On these snowy days I admit I have done way too much trolling on my Facebook news feed. One alarming video clip that came across my newsfeed was a very disturbing video of Fascists in France waving a red swastika flag, shouting Jews Out! Jews Out!
Do they have the right to march peacefully and express their views in a democratic society? Maybe. Have these French citizens forgotten the history of WWII when the Nazis themselves goose-stepped through the streets of Paris shouting the same hatred? Absolutely.
Today’s Germany would not stand for such hate marches, free speech or not. In fact, it is illegal to fly the Nazi Flag anywhere in Germany or have a Nazi rally.
I wonder, in this country which proposes to ban the wearing of any religious symbol or clothing, what they teach their children about religious tolerance.
A few weeks back, I had the honor of attending and covering a “Face to Faith” Journey to Judaism sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Greater Detroit. Sitting in the massive sanctuary of Temple Israel of West Bloomfield with 150 seventh graders, I felt right at home. And you know something, so did the kids. Even if they never set foot in a Jewish house of worship. Even if they never had a Jewish friend.
Cynics might wonder if such interfaith explorations organized by Detroit’s Interfaith Council really teach tolerance. But, after you watch the disturbing and disgusting video of Fascists marching down a street of what is supposed to be the world’s most civilized city shouting “Jews Out!” consider the alternatives.
Here is the article which ran in the Detroit Jewish News
What does a rabbi look like? To the uninitiated, a rabbi wears a long black coat, grows a long beard, and therefore must always be a man.
Temple Israel rabbis, teachers, and other volunteers at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield helped to dispel this and many other misconceptions about Judaism as they guided a diverse group of 150 seventh graders from six school districts through a “Jewish Religious Diversity Journey.” The trip was part of a series of explorations into different religions created by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
According to the council’s administrator Meredith Skowronski, Religious Diversity Journeys for the past 11 years has taken young leaders – 25 handpicked students from each school district – on six trips to a different house of worship to foster understanding and a celebration of cultural differences. Participating school districts include Berkeley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, West Bloomfield, and Walled Lake.
Gail Katz, a retired Berkeley teacher and the director of Religious Diversity Journeys, explained that the program fits in perfectly with the World Religions unit of the seventh Grade curriculum.
“The Journey only extends what they are learning beyond the textbook and the classroom,” said Katz as she mingled with the students during a morning icebreaker. “We strive to increase respect and understanding among all students.”
Rabbi Josh Bennett – who is clean-shaven and does not wear a long black coat – kicked off the formal component of the day of learning in the temple’s large sanctuary. Students, impressed by the large golden ark on the bimah, learned about the three different branches of Judaism and the belief in one God, learning Torah and the connection to Israel, which unites Jews across every level of observance
Later in the morning, groups of students took turns touring the building and listening to Rabbi Ariana Gordon explain the cycle of Jewish holidays, the complexity of having a Hebrew calendar that is both lunar and solar, and the odd phenomena this year that was “Thanksgivingkah.”
The students also visited the building’s mikvah and viewed an open Torah Scroll with Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny.
“These trips are an invaluable lesson where kids get a hands-on learning experience and are made to feel welcome in different houses of worship,” said Kaluzny after teaching a group about how a Torah scroll is made and written.
Over a Mediterranean vegetarian lunch prepared by Mezza of West Bloomfield and sponsored by Temple Israel, students expressed their appreciation for the program, which allows them to explore other traditions and pose questions that would seem inappropriate or uncomfortable in a classroom setting.
Ben Johnston of West Hills Middle School came away from the program with a better understanding of the different branches of Judaism and the customs and holidays his Jewish friends celebrate.
“This program is important to me because we have a diverse society,” Johnston said. “We go to school with different kinds of kids, and as we get older, these are the people we’ll go to college and work with. We must have the knowledge of their backgrounds so we can be more tolerant and understanding.”
Ben Johnston, a student at West Hills Middle school, learns about the role of a mikvah in Jewish life during a Religious Diversity Journey.
Ashley Liles and Maddy Merritt, both of Sashabaw Middle School in Clarkston, do not go to school with many Jewish kids. The program allowed them to peer into a Siddur and not feel embarrassed to ask why it opens up backwards or why the letters look different than English.
The “journey” gave them a better perspective of the history and origins of the Jewish people. Not only did it widen their understanding of Jewish holidays beyond Chanukkah, but the lesson with Rabbi Gordon also gave them a broader understanding of a holiday they would otherwise only know as a “Jewish Christmas.”
Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, displays a Torah scroll to seventh graders on a Religious Diversity Journey with the help of parent volunteer Janet Cummins of Birmingham.
Never underestimate the impact of a school field trip.
Last spring, Sophie Erlich, 14, of Birmingham took a trip to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue with
her eighth-grade classmates from Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills. There, she learned about the synagogue’s past. There, she also became inspired about contributing to Detroit’s comeback and an urban Jewish future.
This September, Sophie, now in ninth-grade at Birmingham Groves High School, and big brother, Jonah Erlich, 16, kicked off a fundraiser for the synagogue, founded in 1921, with their “Daven Downtown” T-shirt fundraising campaign. They sold more than 35 T-shirts for $36 each on their website designed by Jonah, www.davendowntown.com/ collections. All proceeds go directly to
help the synagogue.
Throughout the whole process, which is earning them required community
service credits for school, the teens also are learning valuable lesson in keeping inventories, marketing for nonprofit organizations on social
media and running a business.
“I am very energized about the idea of Detroit coming back,” said Sophie, who has friends with older siblings who are moving into the city. “It’s where I hope to live and work when I am an adult and out of college.” Jonah echoed his sister’s sentiments.
“If more Jewish young adults move into the city, they will need a thriving synagogue within walking distance where they can pray and just hang out with other Jews,” he said. “I would be so excited to work and live in Detroit someday.”
To create the right vibe, they asked local designer Kathy Roessner to donate her time and talents to create colorful logo with a “V” in the middle. The T-shirts, printed in Troy, are available in crew and V-neck styles and come in gray and white.
To boost sales, Jonah recruited some video-savvy classmates at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield where he is a sophomore, as well as local leaders and Detroit entrepreneurs, to film themselves around town wearing
the T-shirts. The “world’s most interesting man,” a character from a Dos Equis beer commercial, provided
inspiration for the video’s only scripted line:
“I don’t always daven. But when I do, I daven Downtown.”
Anna Kohn, the executive director of the Downtown Synagogue and one of only two paid staff members, said the excitement and entrepreneurship of the teens toward the synagogue proves that young people can make things
happen when they are passionate about a cause.
“We were looking for a way to merchandise, and they beat us to it,” she said. Kohn said she has used the logo
on the synagogue’s website at www.downtownsynagogue.org. The egalitarian Conservative synagogue’s Facebook
page has 1,000 fans. It also distributes a newsletter with a circulation of 1,600 informing congregants and the general public about weekly Shabbat services, a Thursday morning minyan and a variety of programs that provide social
outreach for Jewish urbanites and those just curious about Judaism.
The T-shirt sales have become so successful that they are on back order as the Erlich siblings, children of Craig
and Renee Erlich, wait for the next shipment. They also plan to sell the T-shirts through area synagogues and
Jewish youth groups. ■