Archive | March 2015

Feel the Beat

An all-volunteer Salsa Dance group is heating up the salsa dance scene in Detroit.  I am not exactly all left feet (you can actually see my left foot in one of the photos below taken by the very talented Jerry Zolynsky), but gave it a try one freezing February night. Here is what I found out for my cover story from the March 26 issue of the Detroit Jewish News

Feel The Beat

Jewish dancers join the crowd for weekly salsa dance parties

by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Photos by Jerry Zolynsky


Jeff Abrams of Wixom and Sherry Kraft of Southfield share a laugh and a dance.


Sherry Kraft of Southfield, Bert Green of West Bloomfield, Tessa Goldberg of Farmington, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey of Novi and Laura Segal of Franklin

The temperatures outside the American Legion hall in Farmington, where YA Salsa holds its monthly socials, plummeted into the single digits on a Sunday evening this past winter. But with the dance floor heating up with more than 200 dancers, no one inside seemed to mind that a door had been propped open to let in the chill. On the last Sunday of each month, salsa enthusiasts gather for a dance social organized by YA Salsa, an allvolunteer organization dedicated to the growth of this dance style in Detroit. Within its circles is a dedicated group of Jews who love Latin dancing. They have found a great sense of camaraderie and exercise in the years they have danced and are always welcoming beginners to try it. To widen the appeal to the Jewish community, YA Salsa will host free workshops led by international salsadancing stars to JCC members March 27-28 at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield before its next social in Farmington. For more information go to Evening Of Fun YA Salsa socials start with beginner and intermediate lessons.

In the center of a circle of rotating beginner couples, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey, 52, of Novi capably leads the beginners though basic steps and how to work with a partner, when to hold hands and when to let go. A dancer all her life, she fell in love with the rhythms of Latin music around 15 years ago. Private and group lessons in studios around town eventually led her to salsa dance floors and workshops around the world. Now a longtime professional and volunteer teacher of salsa dancing, she defies anyone who hears this infectious music to sit still.


“Mambo” Marci Iwrey

“We are all here to dance,” she instructs. “Don’t be shy to introduce yourself to someone else and say you are a beginner as the evening goes on.” On the other side of the room, more advanced dancers, who seem to be more attached to the partners with whom they arrived, review dips and more complex dance combinations.

“The volunteers work very hard to put on these socials,” said Iwrey, who, when not dancing, works at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield as b’nai mitzvah coordinator. “We are all bonded here for the love of what we do, to bring the joy of dance no matter your race, religion or age.”

After an hour of instruction, the floor opens up for three hours of dancing. Some beginners hang around the sides watching the eclectic gathering of dancers while others brave it out and look for a dance partner.

Sherry Kraft, 34, of Southfield has a background in swing and ballroom dancing. She enjoys the social and less-formal aspects of salsa dancing compared to ballroom and started taking lessons in 2006. “When I started out, I had no idea there was such a large salsa community here in Detroit,” says Kraft, a photographer-turned ultrasound technologist from Southfield who says she enjoys meeting people of all backgrounds who have come together to dance and socialize.

Jeff Abrams describes himself as an “advanced beginner.” The 37-year-old computer technician said he has been attending salsa socials for two years now. “Dancing helps me relax from the stresses of everyday life,” Abrams says as he takes a break between dancing partners. “I love connecting with people through the nonverbal medium of music.” Abrams admits it does take some time to gain experience and confidence in this type of dancing, especially when you are the man.

“The pressure can be on because you are always thinking of what steps you want to try to lead next instead of just relaxing and enjoying the music.” Still, Abrams would rather be dancing over any other kinds of exercise because of its social aspects. “When you dance, you can forget everything else that is going on in your life,” Abrams says. “When I get home, my mind is clearer.”

■ For times, cost, address and upcoming events, go to the websites or


West Hills Middle Schooler is all Smiles about helping Special Needs Children

lindseyWith an astute understanding of the power of delivering a smile, Lindsey Zousmer, a fifth-grader at West Hills Middle School, has got “magic” to do for disabled children receiving physical therapy at local hospitals.

Last month, she started a community service project called “Projects 4 Smiles” and is asking other kids her age to create small craft projects, such as bookmarks, bracelets or pins to give as gifts of encouragement.

To kick off Project 4 Smiles, Zousmer invited WHMS classmates in the fourth and fifth grades to come to school on Jan. 16 wearing funny hats and donating a dollar for supplies. Commun ity members may also donate any extra craft supplies they may have at home: decorative duct tape, buttons, extra scrapbooking supplies, glitter, beads, glue, markers, cardstock or string will do the trick. Drop off these supplies at the office at West Hills Middle School, 2601 Lone Pine Road in West Bloomfield, where a special Project 4 Smiles box has been set aside.

The idea came to Zousmer after shadowing her mother Stacy Agree Zousmer, a pediatric physical therapist, at work at Beaumont Hospitals on days she had no school. It was there that she watched children with disabilities struggle to accomplish simple tasks that most children her age can do with ease.

“My mom explained to me how some of these kids can be very successful even with the disabilities and/or the conditions they have,” Lindsey wrote in a letter to the entire West Hills Middle School community. “We want to encourage them and make them aware that they are just as capable as we are.”

Ultimately, she wants to collect enough crafted gifts and then video or photograph the expression of joy on the children’s faces to show her classmates back at school “just how happy they can make others when they give a small gift.”

The project is a product of Bloomfield Schools’ Primary Years Programme (PYP), which engages children in the district’s primary grades to be socially aware and responsible through action. Kathy Janelle, the district’s PYP coordinator, explained “education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes, but also thoughtful and appropriate action.”

Stacy Agree Zousmer saw how important it was for her own children to meet her patients and also to volunteer at the Friendship Circle.

Lindsey’s family extends many generations in Detroit. She is a descendant of the founders of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, who established the congregation on the principles of social consciousness.  She attends religious school at Temple Israel, where she learned about the Jewish obligation to help those in need through g’milut chasadim, acts of loving kindness. In her letter, she said her mom serves as her biggest example for caring for others.

“Not only is Lindsey a natural caretaker, but she also finds common interests with these kids because they are her peers,” her mom says. “She loves to help them realize their potential and feel good about themselves. At the young age of 10, Lindsey is truly beginning to understand what it means to pay it forward.”

Mr. Middleton’s Writing Assignment



Ever wonder what your kid does in school all day? Last week, at a take your parent to school day,  I had a chance to follow my sixth grader from class to class, something I had been threatening to do to my older son to make sure he writes down all his homework assignments and hand them in on time.

I spend the morning at West Hills Middle School, a 4-8 Grade upper elementary and middle school. With my son I used a nail, a magnet and a smooth piece of glass to identify minerals in science class, and made bracelets according to a very old tradition in a fictitious island nation to learn about the concepts of market economy in social studies.

My favorite, of course, was my son’s writing class. Like the other classes, the parents in the class could not just sit back and sip their morning coffee while they watched their kids work. No, we had to do work too. A student passed around clip boards, pencils and paper to the parents. Then, Mr. Middleton said we were about to see a photo and we were to write for five solid minutes, no thinking, no erasing, just write whatever came to one’s mind based on what the picture would trigger.

Okay, Mr. Middleton, I’ve had three cups of coffee. I’m a writer. I’ve got this! Let’s go.

And then he posted this.


And I felt my heart flip-flop.

A tutor house… the white stucco with the brown trim.. how I miss it…..


How I always thought it would be the home I would grow old in….

The home where my kids were babies. A home where the roof leaked if it rained just a bit too hard, just like when the last fragments of Hurricane Katrina blew through Western New York, or a roof that was porous enough to let a few bats through one winter when my current sixth grader was just an infant. 

The leaded glass and the tiny windows in the walk-up attic….

How I still miss it, the attic with the full bathroom and a claw-foot bathtub… the third room that my baby moved into when he could no longer stand sharing a room with his older brother. 

The water below reminds me of the Erie Canal


From Albany to Buffalo it went, and for miles, you can bike or walk along it. 

There are not places like this I have yet to find in Michigan, at least not near my home. You don’t get to walk near water in the Detroit suburbs. Oh yeah, there are lots of lakes, all on private property You just get fleeting glimpses of them as you speed by on the drive from here to there … 

And that is how far I got. Wow, look at me, almost two years after my move, there are still parts of me pining away for my old haunts.

But you really can’t go home.

Last week, my husband took our sons back to Rochester for a visit for a special occasion of some friends back there. My husband said it was great to be back to catch up with old familiar faces and places.

But some places, our home, looked very different.

The big old silver maple that graced the front of our house had to be cut down because age and time rotted it from the inside out.

My husband sent this photo to me in a text and I burst into tears:


If I had to write about this picture, all I would say is: Nothing lasts forever. Thank you, tree, for my kids’ thinking spots and photos on the first day of school. Thank you for your shade, your carpet of leaves in the fall and your shower of helicopter seeds in early summer. 

Nothing stays the same. 

Moving on. 

Thank you, Mr. Middleton, for this great trip down memory lane and for getting our kids’ creativity flowing!

Here is a writing challenge: Find a photo in an old box, on the web, and just go, for five minutes. What did you come up with, let me know and share in the comments. 

The Tradition of Tinkering

lilyguitarFull STEAM Ahead Hillel Day School adds arts back into its STEM curriculum

Tinkering in Michigan is hot. Once again, people are starting to make things with their hands, right in the state where making things for the masses got its start. Here is my article on the new maker space at Hillel Community Day School. 

| by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Tinkering in Judaism goes all the way back to Mount Sinai. After all, Sinai was the place where the children of Israel declared they would learn about the Ten Commandments through doing. Growing out of this tradition, Hillel Day School’s new Innovation Hub and Makerspace, part of the Audrey and William Farber Family IDEA Collaborative, provides a resource where students apply the tried-and-true methods of trial and error to deepen their understanding of everything from kinesthetic energy to kashrut.


Tinkering is trendy throughout Michigan. As the state once again reenergizes its can-do spirit of innovation, makerspaces are popping up in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Northville. Think of them as a spot where enterprising inventors can come together to collaborate and share overhead costs of rent, tools and materials.

Just in its first few months of operation, the Hillel makerspace has inspired several projects and events. They include a schoolwide Makerspace Faire and a Shark Tankstyle entrepreneurial competition, where local businesspeople and innovators sat on a judge’s panel while students pitched their product ideas and marketing plans. Some product ideas included a multicolored crayon and a smart-chip golf club.

One judge was local entrepreneur Arik Klar, owner of Toyology, who also spent several months working with fifth-graders in creating a school store where kids of all grades can sell their creations. As they learned what it takes to run a small business, the fifth-graders applied their math skills and learned basic economic concepts such as supply and demand. They will donate their sales to tzedakah.

“I loved working with the kids to give them my feedback on what makes a product successful,” said Klar, 25, of Berkeley. “The makerspace is the perfect setting to inspire ingenuity.”

Hands-On Tradition

Sol Rube, Hillel’s dean of Judaic studies, said that in addition to their hours of daily Torah study, all of Judaism’s great sages did things with their hands. Rashi was a French winemaker. Maimonides was a physician.

“Creativity and collaboration are all core aspects of Jewish learning,” said Rube as he sat in the new sunlit area of the school that houses the makerspace.

In the room, one child was programming the 3D printer to create a geometric toy. Other students worked with their Judaic studies teacher in front of a green screen to film a video based on the week’s Torah portion. Some of the school’s youngest kids looked through the bins of recycled materials to upcycle them into a sculpture.

Teachers harness the makerspace’s hands-on appeal to enhance their students’ exploration on a variety of subjects. They work with the space’s innovation director, Trevett Allen, as how to best apply the makerspace to their lessons. Seventh-grade students built a shakeable table to study the impact of earthquakes on buildings for earth science class.

Eighth-grader Lily Collin, 14, Farmington Hills, used the makerspace as part of her social studies project about culture in the 1960s. “I love the music from the British invasion,” said Collin as she showed off a wooden prototype of a guitar designed to resemble the one played by the Who’s Pete Townsend. To design the guitar, she first penciled a blueprint of the guitar using precise mathematical measurements, drew another colored rendering before she set to work on the wood. She carved the shape herself using a circular saw. And, of course, her training mandated that she use safety goggles.

“STEAM is the new STEM,” said Hillel’s Director of Curriculum Joan Freedman, referring to the importance of adding the arts back into science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills to create a well-rounded education. “In some ways, the makerspace is undoing what kids have been taught in the culture of standardized tests: to be compliant, to learn for a test,” she said. “We are seeing the beginning of a time when education is turning back to project-based learning. The makerspace teaches students to think critically and use applied sciences and the arts to prepare them to be global citizens.” ■

HGTV’s House Hunters comes to Detroit

IMG_7015 (640x480)

Jeff and Michelle Bortnick, left, and Louis Bitove, right, with the filming crew of HGTV’s House Hunters



It is hard to believe that it has been  almost three years since I was in the shoes of this young couple, looking for a house in the Detroit area. Of course, our house hunt, and our whole relocation, was unplanned. And I never would have dreamed of inviting the camera crew  of House Hunters along, but this brave couple did! The real estate market is heating up as fast as the weather here in the Motor City. Here is my story that was published in the Arts & Leisure section of the Detroit Jewish News last week.  

Jeff and Michelle Bortnick were quickly outgrowing their Northville condominium.

For the first years of their marriage, Jeff ‘s former bachelor pad suited the couple nicely, and it was walkable to many of the town’s trendy amenities. But now they were a family with a toddler taking her first steps and needed a home with a backyard in a neighborhood with other kids.

Michelle, who grew up in West Bloomfield and is a teacher at Hillel Day School, wanted to move closer into the nexus of the Metro Detroit area’s Jewish community. So the couple narrowed their focus to neighborhoods in Huntington Woods, Berkley and Royal Oak.

Because Michelle grew up watching her father and grandfather constantly tackling projects around the house, Michelle had her heart set on an older home that she could customize with a bit of TLC.

“I love older homes,” says Michelle, 30. “I love the wood floors, the character and the charm. I’m not scared of taking on a fixer-upper.”

“I love new,” says husband, Jeff. As a co-founder of New Home Experts Realty, a realtor for buyers of new construction homes, Jeff and his partner, Louis Bitove, know their way around an architectural blueprint.
“You can still have charm in a new house,” Jeff adds.
Curious to know what they chose? Tune in to HGTV on March 18, when the couple’s home-buying experience will be featured in an episode of reality- TV show House Hunters.
A guy who didn’t even like being in front of the camera at his own wedding, Jeff was cajoled by Michelle and Bitove into sending in an audition video to House Hunters.
“We made a video of us showing off my expertise in new-home construction — plus our personalities” says Jeff.
“There was some friendly squabbling to show off our differing opinions and tastes in what we want in a home,” says Jeff.
“Lou was also included to be my ally in trying to convince Michelle that she wanted a newer home.
Within days, I couldn’t believe it, but they called us back to tell us they were sending out a filming crew from L.A.”
Jeff says he appreciated his business partner tagging along forthe filming.

“Lou was the voice of reason,” says Jeff. “He kept asking Michelle if she was worried about mold in older homes, and wouldn’t she like a shiny new home much more?”Michelle said that bringing a camera crew along for three weeks last August while looking at homes was not always, “but mostly a lot of fun.

“They took a lot of time adjusting their equipment to get just the right kind of light, but the crew was a lot of fun and they kept us laughing.”

Although the timing coincided with one of the worst floods in the area’s history, “the flood did not become part of the episode,” says Jeff. “To stay true to the feel of House Hunters, where sometimes you don’t even know what city or town a show is shot in, the focus is always on the characteristics and qualities of the property.”

With experience working for new-home builders, including the Toll Brothers and Centex Homes, Jeff can look past a bad paint color to determine a home’s worth and livability.

“I think we were chosen to be on the show because I can look at a home’s structure. If I don’t like a layout, I [know which walls] could come down [to create] a more open plan.”

Michelle’s favorite part of the experience was the fact that the camera crew filmed her daughter’s earliest forays in walking.

“We now have this time capsule of our daughter walking with a big smile through our empty new home.” Jeff and Michelle Bortnick’s episode of House Hunters debuts 10 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18 on HGTV. Visit for a complete schedule of additional airings.


The Great Hamantaschen/Latke Debate Comes to Detroit

My friend and fellow Congregant won the Latke Hamantaschen Debate for Hamantaschen lovers everywhere. Thank you for the mention!

Writing It Down

Instead of a sermon, we made the congregation laugh.

Last Shabbat morning, I participated in a mock debate on the relative merits of latkes versus hamantaschen.

Hamantaschen Recipe I skip the prune filling. The notes reflect many years of experimentation.

I proudly defended the cookie, while our rabbi argued in favor of potato pancakes. In our small congregation, the debate was well-received – a dose of fun at the end of a long week.

If you’re wondering who won… Of course it was the hamantaschen. I mean, is there even any real contest?

Want to see what we both had to say?  Here is the text of the debate.

Chag Sameach!

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