An all-volunteer Salsa Dance group is heating up the salsa dance scene in Detroit. I am not exactly all left feet (you can actually see my left foot in one of the photos below taken by the very talented Jerry Zolynsky), but gave it a try one freezing February night. Here is what I found out for my cover story from the March 26 issue of the Detroit Jewish News.
Feel The Beat
Jewish dancers join the crowd for weekly salsa dance parties
by Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
Photos by Jerry Zolynsky
The temperatures outside the American Legion hall in Farmington, where YA Salsa holds its monthly socials, plummeted into the single digits on a Sunday evening this past winter. But with the dance floor heating up with more than 200 dancers, no one inside seemed to mind that a door had been propped open to let in the chill. On the last Sunday of each month, salsa enthusiasts gather for a dance social organized by YA Salsa, an allvolunteer organization dedicated to the growth of this dance style in Detroit. Within its circles is a dedicated group of Jews who love Latin dancing. They have found a great sense of camaraderie and exercise in the years they have danced and are always welcoming beginners to try it. To widen the appeal to the Jewish community, YA Salsa will host free workshops led by international salsadancing stars to JCC members March 27-28 at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield before its next social in Farmington. For more information go to www.yasalsa.org. Evening Of Fun YA Salsa socials start with beginner and intermediate lessons.
In the center of a circle of rotating beginner couples, “Mambo” Marci Iwrey, 52, of Novi capably leads the beginners though basic steps and how to work with a partner, when to hold hands and when to let go. A dancer all her life, she fell in love with the rhythms of Latin music around 15 years ago. Private and group lessons in studios around town eventually led her to salsa dance floors and workshops around the world. Now a longtime professional and volunteer teacher of salsa dancing, she defies anyone who hears this infectious music to sit still.
“We are all here to dance,” she instructs. “Don’t be shy to introduce yourself to someone else and say you are a beginner as the evening goes on.” On the other side of the room, more advanced dancers, who seem to be more attached to the partners with whom they arrived, review dips and more complex dance combinations.
“The volunteers work very hard to put on these socials,” said Iwrey, who, when not dancing, works at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield as b’nai mitzvah coordinator. “We are all bonded here for the love of what we do, to bring the joy of dance no matter your race, religion or age.”
After an hour of instruction, the floor opens up for three hours of dancing. Some beginners hang around the sides watching the eclectic gathering of dancers while others brave it out and look for a dance partner.
Sherry Kraft, 34, of Southfield has a background in swing and ballroom dancing. She enjoys the social and less-formal aspects of salsa dancing compared to ballroom and started taking lessons in 2006. “When I started out, I had no idea there was such a large salsa community here in Detroit,” says Kraft, a photographer-turned ultrasound technologist from Southfield who says she enjoys meeting people of all backgrounds who have come together to dance and socialize.
Jeff Abrams describes himself as an “advanced beginner.” The 37-year-old computer technician said he has been attending salsa socials for two years now. “Dancing helps me relax from the stresses of everyday life,” Abrams says as he takes a break between dancing partners. “I love connecting with people through the nonverbal medium of music.” Abrams admits it does take some time to gain experience and confidence in this type of dancing, especially when you are the man.
“The pressure can be on because you are always thinking of what steps you want to try to lead next instead of just relaxing and enjoying the music.” Still, Abrams would rather be dancing over any other kinds of exercise because of its social aspects. “When you dance, you can forget everything else that is going on in your life,” Abrams says. “When I get home, my mind is clearer.”
I feel weird asking it because I am not the kind of person to ask for a lot of help. Hell, I even feel bad asking a neighbor to for an egg or a cuppa sugar to save me from pulling my boots on and heading out to the supermarket on a snowy day. Or asking you to pick up my kid at band rehearsal if I drive the other way, would you drive the other?
But this is a biggie. A total solid.
If things in this country got very bad for me, your Jewish friend;
if it came to it where laws were put in place forbidding people to do business with Jews, for going to school with Jews, for being treated by Jewish doctors or seeking counsel from Jewish lawyers; if Jews were forbidden from riding in public transportation or eating in restaurants, or going to movie theaters:
Would you hide me?
What about just my kids?
In the height of World War II, there were the few, brave righteous gentiles who imperiled their own lives to hide Jews in their basements, a large closet, a ditch under their barn, and most famously, in an Amsterdam attic. Some of their stories can be viewed here in a video created by the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Pretty dark and drastic, perhaps fatalistic and Pollyannaish all at the same time just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, right?
I know. Sorry if I am freaking you out.
Yet, I am beginning to have my doubts just how many would say yes.
It is evidenced by the alarming silence, or maybe apathy, or maybe just news fatigue I have witnessed ever since this summer.
And I know, for my Facebook friends, you are probably sick of all the stuff I have posted since this summer, starting with the horrible war between Israel and her neighbors in Gaza, followed by the outrageous double standard displayed in media coverage. You are just probably sick to death of me and have most likely hidden all my rantings from your newsfeed.
I have also posted many petitions asking you to stand up against hatred against the only democracy in the Middle East. I have tried to educate the unfamiliar on the history of the formation of the modern state of Israel, lest you are misled by those who want you to believe that Jews are land stealing colonists with no ties to this scrap of land in the Middle East.
I have tried to make you understand that yes, when some say “I have no problem with Jews, it is just the Zionists we hate” that this is just a thin veil, a code word for Jew hatred.
I have tried to teach you the real meaning of what it means to be a Zionist. I posted petitions asking our government to stop forcing Israel into any negotiations with a party who in its very charter calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and Jews in general.
I have shared petitions about lending your voice to speak out against the rapid rise of Jew Hatred in Europe and even right here in our own country as college student governing bodies pass ruling after ruling asking their university administrations to stop doing business with any business that does business with Israel, to stop RESEARCH and PROGRESS if it means collaborating and learning and working with Israeli researchers.
Post after post, I pretty much knew who would share, or who would comment, or maybe who would just click “like.” Same people. Same choir.
Those who know their history understand what silence in the face of evil brings. That is why I am asking you that very uncomfortable question:
Would you hide me?
It is not only me who feels this way. Just this week, clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, PhD wrote in “Jewish, American and Scared” how she is making sure that all her ducks are in order: passport, bank statements, title deeds to house and car, just in case she has to flee with her family to Israel. As many French Jews have been fleeing after anti-Semitism in that country has nearly quadrupled over the last few years. I shared and posted about that too, mostly to seemingly deaf ears.
How many of you have dared to tweet #JeSuisJuif?
So, if you are Jewish, please share this post and ask this question of your friends.
If you are not Jewish, check in with your conscience and think back to a time when you (hopefully) watched a Holocaust documentary, or Schindler’s List, or visited a Holocaust Museum, and asked yourselves how the hell could this have happened?? Ask yourself what you are doing right now, in the 21st Century, to prevent this from happening again.
Silence and apathy of the majority of the good allowed evil to take over and murder millions.
Silence and apathy, that’s how it happened.
It is a good thing there is now a place I can go, if it comes to it.
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.
The first month of the school year is almost over, and with it a month that marked the Jewish High Holidays. Though the early mornings and late nights are starting to take their toll, though the unfamiliar hallways I walked through in my son’s new high school make me sometimes wish we were back in our old digs and routines in Rochester, things are going well so far in Detroit.
One part of my Rochester life I am sorely missing is my weekly routine of writing my newspaper column. Fortunately, I have picked up several writing assignments in the Detroit Jewish News.
Here is my first piece, and it’s about (what else?) being a transplant.
With the sound of the shofar, the High Holiday season signals the promise of a New Year. We pray for a sweet year of new blessings and opportunities. For the rest of Jewish Detroiters, all this “newness” will happen in the same old familiar surroundings among family and old friends you’ve known for years.
For my family of five freshly-minted Michiganders, everything about 5774 is new.
Last year, as my family prepared to celebrate Sukkot, General Motors announced it would be closing the Rochester, N.Y., research facility where my husband worked and moving his job to Pontiac. We lived in Rochester for 14 years. It was the only home our three children, ages 16, 14, and 10, had ever known.
After the shock of the news settled in and after my three children realized that no, their friends’ families in Rochester could not adopt them, it was time for us to pull together as a family. The year 5773 was a journey filled with months of living apart from my husband, long-distance house hunting in a fiery-hot Detroit suburban real estate market, researching school districts, and many long and emotional goodbyes.
Moving can be a curse. In the Book of Deuteronomy, however, the Torah challenges Jews to find the blessing within the curse.
Contrary to what many of my New Yorker friends think, moving to Detroit is not a curse. Beyond the headlines of Detroit’s bankruptcy, we are enjoying the brighter sides of Michigan culture. In the short time we have lived here, we traveled to take in the beauty “up north,” savored homegrown cherries and blueberries, and climbed the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
I am learning how to make a Michigan left, which is scarier than a New Jersey jug handle.
We even stood on the curb of Woodward to witness the ultimate show of car culture in last months’ Dream Cruise
We found the blessing in the warm reception we received throughout Detroit’s Jewish community. During a house-hunting trip that fell smack in the middle of Pesach, friends here hosted us three times for meals. Our children, also blessed with long-standing friendships forged at Camp Ramah in Canada, were invited for Shabbat meals and out to the movies to meet other new kids. These friends have acted quickly to enfold our children into their social circles even before the moving vans arrived.
While we unpacked and set up our physical home with only one kid in tow (my oldest left Rochester on a bus headed for Camp Ramah), time was ticking for the quest to find a spiritual home. Belonging to a synagogue has been and will always be a top priority to our family. Not because we have to get High Holiday tickets, or have kids who need Hebrew school or a Bar Mitzvah date. It is because here in Michigan, far away from family, we need a community.
During our “shul shopping,” we were happy to learn that we have many choices. Every congregation we visited this summer gave us warm welcomes on a level we never experienced in other communities. We were showered with greetings and given honors on the bimah within every sanctuary. Everywhere we go, people simply rave about their synagogue
One night, before going to sleep in our new home, I expressed to my husband about my worries of finding employment. He had his work. My kids had school. Once again, like many in my position who move to another town for a spouse’s job transfer, I would have to reinvent myself.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll make the living. You go out and make us a life here.”
Wise and true were his words. While my husband worked at his office, I worked at finding doctors, pediatricians, dentists and orthodontists. I finalized details of moving out of one house and moving into another. I phoned school counselors on both sides of the move to assure the proper transfer transcripts and my kids would be signed up for the proper course work for high school. I did all I could so when they got off the bus in Detroit, sad to leave camp and even more saddened to be leaving all that was familiar, their biggest worry in their first days here would be how they were going to get through all that dirty laundry.
This year of transition has taught me many things. My kids are capable of stepping up more around the house. I can trust my husband to buy our next dream house even if I only saw it on Zillow. Most importantly, this move has reaffirmed for me the importance of keeping connected to the Jewish community. You never know where the road may take you, but our kehilah kedosha, our holy community, will always be there to take you in.
I thought about writing some long diatribe about how many times Israel holds out the olive branch and how the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make peace with Israel.
Then, this fell into my newly revamped Facebook feed. Enjoy. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be sad…