Keepers of the House: The Dedication of non-Jewish custodians in Detroit’s Synagogues

It was an honor and a pleasure to interview and feature these often unspoken heroes of our shuls for this cover story in the March 16th issue of the Detroit Jewish News. Next time you go to synagogue for services, don’t forget to thank the custodian for their service. 

Longtime non-Jewish staffers help make their synagogues special.

By Stacy Gittleman

Marvin Brown takes his cooking seriously at Adat Shalom, where he prepares and serves a morning minyan meal.

They are often the first to open up the building in the morning and the last ones to lock up at night. They work hard to make sure the furnace runs in the winter and the air conditioning is cool — but not too cold — in the summer. Because of them, the floors shine and the carpets are fresh right before the High Holidays and the start of Hebrew school.

 

Their years connected to a congregation often outlast many Jewish members and even the clergy, making the synagogue or temple custodian not only the caretaker of our holy Jewish spaces, but a congregation’s unofficial historian.

Many of Detroit’s synagogues and temples owe much gratitude to the dedication of their custodians, who take much joy in watching Jewish preschoolers grow into young men and women and return to synagogue with their own children. When they fall ill, they receive visits from congregation members and congregational clergy. For that, they say, working as a synagogue custodian is like being part of a big extended family.

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Murphy Ealy shines the brass on the bimah at Congregation Beth Ahm.

Murphy Ealy, 67, of Oak Park, worked in a scrap metal recycling facility when, in 1999, he got a call from an employment agency about a custodial position at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield. His work at the recycling yard was “grimy.” Ealy loves to clean, so he said he was “strongly encouraged” to take on the new opportunity.

Seventeen years later, he still loves his job of preparing the building for services, meals and other programs throughout the Jewish calendar cycle.

“The favorite part of my job is welcoming in the congregants when they come for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Ealy said. “I watch the kids grow older every year, and a lot I’ve known since they were preschoolers are now coming back married with their own kids. I have both celebrated and at times mourned together with the families here.”

Ealy arrives at Beth Ahm most days at 5:30 a.m. to open up the building for minyan. He then spends the rest of the morning cleaning and setting up for the week’s programs or services until his shift ends at noon. Many times, he will return to the building for evening functions and is especially instrumental during special occasions such as building the sukkah and helping the congregation’s sisterhood during its annual rummage sale.

As Ealy polished the brass railings of the bimah in the sanctuary on a recent morning, he considered the holiness of his work.

“For six days, I spend most of my time in a Jewish house of worship,” he said. “There is certainly something special about doing my work inside a synagogue. When I’m in here and it is peaceful and quiet, I feel safe.”

As keeper of the synagogue’s keys, a custodian is also on call for various emergency circumstances, like responding to an emergency alarm or a power outage. But it is not often that a custodian is called upon to determine the results of a local election.

Beth Ahm serves as a polling location for Precincts 9 and 10 in Oakland County. One election night, Ealy returned home after work only to receive an urgent phone call from a local government official. The polling workers left the voting sheets in the locked synagogue, and they could not call the election until Ealy opened the building to count the votes.

“He is a one-man show who knows us all and knows the inner workings and routine of our congregation and can anticipate what needs to be done without even asking,” said Beth Ahm Executive Director David Goodman. “He is here for us all and is an integral part of our success.”

‘As Important As The Rabbi’

On the other side of town, Beth Shalom of Oak Park loves to brag about its “one-man maintenance team,” Vasile Havrisciuc.

Vasile Havrisciuc, maintenance manager, spruces up the Beth Shalom sign.
For 11 years, Romanian-born Havrisciuc has worked as the synagogue’s maintenance manager. He has a background in electrical, plumbing and HVAC skills and is “constantly finding ways to save the synagogue money,” according to building committee chair Allen Wolf of Bloomfield Township.

Non-Jewish custodians of synagogues take on unique job responsibilities such as learning about Jewish laws and observances surrounding Shabbat, kashrut and other customs.

According to Wolf, Havrisciuc is a devout Catholic who knows more about Judaism than most Jews do.

“When Pesach comes around, no one needs to tell Vasile how to kasher the kitchen,” he said. “When the High Holidays approach, he knows how to re-arrange the shul and pull out the appropriate machzorim. On Shabbat, he knows we can’t turn on ovens or lights, so he makes sure these things are handled.

“Congregation Beth Shalom is a very heimishe [down-to-earth] shul and Vasile is an important part of that. He is as important to the success of Beth Shalom as the rabbi, the cantor or the office staff.”

An ‘Honorary Jew’

Charles Criss, 57, of Detroit, has worked for Temple Emanu-El for 34 years. From those decades of experience comes the knack for anticipating the needs of the synagogue’s day-to-day operations, according to Executive Director Fredrick Frank. Criss said he has become an expert on the temple’s roof, forecasting where leaks may spring up and advising contractors during roof renovations.

He knows the congregants just about as well as he knows the building. Like his counterparts working in other synagogues, he echoes that the best part of his job is watching the kids grow up over the years and coming back to temple with their own children.

Charles Criss keeps Temple Emanu-El is in top shape.
Rabbi Emeritus Joseph Klein would play an “informal” game with Criss each week, and each week, Criss would beat him at it.

“A day before a special event or program, I would remind Criss of what I needed set up,” Klein said. “No matter what, he would be way ahead of me and with a smile he would say, ‘Already done.’”

Though he cannot attend services at church as much as he would like — as the week’s busiest day is Sunday when Hebrew school is in session — over the years he said he received much “spiritual guidance” from the clergy and others at Temple Emanu-El.

“I have had the opportunity to be spiritually uplifted when I sit back and listen to the services, and I have been honored with the duty of serving as a pallbearer at funerals of congregants. Because of this, Rabbi Klein described me as an ‘honorary Jew.’”

A Spiritual Feeling

Marvin Brown of Southfield worked in the landscaping business when he got a call from Alan Yost, executive director of Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills, about a custodial position the day before Christmas Eve in 1984.

After working for 33 years in a Jewish environment, words and phrases like shalosh seudos and mezuzah easily roll off his tongue. A cook at heart, a favorite part of Brown’s job is preparing meals, especially breakfast for morning minyan.

Over his years at Adat Shalom, Brown said he has prepared the building for “thousands” of weddings and bar mitzvahs. During one bar mitzvah party, the synagogue lost power. Brown stepped in and saved the evening by walking back and forth to get diesel fuel at the Shell gas station on Northwestern Highway every hour or so to keep the backup generator running.

Marvin Brown is a cook at heart and loves preparing minyan breakfast at Adat Shalom.
When Brown started his job, he did not know much about Judaism and the rules of keeping kosher. He didn’t realize that bringing in outside food — including ribs from his favorite barbecue place in Detroit — is completely forbidden. But now, as the primary food shopper for the synagogue, he knows how to select food with the correct kosher certifications and how to cook without mixing up the meat and dairy utensils in the synagogue’s kosher kitchen.

Brown said he gets a decent amount of vacation time, including Christmas and Easter. And when Brown needed hospitalization in 2005, the nurses on his floor asked him if he was Jewish because of all the Jewish clergy who continually paid him visits.

Brown was raised in a Baptist church. Though he says he does not get to church formally, he says the rabbis over the years like the late Rabbi Efry Spectre and the late Cantor Larry Vieder taught him that he can also “have church” right in the synagogue.

“I grew up listening to gospel choirs,” Brown said. “Though I don’t understand the Hebrew, when they really get to singing around here [during services], it sounds very nice.”

Jewish Knowledge

Some synagogues are bigger than others and require a crew of maintenance staff to keep the building running. With 15,000 square feet of space and the ability to host 1,500 worshipers, Congregation Shaarey Zedek is one of the largest in the Detroit Metro area. The custodial staff, headed by Keith Armbruster, facilities director, keeps busy throughout the year by not only preparing the building on Shabbat and for special occasions, but also for large community functions that can host hundreds of people at a time.

Keith Armbruster at Shaarey Zedek
Armbruster, 60, of Livonia just celebrated his 40th anniversary last October working at CSZ. He says the unique architecture of the synagogue poses certain challenges, such as using a catwalk 100 feet above the sanctuary to change the lightbulbs and carefully maintaining the one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures, woodwork and custom-made large wooden doors that adorn the building. Thankfully, he said, the soaring stained glass windows do not need cleaning.

“It is a challenge getting up to that catwalk,” Armbruster said. “It is like climbing a mountain to get up there.”

Over the years, he has most enjoyed meeting the many interesting and prominent members of the Detroit community who have been members of CSZ. A good day for him means receiving good feedback when a special occasion or function goes off without a hitch. Most of all, he has enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and takes pride of the knowledge he has gained over the decades.

“In my social circles, I am kind of like the rabbi to all my non-Jewish friends,” Armbruster said. “When someone has a question about something Jewish, they always come to me.”

The Power Of Singing

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At Beth El Shabbaton, Joey Weisenberg will empower guests to unlock their musical and spiritual potential.

(originally published in the Detroit Jewish News)

To harness the community-building power of singing, Temple Beth El of Bloomfield Township welcomes the young and the young at heart to lend voices both harmonious and imperfect to a Shabbaton featuring renowned musician Joey Weisenberg. The uplifting event will be Feb. 26-27 at the Bethel Community Transformation Center (BCTC), 8801 Woodward Ave., the former home of Temple Beth El in Detroit.

Weisenberg, 34, the creative director of the New York-based Hadar Center for Communal Jewish Music and author of Building Singing Communities, will introduce melodies and methods of singing that blend Old World Chassidic niggunim with old-time American flair.

Working in the context of Renewal Judaism, Weisenberg has worked for the past decade to empower communities around the world to unlock their musical and spiritual potential, and to make music a lasting and joy-filled force in shul and in Jewish life. Now residing in Philadelphia with his wife and four young children, Weisenberg grew up in Milwaukee in a family with Midwestern roots that trace back to before the Civil War.

His parents were both trained musicians, and he grew up listening to classical piano from his mother as well as classical flamenco guitar from his father. Raised in a multi-generational traditional Jewish home, he remembers going to Shabbat services with his grandfather in nine different synagogues that spanned the spectrum of Jewish observance.

“My grandfather taught me there is something to be taken and learned from every denomination of Judaism,” said Weisenberg, who ditched a pre-med program at Columbia University to pursue the life of a professional musician, composer and teacher. “Above all, people connect to music because it does not speak in dogma but instead speaks in the language of the soul. [Singing] is the way we all become a collective heart, and we all become strings of David’s Harp in harmony.”

 

 

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Weisenberg’s musical career started with playing guitar as a studio recording session artist and then touring the country and parts of the globe with musicians playing Brazilian samba, American blues and Klezmer.

After a while, he wanted to see what would happen if he moved the singing and playing music offstage to be where the people are, and to bring the audience into joining in with song. As he travels around the country teaching Jewish communities how to energize prayer through singing, including pockets of Jews in Alaska, Weisenberg wants to dislodge the notion that music and singing is just for kids.

“Some of the best teachers I have learned music with are two and three generations older than me,” Weisenberg said.

Rachel Rudman, 28, Temple Beth El program director, says the Shabbaton, the first of its kind in Detroit, is a way to “create bridges between suburban synagogues and younger, urban Jews.”

She said hosting the Shabbaton in the historic Beth El building enables TBE to reach out to millennial Jews seeking a neutral space to practice a highly spirited form of Jewish prayer. Weisenberg can deliver just the thing, she said.

“I have had several opportunities in my life to learn from and sing with Joey,” said Rudman, who recently returned to her native Detroit in 2014 after living in New York.

“When services are conducted in a tight circle and everyone is looking at each other and investing their voice in the prayer, you feel the energy coming from the people next to you. It really becomes a spiritual experience.”

The Shabbaton will begin with Kabbalat Shabbat services at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and finish with Havdalah, plus an extended song session on Saturday evening. Participants are welcome to bring sleeping bags and air mattresses to spend the evening. Services on Friday and Saturday will be a cappella style, but Havdalah and beyond will include drumming and strumming of guitars so participants are welcome to bring their instruments as well as their voices.

Cost is $36 for the entire Shabbaton or $20 per day and includes homecooked vegan meals and lodging at BCTC. For more information, contact Rachel Rudman at rrudman@tbeonline. org or (248) 325-9706. *

 

 

Justice Justice you Can Pursue, through PeerCorps

This winter, the headlines have been filled with two bleak stories coming out of Michigan: The Flint water crisis and the crisis in Detroit Public Schools.

At the center of both stories, the ones hurt the most are kids. Our kids.

In the sick-outs of Detroit, teachers have rightly refused to teach in buildings with overcrowded classrooms, schools that have no heat, or mold, or infested with rodents.  They are doing this not for selfishness but they believe that their students deserve better.

This winter,  Michigan made international news because of Flint.  There is now confirmation that state workers purchased gallon after gallon of purified water to drink iin their offices as recently as January 2015 as they assured Flint residents that the water coming out of their own tap was safe to drink.  It is a pretty safe bet that every child in Flint will have some degree of lead poisoning – poisoining that will forever alter their ability to learn and develop normally.

These two stories scream out injustice towards the poorest and powerless population in our state: black kids and their families.

Is it any wonder that we then hear the cries of injustice and the charges of systematic environmental racism? It is hard to turn a blind eye or ear to injustices put upon our children.

You may say: “Wait a minute, not my kid. Those are someone else’s kids. We live somewhere with great schools and wouldn’t you know it,  but we can actually drink and brush our teeth and bathe with the water coming out of our tap.”

But these kids indeed are our kids. They live right up the road in the same state.

This year, my suburban kid is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah. His Torah reading has one of the most significant lines in the whole Torah: Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, Justice you shall pursue.

Justice. So important it had to be said not once but twice. How do you pursue it? How can one person, one kid, living in a nice suburban cul de sac world, face down injustices that have gone on for decades? What can really one person do?

Sitting pretty here in suburban Detroit, it is pretty easy get comfortable in our isolation, our separateness or “otherness” from those living in our urban cores. I have come to know something after living in the Detroit ‘burbs for almost three years: the disconnect between urban and suburban, between the haves and have nots is palpable.

Sitting pretty here in suburbia can make one feel powerless to turn the injustices around.  And downright angry. But sitting around will do nothing. We may not be able to solve everything, but we have to contribute and try something.

There are bridges we can build, and one, in fact, is built right in with PeerCorps Detroit.  PeerCorps is a year-long mentorship program inviting Jewish teens, b’nai mitzvah students and their families from all denominations to build deep relationships with one another and perform community-based work in Detroit.

Last year, my son participated in one Track  of Peer Corps’ community building work in Detroit. Every other week, he would trek with a van full of other middle schoolers and their high-school aged mentors to the James and Grace Lee Boggs School in Detroit. There, he helped out with the younger kids in after-school care, played with them, read to them and most of all, got to know different kids in a different part of the city and to realize they all like to do the same things together.

This year, as he studies for his Bar Mitzvah reading which concentrates on pursuing justice, he will be tutoring elementary-age kids with Mission:City.

These are just two areas in where Peer Corps is building bridges into Detroit and doing what we can to let people living in the city know that someone cares and, however seemingly small a step we are making, we are trying to make it a step in the right direction.

To learn more about Peer Corps, come to Gesher Day at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue on Sunday, Feb. 28 to find out here how you and your middle-schooler can be a bridge between urban and suburban Detroit.

 

 

Speaking Up for Israel

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.”

‘UNFOUNDED COMPLAINT’

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. *

JesseArm

It is not easy to be Jewish or pro-Israel on today’s North American college campus. This misleading, hate-filled sign put up by student activists who aim to do nothing more than demonize and delegitimize Israel’s very existence has become a cancer on the collegiate scene.

They’re Coming Home

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.

Detroit Metro Teen looking to BRUW his entrepreneurial talents

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.”

 

Chanukkah: Why It’s so Important Right Now

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.

Peter Himmelman Musings

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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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Let the Children Lead us. Mourning together, mourning in isolation

israelrallyLast 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.”

 

 

 

 

He Pulled the Ben Gurion Card

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?

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