Never underestimate the impact of a school field trip.
Last spring, Sophie Erlich, 14, of Birmingham took a trip to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue with
her eighth-grade classmates from Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills. There, she learned about the synagogue’s past. There, she also became inspired about contributing to Detroit’s comeback and an urban Jewish future.
This September, Sophie, now in ninth-grade at Birmingham Groves High School, and big brother, Jonah Erlich, 16, kicked off a fundraiser for the synagogue, founded in 1921, with their “Daven Downtown” T-shirt fundraising campaign. They sold more than 35 T-shirts for $36 each on their website designed by Jonah, www.davendowntown.com/ collections. All proceeds go directly to
help the synagogue.
Throughout the whole process, which is earning them required community
service credits for school, the teens also are learning valuable lesson in keeping inventories, marketing for nonprofit organizations on social
media and running a business.
“I am very energized about the idea of Detroit coming back,” said Sophie, who has friends with older siblings who are moving into the city. “It’s where I hope to live and work when I am an adult and out of college.” Jonah echoed his sister’s sentiments.
“If more Jewish young adults move into the city, they will need a thriving synagogue within walking distance where they can pray and just hang out with other Jews,” he said. “I would be so excited to work and live in Detroit someday.”
To create the right vibe, they asked local designer Kathy Roessner to donate her time and talents to create colorful logo with a “V” in the middle. The T-shirts, printed in Troy, are available in crew and V-neck styles and come in gray and white.
To boost sales, Jonah recruited some video-savvy classmates at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield where he is a sophomore, as well as local leaders and Detroit entrepreneurs, to film themselves around town wearing
the T-shirts. The “world’s most interesting man,” a character from a Dos Equis beer commercial, provided
inspiration for the video’s only scripted line:
“I don’t always daven. But when I do, I daven Downtown.”
Anna Kohn, the executive director of the Downtown Synagogue and one of only two paid staff members, said the excitement and entrepreneurship of the teens toward the synagogue proves that young people can make things
happen when they are passionate about a cause.
“We were looking for a way to merchandise, and they beat us to it,” she said. Kohn said she has used the logo
on the synagogue’s website at www.downtownsynagogue.org. The egalitarian Conservative synagogue’s Facebook
page has 1,000 fans. It also distributes a newsletter with a circulation of 1,600 informing congregants and the general public about weekly Shabbat services, a Thursday morning minyan and a variety of programs that provide social
outreach for Jewish urbanites and those just curious about Judaism.
The T-shirt sales have become so successful that they are on back order as the Erlich siblings, children of Craig
and Renee Erlich, wait for the next shipment. They also plan to sell the T-shirts through area synagogues and
Jewish youth groups. ■
Almost six months into my family’s little “adventure” of living in the Detroit area, I finally brushed off my suburbia doldrums and became a tiny part of Detroit’s urban farming revolution.
Before my move, as I mourned my departure from the perennial garden I coaxed into existence for 13 years, and my rented plot in my town’s community garden, I really imagined myself venturing to help out in one of Detroit’s urban farms just as soon as I unpacked. I’ve been reading up on Detroit’s emergence into the urban farming scene ever since we made the decision to move. In recent news, Hantz Farms got the approval from the Detroit emergency council to grow a 140 acre forest in the middle of Detroit. That is 140 acres of land that is being put back into taxable use.
Before I got on my gardening gloves, though, I underestimated just how far my suburban home was from Detroit city lines. And I have to admit I had a biased fear for my own safety. I’d be a newbie with a New York State license plate and a GPS device clamped to my windshield driving into a blighted neighborhood. Can you think of a better target for a carjacking? Besides, I hadn’t a clue as who to contact to help out.
Getting stern warnings from neighbors and friends not to go downtown wasn’t helping matters either. Since moving here, I was told that I would love living in my suburban surroundings with its great schools, bike paths, lakes and shopping centers. I just wouldn’t go into Detroit.
Because no one goes into Detroit.
Too much crime.
So, for a while, I succumbed to these fears as an excuse for not getting my hands dirty digging in some Detroit dirt.
But wait a minute.
Didn’t I grow up in New York City? Where outsiders were afraid to ride the subway or walk in Central Park for fear of being mugged?
Haven’t I visited Israel numerous times in my life? And I made these visits during a war with Lebanon or at a time when the intifada raged in the West Bank?
From the urban energy and culture of New York City to my summer picking mangoes and tending the banana fields on a kibbutz In Israel, (a kibbutz that was on the border with Syria and Lebanon). Both these places have enriched my soul. and have made me the person I am today. Walking safely around my cul-de-sac suburban development with manicured landscaping is nice, but hardly anyone here actually has a real garden. Hey, my neighborhood association won’t even allow for the smallest of a garden shed.
Suburbia is nice but here, I don’t really feel like I’m part of the solution. Part of the farming revolution.
This weekend, I finally found the opportunity to volunteer. And who would give me that opportunity but an organization as comfortable and familiar to me as an old pair of sneakers: United Synagogue Youth.
Ahhh, my USY days. Best times of my life. It’s a good thing I now have teenagers of my own so I can relive these days again.
A big part of USY is social action, repairing the world, a Jewish value called Tikkun Olam. So when I found out that Motor City USY would be helping out downtown at Beaverland Farms in the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit, I jumped at the chance. Even though I’m no longer 16 but 45 and my knees don’t take too well to jumping that hard.
With my 16-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and husband, we started off to the farm from suburbia to Detroit. The landscape became more urban, and then gritty and then plain ol’ rundown.
Nice, big homes and posh shopping plazas in my side of town gave way to smaller homes and then dilapidated structures with boarded windows and roofs halfway covered with blue tarp that were once someone’s home or still occupied with people just hanging on.
By the time we got to Five Mile and Telegraph, there weren’t too many open stores and those that were in business had big signs like LIQUOR or CHECK CASHING. Boarded up storefronts scrawled with writing like DUGGAN FOR MAYOR or WE STILL LOVE YOU, DETROIT. It was becoming more evident of the existence of what’s called the “nutritional desert here.” For the people who lived around here, where do they go to buy food, and food that is healthful? There are very few choices.
That is where the urban farms come in.
We rounded the corner of Five Mile and Beaverland Road in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit. On 11 city lots once occupied by small houses that were so prevalent in this area to house blue-collar manufacturer workers and their families there is now a fruit orchard, rows of vegetables, and tilled, cleaned out land. Scott, the owner, grows the food here and sells the produce at neighborhood farmers markets, runs a CSA , and provides community and social outreach and educational programs for his neighbors and local schoolchildren.
My family got out of the car and we quickly got to work. As I promised, I made myself scarce to my teen daughter. She and my son got busy with some other teens and helped build and paint bee hives and tend to the chickens.
My husband and I worked across the street planting rows of perennial flowers that would (hopefully) survive the winter and bloom again in the spring.
All the while, neighborhood folk walked up and down the street. Some said hello. Others didn’t. I wondered, as I cleared away composted grass to plant another flower, how is this helping them? How do they feel about us strangers coming into their ‘hood and making a farm? Do they like it? What business do we have being here, in their neighborhood?
I posed these questions to Scott. He works and lives right here. With a mezzuzah posted on his front door. He said the farm is a way for people to connect. Everyone around here respects the farm. And compared to burned out buildings that invite drug dealers and prostitution, a farm is a welcome change in Brightmoor. I told him how much I’ve been wanting to help out at a farm like this. I told him I could grow seedlings of vegetables for the farm over the winter. I told him I had loads of tomato cages that are looking for a good home but will have no use in suburbia.
“Stop looking. You’ve come to the right place,” he said.
My husband and I worked side by side in the afternoon October sun. I can’t remember the last time we did any volunteer work together for a place that needed so much help and nurturing. I looked across at him, a man I met when we were 16, whom I met through United Synagogue Youth.
And now, we are married almost 20 years. Now, we planted flowers and are kids were across the street playing with chickens in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Detroit.
We loved every minute of it and I can’t wait to come back.
Ain’t life funny? Ain’t life grand?
Rebecca Nodler, 10, Oak Park; Seymour Zate, West Bloomfield; Adele Nodler, Oak Park; Danielle Nodler, 6, Huntington Woods; Alvin Nodler, Oak Park; and Gladys Zate, West Bloomfield
I’ve lived in my house for nearly four months now. And for the most part, my walls are blank.
After going through the home selling and buying process, I guess I’ve grown used to the “staged” look of a house.
Keep it impersonal.
The seller shouldn’t display too many family photos lest the potential buyer cannot envision their own life in the house.
Every few evenings, I hear a banging sound: it’s my husband’s vain attempt to hang a few more pictures on the wall, only to have ME take them down. No. I’m not ready. I don’t want that picture there. I never liked that baby picture from SEARS in the first place. I’m going to develop more photos on Shutterfly. Big ones. I promise. That was for the old house, now we’re in a new house.
Wall arrangements have become somewhat of an obsession of mine. My blank walls have become empty canvasses I don’t want to screw up. I’ve taken out library books about decorating walls. When I watch TV shows or commercials, I find myself ignoring the dialogue of the characters but looking instead at the set. I know there are set designers who have perfectly adorned the walls with the right balance of small and large frames. More than any other decor, the stuff you hang on your walls makes your house a home.
Maybe I’m not home yet. Because a few weeks ago, I visited a house that was just that.
Adele and Alvin Nodler’s house in Oak Park, the place where I interviewed Adele and her cousins over tea and homemade cookies for an article in the Detroit Jewish News,, is not big or fancy. But it’s been their home for nearly 50 years. No designer was hired to decorate, but what it is decorated with is love. There are family photos from many generations on every possible surface.
I came away from that interview not only with a great story on the importance of keeping family ties,, but a lesson learned in how to make a house a home.
Here is just a little of their story, published in the October 17 issue of the Detroit Jewish News:
Families come in many sizes.
Then there are families like the Levins that are so large and tightly knit that they have their own anthem. And a custom-designed logo.
Last Sunday, Oct. 13, the Levin clan, with most of its 200 members residing in Metro Detroit, sang their anthem and performed an original variety show in their logo T-shirts as they celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Levin Family Club at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
“We have lots of writers and performers, but no directors,” joked Adele Levin Nodler, 72, of Oak Park, who has been treasurer of the club for 48 years.
The Levin story is familiar to many Jewish American families. They are descendants of immigrants who fled persecution in Eastern Europe and wove themselves into the fabric of American society. What is unique about the Levins is how strongly they held onto family ties and Jewish traditions for seven generations.
“Family togetherness is a legacy that was given to us by our grandparents and is one we will pass onto our grandchildren and beyond,” said Nodler, as she sat with her husband of 49 years, Alvin, brother Seymour, 81, and her cousin Gladys Zate, 87, in her Oak Park home.
The love of kin was evident on the walls and bookcases adorned with family photos from every generation.
The Levins can trace their Detroit roots back to 1905 when Adele’s father, Morris Yellen, escaped Poland at age 16 to avoid the Polish draft. Yellen changed to Levin at Ellis Island. Working for years as a baker, he saved enough money to return to Poland and bring the rest of his family to Detroit. The Levins became established bakers and grocers and had stores on Chene Street.
The family would often gather on Saturday nights after Shabbat to play cards. In 1948, those casual card games evolved into the Levin Cousin Club.
Early Detroit Memories Adele and Gladys also recall living upstairs from one another in the same big house on Elmhurst Street. Adele was the oldest of five siblings; Gladys had three sisters. It was there the cousins started writing and performing shows about the funny antics that went on in their family.
The cousins recall fond memories of celebrating Jewish holidays in Detroit.
On Simchat Torah, they danced with flags toped with apples in Beth Jacob synagogue on Pingree Street and dined at kosher restaurants on 12th Street after Shabbat.
They also remember having large family seders — as many as 75 people — at the home of their uncle, Meyer Levin.
“As a kid, you’d have to sit very still at my Uncle Meyer’s seder. If you moved, you would get a knibble, or a pinch on the cheek,” said Gladys, who recalls her mother making gefilte fish for the seder from fish she kept in her bathtub.
The pace of life — and the state of Detroit — has changed since 1948. Parts of the family live out of town. The bakery on Chene Street and the old house on Elmhurst Street are no longer there.
To compensate for the distance, Adele and her siblings and their descendants chat on a weekly Thursday teleconference call to “catch up and wish each other a good Shabbos.”
“No matter what anyone is doing, we stay committed to that call. Even my grandchildren participate, and the one thing they notice is there is a lot of laughter,” said Adele, who taught middle school in Oak Park for 30 years.
“Though we don’t see each other all the time, there is a constant feeling of togetherness because of the Jewish family traditions we have built over the years,” said Michael Nodler, 43, of Oak Park. He offers backstage support to the show with his brother, Harold Nodler, 44, of Huntington Woods.
The family show is all the more meaningful to Michael this year as his son, Joshua Nodler, 12, a seventh-grader at Norup International Middle School in Oak Park, approaches his bar mitzvah.
Joshua created a PowerPoint slide show for the evening that traces his family’s history.
The show comes every five years; every year, they meet for a summer picnic, a summer hot dog roast, Chanukah party and Purim party.
The secret to a close family, Adele advised, is never hold a grudge.
“Our parents taught us you don’t stay angry at each other,” she said.
“Yes, we had fights and disagreements.
Sometimes someone would not play fair at a family card game. But you work it out and stay close — that is what’s most important.”
We lived in Michigan for about two minutes (okay, I’m exaggerating…. 10 minutes) when people we met started talking about apples. And cider mills.
“What? You haven’t been to Franklin Mills? You HAVE to go for the doughnuts and CIDER.”
Like Blue vs. Green football. Like old-time souped up roadsters, come the fall, apples are a big part of the culture here in Michigan.
I thought I would be missing the sweet, hard crunch of my favorite fruit when I left New York. Not to worry. It seems Michiganders are just as boastful if not more than New Yorkers about their apples.
Though fourth in the nation in apple production, the state grows many varieties and nearly every supermarket sells the red, yellow and green globes picked from orchards less than 100 miles away.
Then there are the cider mills. It seems the granddaddy of them all around these parts is the Franklin Cider Mill. It is named for this tiny town in which it is located, a bucolic village that somehow dodged the suburban bullet in which it is surrounded. The mill is only open from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, so all it’s business is pressed (no pun intended) in these short months. But they do more than okay. Check out the line on a recent Sunday to get cider and Donuts:
And they have a huge press:
A few Sundays ago, these friends invited us over in the early evening to press some cider. Now, they had invited us to do this twice before and we just could not fit a press into our crazy early fall schedules. But the night was crisp and cool but not too cold, so why not? We went over to hang out and learn about pressing apple cider.
Several years ago, our friends purchased a small press. After realizing how much they were into making cider, and had an ample supply from several apple trees on their property, they decided to invest in a larger press from the Happy Valley Ranch Co.
Now, after marveling at this hand-cranked, Amish-looking contraption, I thought the evening was over. It was a school night, after all. But oh NO. This was not a mere social call, we were about to get put to work! We happily obliged because we know we would be treated to the freshest cider one could gulp at the end.
In advance of our arrival, they had cleaned and cut away bruises from apples they were storing in their garage.
We started throwing the apples into a wood hopper that fed the apples through a mill fitted with some sharp teeth.
That’s me cranking some apples, the pulp getting caught into a wood bucked lined with a cheesecloth like sack. Hubby also took some turns cranking the apples. (Note that from his cap and sweatshirt, he has not changed his allegiance to Michigan teams):
Already, without even turning the crank, juice stared oozing out of the pulp to be caught below in a pitcher. Luckily, it was too cool that night for the bees:
Then, the pulp is pressed and pressed by a hand-turned crank. A whole bucket’s worth of apple pulp is compressed to the thickness of a manhole cover. The result is homemade freshly pressed cider, the best I’ve ever tasted.
I will work for cider any time and hope we’ll get invited back soon.
Who wants to pay less taxes?
Who wants the government and regulation off our backs?
Government and school payrolls are much too big, let’s stop using our taxes to pay big government salaries!
Careful what you ask for.
Do you remember the good old days when there were school nurses? In the sixth grade, my throat burned and my head ached. I was sent to the school nurse where she took my temperature, gave me some water and a throat lozenge that tasted like cherry. The cold nurses cot lined with that crinkly white medical paper was somehow a comforting place to rest as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.
In the ninth grade I passed out in hygiene class and had to be wheeled through the hallway – of course during the change of classes – to the nurse’s office. There the nurse checked my vitals, my blood pressure and my temperature, etc. and sent me on my way back to classes after she determined my cause of fainting was due to me being grossed out by the day’s lesson.
As a mother, my children made several trips to the nurse’s office in the years they were students in New York State:
- There were routine eye and hearing exams
- Lice checks when there was the monthly…. emmm, occasional outbreak in one of their classes
- When my daughter’s 2nd grade head collided with another 2nd grade head, it was the nurse’s office who called me saying I would need to take my daughter to an ENT specialist to rule out a broken nose
- My oldest son broke several body parts at school. It was a nurse who was trained to triage him and fix him up enough to make him comfortable until i could get him to the doctor’s office.
- My youngest son had an asthma plan in his old school in New York where he went to the nurse’s office each day before recess or gym to take his inhaler.
- The nurse in my youngest son’s school also extracted a tick from my son’s neck, contained it in a plastic jar for me to take to my doctor to test it for Lyme’s disease. She was my hero!
The beginning of the school year I called up to speak to the school nurse at my son’s middle school about my son’s inhaler.
This is a school where we got a note home the first day of school saying that NO child could bring in any products containing nuts because several children in the school contained a life-threatening THAT’S LIFE THREATENING peanut allergy.
“We don’t have a nurse,” the secretary said in matter-of-fact tone.
“Excuse me?” I stammered in disbelief.
She calmly said that the school has a clinic where moms volunteer their time. Or, she, the secretary, plays the role of the nurse, distributing medication and other nursing functions. I’m sure she has time to care for our children, especially during cold and flu season, plus get all her other work done.
Really. So very comforting that is, never knew a school administrator knew how to take a kids vitals or how to treat a wound, a bone break or properly give out meds in addition to paperwork and calendar scheduling.
I shared my dismay with another school administrator, this time at my daughter’s high school.
“Oh yeah, our district hasn’t had nurses in a very long time. It’s an enormous liability.”
Yeah, do you think?
In New York, our property taxes were pretty high. In Michigan, our taxes are quite low. Our suburban streets are quite pock-marked with potholes and our schools have no nurses. And that’s the way people like it here, I guess.