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. ■