freely and participate in dialogue. … This expression cannot be censored; the emotional responses that students have are real and valuable.”
Leading up to the hearing, Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames in a statement said that she had “faith in our Wolverines, and I believe our student government will see there is no substance behind this complaint and will not take action against Jesse.” She said that prior to the hearing, Alex Adler, the Michigan Hillel governing board chair, spoke at the CSG and several other students came out to support Arm against an “unfounded complaint made by students with a BDS agenda.”
Heidi Budaj, Michigan regional director of the AntiDefamation League, praised the efforts of organizations like Hillel and Chabad who have “boots on the ground” to support and advocate for Jewish students on campus. She also questioned SAFE’s motives as well as what standards SAFE felt Arm violated.
“The ADL by no means wishes to limit the right to free speech by any group,” Budaj said. “However, it is not clear as to which standards of behavior Arm is being held against.”
After the hearing, the Ethics Committee concluded that the operation rulings of the committee must be “reformed” as it was unclear as to what standards Arm should have been judged and whether or not Arm was allowed legal representation at the hearing.
According to Article VIII of the Conflicts of Interest Code, a member of the CSG may have an ethical conflict of interest of serving on the CSG if they receive money or payment from any student organization as a direct consequence of their membership in the Assembly. It also states, “No member of the Assembly possessing a conflict of interest with a student organization may participate in debate or vote on any matter regarding the organization with which there exists a conflict of interest.”
There is no language about CSG members participating, or speaking out, at a campus demonstration. Attempts to reach CSG and SAFE representatives before and after the hearing by the Detroit Jewish News went unanswered. *
After centuries of assimilation and isolation from the rest of the Children of Israel, pockets of Jews in China, India, Spain, Portugal, South America, and far-flung regions of the former Soviet Union are rediscovering their Jewish heritage. Thank you to Laura Ben-David of Shavei Israel agency for the photos and your visit to Detroit to teach us all about the amazing work you do. Here is my story from the December 17 issue of the Detroit Jewish News.
Reclaiming Judaism Shavei Israel agency helps “lost” Jews find their heritage.
By Stacy Gittleman
Whether the people it helps live in China, India or Brazil, an Israeli agency called Shavei Israel (Israel Returns) is helping “hidden” or “lost” populations of Jews reclaim their Judaism.
Times of Israel blogger and Shavei Israel employee Laura Ben David made a Detroit stop Nov. 14 at Young Israel of Southfield during a multi-city North American tour to promote awareness and explain the “incredible phenomenon” of Jews previously thought to be lost to the rest of mainstream Judaism returning to their Jewish heritage.
Shavei Israel works with pockets of those claiming Jewish ancestry in nine countries and counting. It is comprised of a team of academics, educators, and rabbinical figures and has the support of rabbinical authorities in Israel and the United States.
“We find it humbling that, in spite of all the problems the Jewish people face, there are emerging hidden people who identify themselves as Jewish and who want to throw their fate in with the rest of us,” Ben David said to a group of 30 at Young Israel in Southfield.
She spent her childhood summers visiting her grandparents and extended family in Detroit. Her grandmother, who is 100, lives at Fleischman Residence in West Bloomfield. Now living in Israel, Ben David describes her job as her “life’s work of reconnecting people to Israel and their Jewish heritage.”
“We find no matter where in the globe we go, there are people who feel very strongly a connection and a love for Israel,” she said. “The very least Shavei Israel can do is help them find their way either by strengthening their Jewish connections while they live in their current countries or helping them make aliyah.”
Ben David focused her talk on the Jews of India or the Bnei Menashe. It is the largest group of “lost” Jews who claim to be direct descendants of the Lost Tribe of Menashe. In recent years, Shavei Israel has brought 3,000 Bnei Menashe to Israel. Another 7,000 remain in India waiting to make aliyah.
The transition to life in Israel and acceptance of their Judaism is a challenge. Although the Israeli rabbinate visited Indian Jewish population centers to verify their authenticity, Ben David explained the Bnei Menashe still must go through a brief yet intensive course of study for conversion. However, because of India’s anti-proselytization laws, they must first move to Israel and undergo conversion there to become full Israeli citizens.
Shavei Israel works with pockets of those claiming Jewish ancestry in nine countries and counting. It is comprised of a team of academics, educators, and rabbinical figures and has the support of rabbinical authorities in Israel and the United States.
Regardless of red tape, Ben David said groups of students greet the arriving Bnei Menashe with open arms. The Bnei Menashe spend three months in a resettlement community in Jerusalem where they learn Hebrew and enroll in a rigorous Judaic study to prepare them for the Beit Din, or the Court of Rabbis, for conversion.
Eventually, they go on to live in “carefully selected” towns throughout Israel where they receive training and education that will lead to sustainable employment. Though they retain “the flavor and culture” of their home country, they become full Israeli citizens and eventually their children will serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Our social workers stay in touch with our new olim [immigrants] and we are constantly revising our program to meet their needs,” Ben David said.
“We give them as much support as possible with a goal to facilitate their economic independence.” Young Israel’s Rabbi Yechiel Morris said the talk was eye-opening because it is “fascinating for Ashkenazi Jews like us to know there are other pocket populations of Jews in the world we are only starting to discover. “We are truly a scattered people who are only now starting to make our way home from all the corners of the Earth,” he said.
With just 9 days left in his Kickstarter campaign, Max Feber is more than 70 percent on his way of hitting his financial goal to launch cold-brewing BRUW product. Here is my article from the Dec. 10 issue of the Detroit Jewish News.
The weather might be getting cold, but West Bloomfield teen Max Feber, 17, thinks the timing is hot to launch BRUW, a new cold-brewing method for drinking coffee, which he invented and is now awaiting patent approval.
On Nov. 19, the junior at Frankel Jewish Academy launched a Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/feber/bruw-cold-brew-simplified. As of Dec. 2, BRUW enticed 87 backers contributing $4,195, making Feber well on his way to reaching his all-or-nothing funding goal of $9,500 by Dec. 23. If BRUW hits this milestone, Feber will pour this startup funding into the manufacturing and distribution phase. Feber said BRUW would be made in Michigan and retail online for $30.
The BRUW filter is a double-sided Mason jar lid with a filter in the center. The coffee is cold-brewed for 12-24 hours and then filtered from one jar to the other in a sealed, spill-free environment. And, for those who like it hot, Feber said it could be easily concocted into a warm beverage: just add a bit more water, heat and serve.
“The recipe for cold-brewed coffee has already been invented,” said Feber, who describes himself as a “self-proclaimed coffee snob.” He prefers a medium grind and recommends a four grams of water to 1 graham of coffee ratio. “I wanted to create a method that was easy, inexpensive and required no electricity. You could enjoy the cold brew coffee on a camping trip or at school.”
This is not the budding entrepreneur’s first attempt at starting a business. There was the at-home businesses with imports from China and he briefly tried his hand at creating photomontages for Bar and Bat mitzvahs. This time, he believes that BRUW will be a hit.
Feber conceived the idea for BRUW in a dual-enrollment course in partnership with Lawrence Technological University. Students were required to create a product prototype and pitch the idea to the class. He spent a great deal of time perfecting a prototype with both primitive and professional materials.
“I created countless prototypes ranging from using a 3D printer to making one at my kitchen table with a hot glue gun,” Feber said.
During the Kickstarter campaign, Feber is busy promoting his idea through social media and getting as much support as possible from family and friends. Then, there is also the stuff that the typical high school junior must juggle: class, studying, a part-time job, college prep and extra-curricular activities.
“Let’s just say I am making great use of a color coded calendar these days,” Feber said.
Whether or not BRUW succeeds, Feber said he has learned much from the experience and it will certainly shape his path to choosing a college and career.
“I will always be an entrepreneur, and I am going to study business, no matter what,” Feber said. Starting a business may be risky business, but one thing’s for sure: in his teen social circle’s drinking cold brewed coffee is hot. Still, he is chided.
“Close friends joke with me and say I might fail. But really, everyone is happy and excited for me. And no one has tried to sabotage me, yet.”
This gallery contains 4 photos.
It’s not about presents or the number of Chanukkah songs there are compared with Christmas songs, or how a humble nine-branched candelabra can compete with a freshly pine-scented ornament adorned Christmas tree.
Chanukkah, the holiday that celebrates history’s first victory for religious freedom, is about not giving into tyranny. In any generation.
Meet Ezra Schwartz.
He’s eighteen and spending his gap year in Israel, just like my own children did. At least he was until yesterday. Now he’s dead.
Ezra was murdered by fanatics, on the spree of unrelenting bloodlust that’s happening right now in the Jewish State. I am troubled beyond the ability of words to express. Why aren’t the people who changed their Facebook photos to the French flag, changing it today to the Israeli flag? Changing it to Ezra’s picture? But who am I kidding? Israel isn’t France is it? No, it’s just a bunch of Jews over there and maybe, just maybe… they deserve it, right?
Every day for the past several weeks people like Ezra, who by the way, reminds me so much of my youngest son, have been murdered in Israel on an orgy of morbid extremism and spilled Jewish blood. Every time I look at…
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Last week, the whole world – rightly so – mourned for France.
Skyscrapers were lit the color of the French Flag.
Many changed their Facebook profile photos to the Eifel Tower in a peace sign. Many of you draped your faces in the French Flag or showed old photos of you perched high atop the Eifel Tower or standing in front of the Lourve.
You were horrified at this act of terror.
You cried for the victims.
A week later?
Maybe it is because many of you have no real connection to Israel.
Maybe it is because you never traveled there. Have family there. Maybe it is because you do not speak the language or simply cannot identify.
Whatever the case, when Jewish blood spills, unlike last week, you were – for the most part – all silent.
For the most part, you are all demonstrating what most of us already know: we are completely alone.
And you should feel ashamed of that. You have no idea how that hurts. Yes, it fucking personally hurts your Jewish friends who are sitting in their houses, stunned, functionless, to learn one of our own, a boy who could have been our own son, friend, boyfriend, brother, was murdered today just because he was Jewish.
There are not many of us. But Israel, I want to tell you what I saw in Detroit last Sunday: some of our own young sons, no more than 16, organizing a pro-peace, pro-Israel rally that was attended by hundreds. They wanted to say: israel – we are here. Our numbers are small but we care, we cry when you cry. We are here.
Here is my story about the Israel Rally in this week’s Detroit Jewish News:
When three local Jewish teens recently witnessed a pro-Palestinian rally on the corner of Maple and Orchard Lake roads, they decided to counter it with their own rally for Israel at the very same spot in the low setting November sun last Sunday, Nov. 9. About 200 Israel supporters capped off a very busy “Fall Fix Up” Sunday by waving Israeli flags, singing and dancing to Israeli music, and visibly showing their support for the Jewish State.
Several weeks ago, Ben Rashty, a student at Frankel Jewish Academy said he was driving to meet some friends for dinner when he passed a “large, well organized anti-Israel rally.”
“From my car I heard them chanting very cruel things about the land of Israel and its people, said Rashty, of West Bloomfield, who has immediate family in Israel and traveled there many times to visit. He pulled into a parking lot and started calling friends to gather on an adjacent corner to counter their protest. With only minutes to respond, Rashty was only able to get five friends to come out with Israeli flags, stand on an adjacent corner, and sing the Hatikvah.
He decided that was not enough.
“The Arabs were cheering with joy and celebration as if they had ‘won,’” said Rashty.
Rashty realized that planning a counter rally on his own was more easily said than done. So he called on the help of some of his school chums Nisim Nesimov, and Cole Levine. Together, they created a Facebook event, made flyers and spoke to leaders in the Jewish community for publicity. Rashty also contacted the West Bloomfield Police Department to notify them for planning and security, he said.
A big challenge of getting numbers to the rally was it coincided at end of the community-wide “Fall Fix Up” sponsored by Jewish Family Service. But people came. They traded in work gloves from the day’s work assignments out on Belle Isle, the B’nai David Cemetery, or helping homebound seniors for Israeli and American flags as they pulled into Shops of Old Orchard parking lot. Passersby in cars honked in support as rally participants waved Israeli and American flags, sang, and danced.
Debbie Szobel Logan, 57, a freelance writer from Bloomfield Hills, came to the rally with her husband Stuart Logan, 59, to “be counted and show their vocal support for Israel.” She said she did not realize that teens had organized the rally until she arrived.
“It was so heartening and gave me so much hope to learn that teens cared enough about Israel to organize this rally,” said Szobel Logan. “I see and hear so much virulent anti-Israel rhetoric from unsurprising and surprising sources. It was important for me to contribute to the numbers and visibility of pro-Israel supporters, and it was thrilling to see all the smiles and waves from people passing by in their cars.”
Globally and across the country, pro-Israel supporters have rallied throughout the fall to show solidarity with Israel as it faces the latest wave of terror and calls to boycott Israeli products and academics in Europe. Recently, the European Union announced it would start labeling all products created in Judea and Samaria with a special label.
“Everywhere you look in the media there is a lot of anti-Israel propaganda popping up in an effort to destroy the Jewish people and Israel,” said Rashty. “I felt it was a vital time to hold this rally to show our community’s support.”
About two weeks ago I wrote an opinion piece in the Detroit Jewish News about the paucity of the content in Jewish congregational supplemental schools when it comes to learning Jewish history.
My son, quickly approaching his Bar Mitzvah, knows his Hebrew. Has a decent grasp on his prayers. So it is not the Hebrew content I am concerned he is not getting.
It is Jewish History. It is learning the Torah Portion of the Week. And learning about the Prophets. It is learning about Israeli history that I knew he wasn’t getting enough of.
So, I put it upon him and I to get this learning done at home.
It is November.
So how is it going?
We have read about eight stories of the prophets, each chapter making some sort of archeologic connection or finding within Israel in order to validate the prophet’s life.
We read a truncated version of the weekly Torah portion, with a little help in livening up each passage thanks to the Youtube video-making geniuses over at G-dcast.
Needless to say, we do this in the late afternoon or the early evening. And the kid is ANTSY.
We take turns reading. One page for him, one page for me.
While I read, he spins, he dances, he bounces.
Then, as I am trying to get through a chapter of the Golden Age of Spain, he stands on his head.
Now, I get the whole learning through movement thing, but there comes a time when you just have to show this material the respect it is due. Just as I am at my wit’s end and order him to SIT his bottom down in a chair, besides me on the couch, he reminds me:
“Mom! Really! i can learn and absorb all this stuff while I am standing on my head. Standing on your head is GOOD for you. Why do you think David Ben Gurion did it all the time?? HE was VERY smart.”
How do you argue with that?
It is getting way close to home now.
This month, Detroiters traveling down the Southfield Freeway around eight mile get treated to this huge billboard:
Why now? Why now, when Israelis are facing stabbing attacks on the streets of their cities each day? Why now when the world, as represented by the United Nations, is delegitimizing Israel further by considering and even passing resolutions that Judaism’s claims to its holiest sites are bogus and they are Mulsim sites?
Most will speed by the billboard and only see those big words. They will not pay attention to who sponsored a group: a blatantly anti-Semitic organization that actively denies the Holocaust by refuting the claim that gas chambers existed; seeks to hold Jews in America accountable for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and promotes the lie that American Jews send American troops to their death. (http://blog.deiryassin.org/page/2/)
Here is my article on the topic, including an interview with American Jew Henry Herskovitz, who has asked an Ann Arbor synagogue to remove the Israeli flag from its sanctuary and who protests outside of it each Saturday morning as his fellow Jews go to worship inside. Please sign the petition that asks Lamar Advertising not to take any more money to advertise hatred here.
An intensely anti-Israel organization— whose local advisory board member has led Shabbat morning protests outside an Ann Arbor synagogue for the past 12 years — has placed a billboard at Eight Mile and the Southfield Freeway that reads “America First … NOT ISRAEL.”
“This billboard was placed to do one thing: To drive a wedge between Israel and the American people,” said Heidi Budaj,
Michigan regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It follows the age-old adage that falsely accuses Jews of not being loyal to the countries in which they live.”
The $3,000-a-month Lamar Advertising billboard is paid for by the advocacy group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR) and will be on display until Nov. 15. The organization is trying to raise funds to keep it up for successive months.
Since 2012, DYR placed similar ads in 12 major cities across the country intended to, according to the ADL’s Budaj, “unravel the legitimacy of U.S.-Israel ties.”
DYR, with an address in western New York, is headed by Paul Eisen, a pro-Palestinian British Jew who believes Israelis committed slaughter of Arabs to drive them out of their villages during the 1948
War of Independence. He styles himself as a Holocaust denier.
Henry Herskovitz, a Jewish Ann Arborite and a member of DYR’s board of
advisers, said, “While the ADL is accusing us of creating a wedge, we think the wedge
already exists.” Since 2003, he has led an anti-Israel vigil Shabbat mornings outside
Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Congregation. Herskovitz’s main grievances against
“the Jewish supremacist state” include the lack of separation between church and
state, no voting rights for Palestinians and penalties of the Israeli court system —
including prison time — for questioning the “standard narrative of Holocaust.”
Herskovitz added, “There is no closeness between the U.S. and the State of Israel. The
only reason Americans think this is true is propaganda put out by the Jewish lobby.”
A motorist, Robert Shaw of Oak Park, spotted the ad on a recent drive, pulled
over, snapped a photo and placed it on his Facebook page. The post was shared so
widely on Facebook that it was picked up by national and international media, and
there is now a fundraising campaign to place another ad to counter the original’s
“disturbing” message, he said.
“I fully believe in First Amendment rights because that is what makes America
strong,” Shaw said. “But freedom of expression must be tempered with common
sense and dignity toward others.”
Roni Leibovitch of West Bloomfield felt the ad was not a political statement but
an attack on American Jews. He set up an online petition asking the billboard company
to take it down.
In the first five days, the petition, accessible at chn.ge/1M0niLB, got some 800
signatures. It says, in part, “Please remove this billboard which causes hatred of
American Jews, and feeds off the same kind of dual-loyalty accusations which
were leveled against the Jews by Nazis in the years leading up to the Holocaust.”
DYR, bases its name upon Deir Yassin, one of the most controversial battles during
Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. There are conflicting reports on the circumstances
that left more than 200 Arabs from this village dead.
The New York Times report said more than 40 were captured and 70 women and
children were released. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report. According
to http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, many of the Arabs who were killed were fighters
disguised as women or civilians. The DYR website says the event was an outright
massacre of innocent Arab civilians. DYR claims it has received support from
far-leftist British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, according to London’s Jewish
Chronicle. Corbyn is running for British prime minister. *
2 November 5 • 2015
When I penned this last week for the Detroit Jewish News, Joseph’s Tomb had not been set on fire by Palestinians twice. Yet. The thought of the Palestinians petitioning UNESCO that the Western Wall should be declared a Muslim holy site went beyond the pale of imagination.
But here we are. According to the world authorities, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Machpelach have no Jewish connection. Will this be enough of a shakedown to shake us out of our complacency?
On Oct. 8, The New York Times published an article that disregarded any Jewish historical claims to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ask the average pre-bnei mitzvah adolescent attending a supplementary congregational Hebrew school why this is so troubling and you may get some blank stares.
In a 2007 study from the AVI CHAI foundation, one Jewish educator lamented that in the ever-shrinking hours of a child’s Jewish education, “we have lost the battle for time.” The paucity of contact hours spent at Hebrew school means that our Jewish kids are getting a minimal Jewish education. They learn to decode Hebrew enough for Hebrew prayer and bnei mitzvah preparation. Through experiential learning, they get the basics of the Jewish holiday cycle and maybe a sprinkling of Torah stories. Teachers need to accomplish this within five or less hours of weekly instruction, all the while dealing with the disruption of kids arriving late or leaving early because of extra-curricular activities.
That means teaching Jewish history – from our most ancient beginnings in Judea, through the Roman exile and all the way up to the birth of the modern State of Israel – has mostly met the chopping block. If you need evidence, visit the resource room or library of any temple or synagogue and you will see volumes of history textbooks printed in the last decade languishing on the shelves.
I speak from experience. I have taught Hebrew school in one capacity or another here in Detroit and in Western New York for 13 years. I have been trained on several curricula that attempt to infuse experiential history lessons into the classroom using both traditional and the most up-to-date methods of the Digital Age, only to scrap carefully constructed lessons for the sake of time.
As a parent, a Jewish educator, and a writer who has been observing media coverage of the Israeli-Arab conflict since college, I cannot help but notice an ominous connection between the neglect of teaching Jewish history and the rise of the distortion and demonization of Israel and of Jews in Israel, on the American campus and throughout the world.
American Jewish kids with a minimal education, or no Jewish education after their bnei mitzvah, are blindsided when they reach the college campus and do not know how to respond when confronted with organizations on college campuses calling to boycott “apartheid” Israel.
As parents and Jewish professionals, we are doing ourselves a disservice when we let our children’s Jewish education take a back seat to our many other priorities. Our children need to learn Jewish history – to see where we have come from and what past generations endured to maintain their Judaism – to shape their own Jewish identity and destiny.
This year, after much soul searching, I decided to “home Hebrew school” my own child. I do not recommend this for everyone. Ideally, Jewish learning needs to take place in a communal setting and with lively discussion. Believe me, getting your own kid to take you seriously as a teacher is no cakewalk, but with the promise of a treat after a certain amount of studying has been accomplished, we settle down and get to work.
Each time, we get through one chapter from an age-appropriate textbook. Fortunately, there are many educational resources and videos online to make ancient Jewish history come alive. Right now, we are working our way through learning about ancient Judea and the Jewish revolts after the Romans conquered Jerusalem.
Even as Israel works hard to preserve its antiquities, there are some who wish to erase them. As we sat learning the other night, an online news source reported that Palestinians had destroyed a 1,900-year-old cave in the Gush Etzion region that dated back to the Bar Kochva revolt. If you had never heard of this era in Jewish history, I encourage you to look it up.
Detroit Jewish News
October 15 • 2015
arts & life
Michael Bolton’s tribute
to our fair city premiered
with a red-carpet celebration.
Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
It’s hard to believe that Grammy Award winning
recording artist Michael Bolton is from Connecticut — and not from Detroit.
During his 30-year career, Bolton has literally sung the praises of Motown all over the globe.
Now, he is so confident that this city is on the “tipping point of greatness” that he is in the
final phases of releasing a $400,000 full-length documentary he personally financed, which
previewed at an exclusive sneak peek event last week at Detroit’s Fox Theatre and was attended
by some of the city’s most prominent leaders, businesspeople and entertainers.
Bolton, 62, walked the red carpet at the Fox on Friday, Oct. 2, for the premiere of Gotta Keep
Dreamin: Detroit’s 21st Century Renaissance, drawing a crowd of several hundred, including
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, along
with Chris Ilitch and Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert. Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom emceed a panel of the film’s stars before Martha Reeves closed out the night with a surprise performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
In addition to featuring Gilbert’s contributions to the city’s comeback, the movie
highlights a number of big names, including John Varvatos, Francis Ford Coppola, Alice
Cooper, Jerry Bruckheimer and more, as well as several young Jewish entrepreneurs
— such as Jacob Cohen, partner at Detroit Venture Partners, who participated in Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s inaugural Entrepreneurial Mission to Israel last April, and
dPOP CEO Melissa Price.
Price, who designs interior spaces for new businesses within once-decaying buildings
in Detroit’s rapidly growing downtown, spoke onstage about her recent move into a
Downtown Detroit apartment and the “endless” places to dine and explore within walking distance
of where she lives.
“There is an emerging belief system taking hold in Detroit that anything is possible,” Price
Gilbert said Detroit’s history and its comeback “lies in the intersection of muscle and
brains” of its determined youthful population and the willingness of older, established businesses
to embrace and understand the culture of a digitally driven new generation.
“We can no longer operate with the old ways of thinking, that this is the way things have
always been done,” Gilbert said. “We need to build corporate cultures that attract young talent.
It is a culture that is proving that ideas, thoughts and beliefs are greater than money
when it comes to building businesses.”
Bolton, 62, was born and raised in a middle class Jewish home in 1950s New Haven, Conn.,
where he was taught by his family “not to hate,”even though his own family at times faced
discrimination as Jews. His connection to his Jewish heritage lies not in practice but in fond
memories of his Ukrainian-born grandparents, who taught him to believe in the American
“My grandparents came to America with nothing more than the confidence and belief
that they could provide a better life for their children,” Bolton said at a press conference
at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit the day before the premiere. “That is the American
dream, and that dream is still alive right here in Detroit.”
What truly inspired Bolton to make this documentary was his lifelong love of Motown
music — he opened for Detroit’s own Bob Seger in his early years and, in 2013, he recorded an
album of Motown covers, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Recently, he discovered Hitsville
U.S.A., the nickname given to Motown studios’ first headquarters, and an introduction to
Gilbert by Bedrock Real Estate Services’ Detroit Ambassador Bruce Schwartz helped seal the
Bolton, who has had his share of uncomplimentary press, knows the sting of being
portrayed in a bad light by the media. His film comes on the heels of much negative national
coverage about Detroit, including the 2012 documentary Detropia, the book Detroit: The
American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff (Penguin Books) and national coverage of the city’s 2013
“When the media wants to cover Detroit, they cannot resist the bloodiest part — the
blight and the decay — and I know how painful that can be,” Bolton said. “This film project
represents the greatness and the dignity of the people of Detroit. In the three years since I
started this project, more people with no roots in Detroit are increasingly interested in all the
good that is happening here.”
Bolton is back in Los Angeles making final edits with 2929 Entertainment to meet the
deadline to distribute the film for the 2016 film festival circuit. But this is not his last trip to
Detroit, not by a long shot.
“I do not have a kind of house-flipper, short-term relationship with Detroit,” he said. “The people I have met who helped me make this film are so inspiring. I hope this film has a long-lasting afterlife, and I intend to make it
reach as many people as possible to show off the town that keeps getting better every time I