The Future is Bright for Detroit’s Conservative Jews. Motor City Youth Group is “Chapter of the Year”
When I taught Hebrew school and looked at the sweet yet glazed-over faces of my students, I would gently yet firmly reassure them: “KIds, please. I get it. Hebrew school may not be your thing. But don’t ever let your feelings about Hebrew school cloud your love for being Jewish. There is a better Jewish life after Hebrew school and it is youth group.”
Personally, I owe my life to United Synagogue Youth’s high school and middle school programming. Whether it was learning how to do The Time Warp or Rock Lobster at a dance, or finally mastering the WHOLE Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) while singing it with hundreds of my closest friends, It taught me how to life Jewishly joyfully. Kudos to the Motor City Chapter of USY for winning for the second year in a row Chapter of the Year for the organization’s Central region.
This ran in the May 21, 2015 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. Please subscribe.
Motor City USY wins honor for second year running
| Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
Recently recognized by the Central Region of United Synagogue Youth for membership growth and inter-generational religious programming such as “McKabbalat Shabbat,” members of Detroit’s chapter of United Synagogue Youth recently arrived home from their regional spring convention in Cleveland bleary-eyed yet happy to have clinched the “Chapter of the Year” award for the second year running.
Motor City USY, affectionately known as “MCUSY,” is witnessing a resurgence in membership growth and dynamic programming designed to engage and energize the youngest members of Metro Detroit’s Conservative Jewish movement.
The chapter has attracted about 65 official members in grades 6-12, and a little over 100 individuals have attended at least one USY or Kadima program in the past year, according to adviser David Lerner. Highlights of the year included a Purim limousine scavenger hunt, monthly volunteering at bingo games with adults with developmental disabilities in cooperation with JARC, and an “Iron Chef ” kosher cooking contest for students in the middle school grades.
The Conservative movement in Detroit has invested much in its youth engagement and informal education in the last several years with its Ramah Fellowship and by hiring a full-time USY adviser. For the past two years, this post was filled by David Lerner. Lerner is stepping down from his post, and this summer will begin his rabbinical studies at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
“I have been so inspired working with the teens and witnessing their passion and ability to form a community around Jewish life and values,” Lerner, 32, said.
“I have merely served as the facilitator and supporter to all their passion and great ideas. They have worked hard through their frustrations to create so many positive outcomes over the past two years.”
Lerner hopes the organization will choose a new adviser who has an established relationship with the organization and can continue its upward direction.
In the last two years, Lerner said he focused on growing and strengthening programming and outreach at the high school level. In coming years, he said the focus should be on growing the organization’s Kadima group for grades 6-8 and Junior Kadima for grades 3-5.
Local area Conservative rabbis also place a high value on the way USY blends social and religious aspects to get teens enthused about Judaism.
Rabbi Aaron Bergman at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills attributes the chapter’s recent success to collaboration across all of Detroit’s Conservative synagogues and professional staff who are connected and invested in the teens.
Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield — where Lerner also worked as director of youth and young adult programming — echoed this sentiment of working together to create meaningful experiences of Jewish learning and fostering friendships for teens.
“As Conservative Jews, we are committed to developing passionate, educated young adults devoted to finding spirituality within Jewish ritual, meaning within Jewish life, and a commitment to repairing our broken world,” Starr said.
“Most of all, the teens who are part of MCUSY are exceptional leaders and, in them, I see a bright future for the Jewish people.”
My husband’s parents are about to become transplantedsouth.
This weekend, in the on-and-off rain, my in-laws had a yard sale in attempts to sell off the last possessions they did not want to take with them to Florida.
I got a call from my mother-in-law, asking me one last time if we wanted to take a few last things:
The antique 1920’s style school desk, complete with an inkwell, that resided in my husband’s childhood room.
The orange and brown stoneware dishes that she used each year for Passover.
Though both these things had great sentimental value, they were remnants of a house that was being left behind, and they just had no place in our present lives. My heart said yes, but my brain said no. We had taken all we were going to take that could fit into our current home. The rest, would just have to live on in memories and in lots of photos.
I’ve been visiting the house at 24 Manor Road North, on a huge one-acre lot, long before I was married. I started going there as a teenager, not long after I met the man who would be my husband at a camping retreat at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
In fact, many of you reading this may have also shared great memories at 24 Manor Road N. long before we became the grownups we are today.
24 Manor Road North was host to our youth group’s student board retreat weekend.
I never attended one of these weekends (I lived on the other island, Staten Island) but I have heard they were legendary.
40 teens in one house for an entire weekend.
Can you imagine?
Later, 24 Manor Road N. was home to many “next to New Year’s” parties in honor of my husband’s January 3 birthday.
Now, after over 40 years of living in Long Island, my in-laws are packing up and heading to their dream retirement home along a golf course in … you guessed it – Boca Raton, Fla.
During these past four decades, they worked hard, raised four children and have done their share of babysitting over 14 grandchildren. They have rightfully and healthfully reached this well-deserved phase in their lives. I am genuinely happy for them. For the grown children however, we are left with that bittersweet realization that you can never go home again.
On our last trip to the house I took lots of photos of parts of the house that I have known forever, and now would never see again.
Like the enormous hedges that seemed to swallow the house with each passing year:
I also took some photos of parts of the house you were NOT allowed to see until you were no longer considered a guest but a part of the family. Like the upstairs “kids” bathroom that my husband shared with his three sisters, the one with the whale mirror:
And then, when you were REALLY family, you could go in the basement. On our last day at the house, we went downstairs to the basement, already filling with boxes, where my father-in-law asked if we wanted to take some paintings he created long ago
We also found remnants from the family business, Fairyland Amusement Park in Brooklyn, that was in my husband’s family for three generations:
This move has been over a year in the making, and selling the house was tough in the Long Island housing market. To sell the house, little bits of its personality were smoothed over, creating a clean slate for the minds of potential homebuyers.
With each visit over the last year, the house felt less like the home I’ve visited since I was 16. Gone from the kitchen were the dozens of hanging plants, some living, some just hanging on, that was known as the “jungle” and where, in rounds, children and grandchildren had breakfasts or July 4 hot dogs after cousin sleepovers:
Gone from the stairwell were the photos of my sisters-in-law as kids and collages of grandchildren.
Gone were the artful silver and mauve squiggles that my father-in-law painted on the kitchen walls.
Everything felt neutral. Beige. Only one room, the dining room where we had so many holiday dinners, maintained its burgundy hue.
On my husband’s last day in his boyhood home earlier this month, I didn’t rush him out despite the seven- hour drive ahead of us back up to Rochester. He watched one last Wimbledon tennis match with his parents on the big sectional couch where the family and many friends logged in thousands of hours of hanging out.
In the end, we had many great memories at 24 Manor Road North. (Feel free to add your own memories, family, in the comments box.)
We’ll just have to make new ones in Florida.
Especially over February break.