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 hgtv.com for a complete schedule of additional airings.
By Stacy Gittleman|Contributing Writer
At Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, all students learn to click, drag and research in fully wired media labs equipped to educate in today’s digital age. Far away, in a remote village in eastern Uganda containing a large percentage of the country’s 2,000 Abayudaya Jews, the Hadassah Primary School expects to open a computer lab for its 800 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students as early as February 2015 — thanks to the efforts of grandfather and granddaughter duo Jerry Knoppow and Miriam Saperstein.
The two went to Uganda on their own and aim to create a bridge of cultural understanding through the Internet between the Hadassah school and fifth- and sixth-graders at Hillel Day School.
This summer, Knoppow and Sapirstein left the comforts of their West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods homes and spent a week with the Abayudaya Jews of Nabagoya Hill in the village’s guest house and a second week touring the country.
In their suitcases, they packed not only prayer shawls, tefillin and siddurim to better connect their hosts to Judaism, but also laptops fully loaded with the latest software to connect them to the world.
For Saperstein, 16 and a student at Berkeley High School, the visit offered a hands-on exploration of a Jewish community she knew little about until she discovered them in a fifth-grade social studies class at Hillel. The school continues to teach about the Ugandan community on both religious and cultural levels and last year raised money for a clean drinking water supply for the Hadassah school.
This trip is nearly a decade in the making. In 2005, after learning about the Abayudaya Jews through Kulanu, a Baltimore-based organization involved in research, education and donations to those in developing Jewish communities, Knoppow arranged for the leader of the Abayudaya, J .J. Keki, to visit the Jewish community of Detroit.
Keki, a convert to Judaism, visited here for a week in March 2005 to teach the Jewish community here the customs, prayer melodies and other traditions of his community back in Uganda.
Knoppow said the goal of their high-tech project is not just to “pour in money to get the school wired and fitted with laptops and Internet connectivity and then walk away.” It is to help the villagers be able to become financially independent to sustain and update the technology.
He backed his passion for the project with statistical evidence from the Bill Gates Foundation, which shows that the introduction of technology to rural communities changes lives by motivating people to pursue higher levels of education.
The long-term cost of establishing this project is $40,000-$50,000, Knoppow said. In the latest update, he plans to pack six suitcases with additional laptops and get them to New York by Nov. 11, where leaders of the Ugandan community will be putting on a benefit concert for subsistence farmers.
For details on volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation to this project, or for those wishing to contribute through upcoming b’nai mitzvah projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/ok9rhxp or contact Knoppow at email@example.com.
As for Saperstein’s take-away from the experience, she knows that most of her peers in suburban Detroit grow up in a “privileged bubble” where there is a b’nai mitzvah culture of short-term mitzvah projects. At home, she admits she is happy to be surrounded by creature comforts while also dedicating many hours as a PeerCorps volunteer at Detroit’s James and Grace Lee Boggs School.
After her visit to Uganda, she learned what it means to enter another community very different from her own with humility and the capacity to listen.
“Any time you enter a community as an outsider, you should not have preconceived notions that you know what will be best for them,” Saperstein said. “The Jews in Uganda are not there for us to pity or for us to feel good about ourselves by making a monetary donation. We must work together with them as a team to map out a sustainable plan that will enable both the teachers and students to compete globally.”
The trip was not all about work. During her stay, Saperstein also had fun “hanging out” and making friends with her Ugandan peers. A leader of teen discussions at B’nai Israel Synagogue of West Bloomfield back home, Saperstein felt honored to lead parts of the Shabbat morning services in the village’s traditional egalitarian synagogue.
“Though they prayed in Hebrew and their native Luganda language, I felt so connected to the melodies and the words,” Saperstein said. “I know I can go anywhere in the world and know I can feel connected to the rituals and prayers that unite us as Jews. That is very powerful.”
Knoppow said, “As I listened to my granddaughter lead the prayers, I could not see the words in my siddur from the tears of joy in my eyes.”
There is just one place that can light my face!
Follow the link below for details, see you there!
It has been a while since I have written anything outside of a letter to my kids at camp, or a few articles for my work.
This summer I’ve been reading more than writing.
I can’t say I have been reading for pleasure, as most of my reading has been the unending news and commentary on the news from the Middle East.
Concentrating on anything else has been challenging. Even the weekly meditative practice of clipping coupons before going grocery shopping can be distracted by another worrisome report about another hateful demonstration popping up in Europe.
So, there I was in the dairy aisle in a Detroit suburban supermarket without my Greek yogurt coupons when I hear …..
“You know, the news, it gets more terrible with each passing day …. Yes, they are beheading children… they fled with nothing….
….yes, I was born in Baghdad
…. I have no homeland to return to
… but what can you do, what can you do?”
The horrors of the world these days, they are never far away.
Especially in Michigan.
You see, only second to California, Michigan is home to the largest community of Iraqi immigrants in the United States. Half of them are Chaldean Christians. Studies from Data Driven Detroit, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, and the Chaldean Federation revealed metro Detroit’s Chaldean population hovers between 100,000 and 120,000. Nearly 60% of that population owns a business.
The Chaldean people, one of the most ancient people on the planet. They are even mentioned early on in the Torah, the ancient city of Ur was part of the Chaldean empire, the city which was the hometown of Abraham, the guy who smashed the idols, the father of all three major faiths.
But getting back to present day ….
I felt so badly for this poor man. I wanted to express my sympathy, to let him know that people were listening and caring about the persecution of his people who are speaking out against the brutality ….
But he stayed on the phone.
And I had to pick out my yogurt.
So I circled around the aisles a bit more and did catch up with him at the check-out aisle.
He was off the phone.
“Look, I am sorry if I overheard your conversation, I just wanted to express my sympathies and sadness of what is going on in Iraq.”
He turned to face me and I noticed the gold cross pinned to the lapel of his brown suit jacket.
He waved his hand towards me as a sign that it was no problem that I was snooping on his conversation. He eyed my Star of David, the one I got in Italy, made of Merano glass, and then we spoke.
“Listen to me. These people. They are barbarians. They chased my people out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. They are killing children by chopping off their heads, stealing the women. And for what? They are following the instructions of their prophet Mohammed, exactly to the letter in their Quran. They kill anyone who is not Muslim.”
My mouth hung open, shocked at his bluntness as what most of us would be labeled “Islamaphobic” for saying.
He looked at me again. He unloaded his two bottles of Coffeemate and his large container of dates and he continued.
“The Israelis? You are the only people who know how to deal with their mentality, they only respond to force. I grew up in Baghdad with Jewish friends. They were scholars and merchants, doctors….”
“Yes… I know there was a Jewish community there-”
“Yes, for 2,500 years, there were Jews in Iraq. And then, in the 50’s, Iraq kicked most of them out, drove them out,” and then he said something profound.
“You know, my Jewish friends said to me before they left…. something to the affect ‘They are kicking us out today, on a Sunday. They will kick you out by Tuesday.'”
I nodded in total agreement. I feebly mentioned to him that I had read a book, Farewell to Babylon … but why would he have to read such a book about the exile of Iraqi Jews. after all, he lived it.
“Ah yes, there is that psalm, we share with you, “By the Waters of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion….”
Right there, as I unloaded my greek yogurt and Multi-grain Cheerios, I was having a moment of deep spiritual connection with this stranger.
He went on to tell me that Jews and Chaldeans literally share the same blood line, before he moved up to pay. Before I knew it, I realized that the cashier and the bagging clerk were smiling, also listening intently to our conversation. When the man started to speak Arabic with them, I realized then they were also Chaldean.
You can learn a lot and connect with hurting people in a grocery store.
Next Monday, I will continue to learn more about my Chaldean neighbors as I attend a joint program with the Jewish and Chaldean communities of Detroit, as we build bridges of understanding and stand together against hate and terror.
Last night, I volunteered at Detroit’s evening of Solidarity with Israel. After attendees passed through a strict security screening process, I gave them each a sticker bearing the logo shown above. Fellow volunteers gave out over 2,700 stickers to Israel supporters.
While the world looks bleak now for all world Jewry, and while radical Islamists spread their fiery hatred for Jews just like the Hitler Youth did in the 1930’s, it soothed my soul to see so many: Jewish, non-Jewish, black and white, coming together for a few hours to support the United State’s biggest ally in the Middle East in her war on terrorism.
By the way, my daughter is still on her trip in Israel. She just returned safely to Jerusalem after a sea-to-sea hike in the North.
Last weekend, she did spend some time in a bomb shelter. She heard the Iron Dome obliterate an incoming misile. But then, after they got the clear, she and a family she was staying with went on with life.
Here is my most recent piece published in the Detroit Jewish News.
A few weeks ago, my parents, husband, son and I were riding down the Belt Parkway in New York to take our 17-year-old daughter to JFK. She was about to embark on Ramah’s six-week Israel Seminar, a trip she knew she wanted to do since she was about nine years old. The news that Hamas murdered the three teenaged boys was less than 24 hours old. Seated in the middle row with my mom, I curled my hand into hers. I just kept squeezing it.
The scene at the departure terminal, though chaotic, was almost healing. Hundreds of Jewish teens about to leave for Israel on one trip or another greeted each other with smiles and hugs.
Expressions on the faces of the parents revealed one thing: we all knew our relatively carefree Jewish American kids were headed to Israel in a time of national mourning. Who could predict that a war would unfold in just days after their arrival?
What have I been doing since she left?
It has been a surreal time. While the program posts photos of the kids having fun on hikes and gazing over the Haifa skyline, while my daughter calls me from Jerusalem telling me about the fantastic time she had working with the children at the Ramah Israel Day camp in Jerusalem, friends in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Be’er Sheva post on Facebook about dashing for stairwells or shelters when the sirens blare.
On my wrist, I wear a blue Stand With Us rubber bracelet showing my support for Israel. My watch is set to Jerusalem time so I know the best time to call my daughter. My cell phone has become an appendage to my body. I pray daily for her safety, for all of Israel and her Defense Forces.
I thank Ramah Seminar in Israel for their tireless efforts of keeping our kids safe and having as an enjoyable and educational experience as possible while constantly keeping parents in the loop of the changing security situation. After an extended stay in their northern base in the Hodayot Youth Village, the “seminarniks” finally traveled safely to their home base in Jerusalem on July 15. In fact, a parent conference call to update us on the matzav started just as the IDF launched their ground offensive into Gaza.
But life goes on. I have taken the cue from my Israeli friends who endure this daily threat to keep moving on through routine and simple distractions. If my Israeli psychologist friend, an olah from New York, can help spread calm by teaching Yoga to women in a bomb shelter in Sderot, I too will try to find Zen on my mat. I work in my garden and take walks.
Even as the bombs fall, and the inevitability that she may spend some time this summer in a bomb shelter is very real, I have no regrets that my daughter is in Israel. I will not deny the danger or my worry. I know that this time in Israel will be a transformative one for her that can only strengthen her understanding of what it means to be a Jew and never take our Jewish homeland for granted.
When midnight here rolls around, my mind is already seven hours ahead wondering what the dawning day on the other side of the planet will hold for Israel. If you too have a loved one in Israel and find yourself up in the middle of the night, I’m sleepless right there with you.
- Why we’re letting our daughter stay in Israel in wartime (haaretz.com)
It really is eerie.
Last week, though it was a “prank” by pro-Russian supporters in the Ukraine, Jews were handed out leaflets that they must register their names and property holdings with the government.
Last week, just as this week, a synagogue in the Ukraine was firebombed. Not just vandalized. Firebombed.
This is why “Never Forget” must not just be uttered or whispered in a prayer but be a call to action.
I am sure that Henry Upfall would agree. Here is his story.
In the weeks leading up to his 101st birthday on April 14, Henry Upfall was hoping to start a men’s poker night at Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield, where he lives. Just returning from spending the winter at his condominium in Florida, he missed his regular poker game at the clubhouse, and the ladies at Meer won’t deal the men into their game.
According to his devoted daughter, Dina Pinsky of Bloomfield Hills, Upfall believes in living in the present by making new friends and maintaining close family ties. Pinsky adorns his apartment with plenty of family photos of Upfall’s late wife, Dora, their children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
His daughter said living in the present — loving life, surrounding themselves with family, friends and many social gatherings — was the way her parents coped with the very dark past of surviving the Holocaust.
At 101, Upfall is Metro Detroit‘s oldest living Holocaust survivor. Like many children and grandchildren of Holocaust
Like many second and third generation survivors, Pinsky is in a race against time to preserve her loved one’s stories for the coming generations.
“As a kid, my brother Yale and I remember lots of laughter and joking around,” Pinsky said. “We heard stories of Europe in bits and pieces. We knew there were subjects that were off-limits; we just didn’t go there because it caused my parents too much pain.”
Stephen Goldman, executive director at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills, said that in the immediate years after the Holocaust, many parents were afraid to tell and children were afraid to ask about the horrors of the Holocaust. As time passed, more survivors began to tell their stories. They must be told and recorded to preserve their memory, he said. “As survivors age, it becomes more urgent for us to preserve their stories,” Goldman said.
“If we don’t capture their memories now, they will be lost to the ages.”
Upfall’s story, retold here, was pieced together from a recent interview at his apartment and a 2006 video testimony he gave at the HMC. There, Upfall’s account, along with 500 additional area survivors, are recorded with attention to the most accurate detail.
Henry Upfall was born Gedalye Augustowski on April 14, 1913. As a child, he grew up in a comfortable and “cosmopolitan” household in Warsaw with his mother, sister and maternal grandparents. His parents divorced and his father left to settle in Detroit in the 1920s.
He was an athletic teenager and an avid boxer. For a time, he traveled from town to town competing in boxing tournaments, where he eventually suffered an injury to his right eye causing permanent blindness in it. When retelling even a few sentences of his story, that eye swells shut under the weight of its tears.
“We had good lives,” Upfall said. “We were well dressed. My sister never left the apartment without a fine hat on her head.”
In 1938, Upfall met his future wife, Dora Rajf, through one of her six brothers. After a year of courting, the two set a wedding date for Sept. 6, 1939. Through the help of their families, they purchased a small building where they would work as a barber and a beautician and live in the apartment upstairs.
Coming Of War
Then, in September of 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland.
Upfall, like all other able-bodied young Polish men, was ordered at age 26 to the border at Bialystok in an attempt to thwart the Nazi invasion. Two months later, Upfall returned to Warsaw and reunited with Dora.
In just those short months away, Upfall recalls the shock of seeing a change in Dora’s physical state and the destruction in the city.
“I didn’t recognize her,” Upfall said. “In only two months, her face was so drawn, so black from the soot of the bombings.”
On Nov. 6, 1939, Upfall and Dora broke the 7 p.m. curfew imposed on all Warsaw Jews to sneak away to the rabbi’s study at Nozyk Synagogue. There, with no guests or witnesses, a rabbi married them in a secret ceremony. An engagement photo and a ketubah bearing the date and their names, survives to this day, lovingly preserved in a frame in Upfall’s apartment.
“There were just the rabbi, Dora and I,” Upfall tearfully recalled. The two fled that evening from Warsaw and headed back to Bialystok, walking the whole way at night, hiding by day in the woods and in barns. Upfall still has painful regrets about leaving his sister, grandparents and mother. That next year, in the fall of 1940, the Nazis ordered all Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto.
“He just had no idea how bad things were going to get,” Pinsky said.
After making it back to Bialystok, he and Dora were arrested and sent to Posolek, a Russian labor camp near the town of Vologda in White Russia to work harvesting trees in the forest. Conditions were harsh. There was little food and only straw to sleep on in the barracks.
Upfall, raised in an Orthodox home, recalls feigning illness and fever with some other men in the camp so they would not have to work on Yom Kippur. Though they were under the watchful eye of Russian guards, somehow Henry and Dora escaped through a passage in the forest. After traveling, they were reunited with Dora’s parents in Vitebsk in Belarus.
For a while, they lived in relative peace. Henry worked as a barber and the couple had a child, Yale, born in 1941. Shortly after Yale was born, Upfall’s family again uprooted as Soviet forces evacuated civilians to Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. Here Soviet authorities demanded that civilians acquire Russian passports. Refusing to get a passport because he knew it meant he would be forced into the army, Upfall was imprisoned. Dora begged for his release under the condition that he would take a passport.
Sure enough, within days of accepting a Russian passport, Upfall was drafted into the army and put onto a train headed for the frontline of the war.
“I remember sitting next to another Jewish guy named Moskowitz,” Upfall said. “In Yiddish, he joked with me, ‘They are sending us to the slaughterhouse.’ So, when the train stopped at a station, I said I was getting off to get a hot drink. At the station, there was stopped another train going west. I got on it and deserted the Russian army. I never saw Moskowitz again.”
Somehow, he made his way to Jambul, Kazakhstan, where he was reunited with his family. They remained there until the end of the war.
When the war ended, Upfall, his wife and son went back to Poland, first to Kracow, then Warsaw, where they were spirited out of Poland by Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, and taken to Vienna, Austria. Dina was born in Vienna in 1947. From there they went to a displaced persons camp, Munchenberg, in Germany.
In 1949, the family immigrated to the United States, joining his father in Detroit. After receiving his license, he operated a barber shop. He became a U.S. citizen and changed his name to Henry in 1954. Upfall said it is important to tell stories like his for the future because “people who are free do not understand how we endured what we went through during the Holocaust.”
“The Jewish nation is strong,” Upfall said. “We have to stick together no matter what. As long as we have places like America and Israel, a Jew will never have to ask again ‘vu ahin zol ikh geyn’ (Where can I go?)”
Easing The Pain
Joe Winter maintains Beth El cemetery
with compassion in every season.
| Stacy Gittleman
| Special to the Jewish News
Winter, especially the record-breaking one Detroit just endured, can be isolating and depressing. It is harder still for those observing an anniversary of a loved one’s death to visit their grave in a snow-covered cemetery.
Fittingly so, a man named Joe Winter, caretaker at Beth El Memorial Park in Livonia, eases the sorrow of the mourner bymaking sure that certain graves and the paths leading to them are cleared of snow.
For almost three decades, Winter, 56, has cared for the cemetery and lived in a house just outside the ground Joe Winter where he and his wife, Claudia, raised their four children.
Trained as a horticulturist, Winter always enjoyed working outside and saw his occupation as a peaceful one. He started out as a groundskeeper at Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit and then became superintendent of the Beth El Memorial Park in 1985.
Growing up, his children never thought the location of their house was odd.
“They always just considered it as one quiet backyard. I’d let them ride their bikes
on the paths after the gates had closed for the day,” he said.
As superintendent of the cemetery, Winter’s responsibilities include keeping in daily contact with local rabbis and funeral directors to schedule burials. He also is the cemetery’s main record keeper.
The cemetery is open every day from morning until 5 p.m., except Saturday. If a mourner needs to linger a bit after 5 p.m., he says he does not mind keeping the cemetery gates open a bit longer.
As the weather warms, Winter and his staff keep the lawns mowed and the bushes trimmed. He provides a supply of American
flags come Memorial Day weekend and makes sure they stay up on each grave until Flag Day on June 14.
“Of all the mourners, the toughest ones to see when they come here are the parents of
young children,” Winter said. He recalled a woman who lost a young son and visited the
grave nearly every day for eight years.
“Joe Winter deals with human beings during the most vulnerable moments of their
lives,” said Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El of Bloomfield Hills. Syme, who has
worked with Winter for 17 years, said overseeing a cemetery is a job that not many can
“He supports all who come to the cemetery at a time when they are looking for
kindness, when their own inner coping resources are not there,” Syme said.
One such person Winter has comforted in his work is Julie Unatin of Huntington
On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2000, Unatin gave birth to a son, Ryan. Five days later,
baby Ryan died. What should have been the happiest of days for her, husband, Brian,
and their two daughters turned out to be the worst.
In March of that same year, Unatin, a teacher consultant for the blind for the
Oakland Intermediate School District, learned that another co-worker, Kate
Salathiel, also had lost a child. The deaths of their children have created a special bond between the two women.
Each winter, they support each other as they visit their children’s gravesites in different
cemeteries — not on the anniversary of their death, but on the day they were born.
Expecting her arrival at Beth El Memorial Park, Winter clears a path to Ryan’s grave
in advance of her visit. Winter also makes sure that any snow is brushed away from the
“Every year I know what I will find,” Unatin said. “A beautiful stone that has been
dusted and cleared; sprinkled with 14 years’ worth of small tokens. Without even being
asked, Joe makes my unbearable Valentine’s Day a bit more bearable.”
My second article in the “Celebrate!” supplement of the March 20 Detroit Jewish News.
Stacy Gittleman | Special to the Jewish News
There are people who eat to live. Then, there are those seeking unique, exotic tastes created with the most superior ingredients chefs can get their hands on. These are the foodies — the people who live to eat. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, it is no longer about the restaurant that just opened, but the foodies who are following the hottest chefs sweating it out in the kitchen of a particular restaurant, which is making it impossible to get that Saturday night reservation.
Local kosher caterers agree; the foodie craze has also caught up to their business as well. The kosher-catered affair is no longer about the stuffed derma and kasha served at your grandmother’s wedding. Unless, of course, for nostalgia’s sake, you know your guests will want an “Old World Eastern European” station with old standbys like knishes and chopped liver spread. Then it will be there. Guests should also be prepared to make room on their cocktail-hour plate for cuisine from India, Ethiopia and Japan.
Daniel Kohn, manager of Quality Kosher Catering in Southfield, was witness to the global gourmet trend as he worked in the hospitality business in New York and Colorado. Now back in Detroit, he keeps the legacy of the business his grandmother started in 1968 going strong for the next generation.
He knows that not all in this generation who seek a kosher caterer keep strictly kosher. In fact, statistics from the industry show that 55 percent of consumers buy kosher products for health reasons, 38 percent are vegetarians, and 16 percent eat only halal. Only 8 percent surveyed said they buy kosher products because they adhere to kashrut.
“There used to be a time not long ago when the food was just one more element at a big occasion, like the flowers or the band,” Kohn said. “Today, as people have developed sophisticated tastes and have become involved themselves with new cooking techniques, the food takes front and center stage.”
It is this sophistication of the foodie’s eclectic palate that is driving chefs to create anything but the standard chicken or beef offerings at catered affairs. At a typical wedding catered by Quality Kosher, food selections may cover “at least” four different ethnic tastes, from sushi and noodles at an Asian station to Moroccan meat cigars and tagines, or Indian curries.
Casual, But High End
Another trend in eating is that party guests still love their casual food, even if they are in sequined gowns and tuxedos.
“You can take burgers and fries and other casual American food to another level and make them high end,” Kohn said.
A fine menu starts with advanced planning.
When Franci Goodstein Shanbom, 38, and Sam Shanbom, 45, of West Bloomfield planned their Nov. 27 wedding — the night before Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah — they knew that the food would have to meld these two holidays. Because they married later in life, the Shanboms said they did not want to subject friends and family to just another “sit down chicken and baked potato dinner.”
What Quality Kosher planned was something completely “off the board,” said Franci Shanbom. The evening included four buffet stations with varied types of potato latkes and pareve sour cream, mini turkey potpies in cups made of phyllo dough, a Pan Asian station featuring Asian noodle slaw and orange chicken, a Tex Mex station with steak fajitas and a burger station including sliders made from salmon and portabella mushrooms. “We wanted a fun affair with a cocktail party feel, with lots of casual good food. Daniel is very youthful, and he had great ideas of how to make the party fun and hip,” Shanbom said.
Chef Cari Herskovitz also wants to treat her kosher-observant clients to a meal and a catered affair with international flavors they may not ordinarily have a chance to sample. Herskovitz graduated from the Natural Gourmet Cookery Institute for Food and Healing in New York City in 2000 and worked in the food industry there for many years preparing gastronomical delights for Lenny Kravitz, Ralph Lauren and Elie Wiesel.
She moved back to Detroit in 2003 and founded Chef Cari Kosher Catering, a Glatt kosher company housed at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield. As vegetarian and vegan kosher venues open up in Detroit — such as Gold ‘n Greens at Wayne State University and Herskovitz’s summer pop-up falafel stand at Campus Martius Park — she loves to hear how they surprise the average restaurant goer. They realize that you don’t have to keep kosher, or even be Jewish, she says, to enjoy kosher food. What they are enjoying, simply, is good food.
“I want people to come to me to cater an affair, first and foremost, because they are coming to me for well-prepared food,” Herskovitz said. “I want them to know if they want that vegan wedding that will keep even their nonvegan guests happy, they can come to me. They can also come to me if they keep on the more traditional side and want a meal with beef or chicken as the centerpiece.” Herskovitz said she enjoys offering clients the healthiest food choices, creating vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as more traditional meat or dairy menus for affairs.
For the adventurous vegetarians, she will create entire menus using greens like the ever-popular kale or taking a cue from the trend in using ancient grains like farro, amaranth and quinoa. Herskovitz said that vegan and vegetarian entrees could go beyond pasta and tofu. She likes to experiment with proteins like tempeh and seitan and introduce different grains, all enhanced with fresh herbs and greens.
For one recent wedding, she created an entire vegetarian Indian feast consisting of eight to 10 dishes complete with yogurt raita and naan bread. As health trends evolve, so have the offerings of kosher caterers. Kohn and Herskovitz can attest that they have catered vegetarian and vegan weddings where courses included meatless entrees, such as stuffed manicotti or textured vegetable protein layered with roasted portabella mushrooms and asparagus.
“When we sit down with the clients, we explain to them: ‘You are inviting 350 guests; you want them to come and then leave happy,’” Kohn said. “We round out the vegetarian and vegan offerings with interesting salads, a great sushi bar and velvety vegan soups.”
And what about those pareve desserts?
Back at his kitchen in Southfield, Kohn said David Carris, his pastry chef of 15 years, is constantly working on the ultimate dairy-free dessert.
“Our pastry chef has a way of working with desserts, starting with the finest quality ingredients that you would never expect were dairyfree or even egg-free. How good are they? I tell clients they must try the pareve creme brulee. If you don’t have a dairy creme brulee sitting there right next to it, you could swear you are eating the real thing. It’s that good.”
Back in the 80’s who ever thought the music of Sting and Paul Simon could ever blend so well? Sting and his Police band mates were ska and punk and then pop and Paul Simon, well, he is the master of folk and later global and world music.
But there they were, halfway through their tour at Detroit’s Palace at Auburn Hills, making beautiful music together for 2 hours and 40 minutes and most of the audience – some of us who were moved DOWN a section closer to the magic because the show didn’t sell out (Detroit, you missed a good show if you didn’t get a ticket) – we couldn’t get enough.
Both artists admitted that this was the perfect juncture in their tour, where their bands were really starting to come together as they learned each other’s styles. It was a bit of an adjustment for me to hear Sting sing some lines from Boy in the Bubble or Simon to add his voice to Fields of Gold, but it added a different dimension to each song and worked in the end.
For those of you who are curious about the play list, here it is, courtesy of the Sting fan page. I have to also mention that a friend who was also at the concert, who was close enough to the stage to see the roadies reading from their Kindles between sets, also took notes on the order of the playlist. But her playlist was not made available to me at “press time.”
At one point, Sing took the stage alone and told the audience that songs have a way of taking us back to the times in our lives when we first heard them. He recalled traveling across the United States in a station wagon with the Police during their first tour before singing Simon & Garfunkel‘s America.
The audience went wild when he sang “Michigan seems like a dream to me now…”
To demonstrate my true transplanteness, I alone went wild when he sang “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.”
I know that each song carried a memory for everyone who was there that frigid night. I’d love to hear about what memories these songs bring to you. Here are some of mine.
Of all the songs that WEREN’T played, I really wanted to hear Cecilia. Like, dying to hear it. Wished the concert would have closed to it.
My earliest musical memories were nursed on Bridge Over Troubled Water.
My parents playing the album constantly and my Dad belting the song for which the album was named at the top of his lungs in the shower. He could give Art Garfunkel a run for his money. But just in the shower.
I think I was three or four, kneeling by my parent’s ancient stereo speakers as it played (and that’s on a turn table, you young whipper snappers!). As the last bars of El Condor Pasa finished, I knew it was coming. I’d start jumping before the music even started. I couldn’t wait. And then the unmistakably joyful drumming of Cecila would play and I’d dance all over the living room. Sang the words at the top of my lungs. I guess my parents thought it was good thing I had no idea what I was singing. Really, they are nasty lyrics.
Later, much later, I can recall a perfect summer night in 1991 when Paul Simon played a free concert in Central Park. The music from Rhythm of the Saints mixed perfectly with the humid air. You know who you were who were there. I don’t know how we all successfully met up to enjoy the concert – about a mile away from the stage – in the days before our cell phones.
The Police and Sting dominated the air waves during high school. We all sang Every Breath you Take, thinking it was a song about love but later realized it was a song about obsession. High school was the time we began to figure out for ourselves the difference between the two.
The music of the Police affirmed to me that, no dad, musicians were not all stupid junkies. Yes, musicians are intelligent people. Sting was an English teacher after all. Classmates had conversation in the hall about Don’t Stand So Close to Me, after we learned the song was written about an inappropriate interest Sting took to one of his students.
Later, the album Nothing Like the Sun defined my college years. The scorching summer of 1988 and a fall weekend road trip to Boston.
But getting back to the present….
Perhaps even more impressive than Sting and Simon collaborating on each other’s songs was the collaboration and depth of their bands. Members of each band effortlessly switched from instrument to instrument. From drums to guitar. From guitar to electric violin. From cello to piccolo. From the accordion sounds of Zydeco to the bass riff in Call Me Al.
Since my son has been obsessively playing his guitar, I have developed a greater appreciation for these musicians, who should not by any means be considered “backup” musicians. This is why, even though he hates it, I won’t let him quit his clarinet. Lots of musicians play guitar, but how many play guitar and clarinet?
Sing and Simon closed the night with “When Will I Be Loved” It was a night I didn’t want to end and I’m still thinking about Sting in that perfectly fitted shirt and oh, it’s just not fair for a man to look that good at – 62!
…. but I digress.
What is the point of this long-winded blog post written on yet another frigid Michigan day?
Don’t miss out on a great show. Get tickets to this concert when it comes your way.
“Wow, look how she swerves and still can maintain that SPEED and control!!”
“Oh, she is really fighting to stay on the course as she goes around that curve, it’s so difficult but she makes it look so easy.”
Have I just returned from Sochi, competing in the giant slalom?
I’ve just returned from grocery shopping. In suburban Detroit. And there is a pothole that could accommodate a baby elephant on the road between my house and the dairy aisle.
To say that Michigan’s roads have a pothole problem is an understatement. We don’t really have roads here anymore. Neglect of Michigan’s roads have been decades in the making and it’s more like Michigan has miles of potholes with some bits of road holding them together.
Now, I know many of you living in other states also have pothole bragging rights. But a recent article in the March issue of HOUR Detroit Magazine offered the following factoids to set the record straight: when it comes to a pothole problem, Michigan wins, hands down:
- At $124, Michigan spends the least amount on roads per person per year than any other state. Yes, we have low taxes, but the cost of maintaining a car on these roads – (an average of $320 per year per motorist) – makes up for the low taxes.
- 29% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- 35% of Detroit’s paved roads are rated in poor condition
- The average additional vehicle operating cost for Detroit’s roads is $536 per motorist
- Michigan drivers lose a total of $7.7 billion annually because of deteriorated, traffic congested roads.
Cross into neighboring states dealing with the same rough winters the roads are much better. That’s because Ohio invests in its roads $234 per motorist and in Wisconsin, $231 per motorist. In these states, politicians did the right thing and raised taxes to fix their roads. Now, in an election year, Michigan politicians hoping to be re-elected most likely will not want to be associated with any sort of tax increase, even to fix the road they drive on to get to work. Or maybe they have special smooth roads for politicians.
You get what you pay for. Or you don’t get what you don’t pay for, but in the end, you pay for it anyway.
Between the bumpy rides in the back seat and no one to take care of him at school when he complained of pink eye – because Michigan politicians also doesn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars on school nurses – my youngest child said he actually wants to move to a state with higher taxes when he grows up.
Last night, as I was driving my kids home, my daughter thought she could give me instructions about my driving technique. After all, she has been a driver’s ed student for about 2 1/2 weeks.
“Mom, why are you going over so much to the right?
Mom, don’t you see that pothole coming up? Why are you headed straight for it?”
It’s because, my dear, that pothole is in the very same place of where the road should be. To avoid one of these potholes, I would have had to cross over a double yellow line into oncoming traffic, or drive straight through the even more potholed and gravelly shoulder.
Sometimes, there is no choice but to go through a pothole and just pray you make it to the other side.