The Growth Years
By Isidore Sobeloff
in the postwar years of the late '40s, Holocaust
victims began to rebuild and renew their lives.
I witnessed the warmth of the Detroit Jewish
community when they greeted war victims
with financial and emotional support.
Then, as our neighborhoods and services grew
to meet local needs, our partnership overseas
broadened with the creation of the State of Is-
rael in 1948.
To this momentous event, our community re-
sponded with a power and generosity that re-
flected unity and kinship with Jews everywhere.
We did not separate overseas concerns and
local concerns. We worked together as one,
for all of us. The mutual assistance of our solid
community was the motivating force of our
In our efforts to attend to the needs of Holo-
caust survivors, Detroit became the center for
the resettlement of Jews throughout Michigan.
From 1945 to 1950, small outstate commun-
ities were strengthened to meet new arrivals
and organize fund-raising techniques. Fred M.
Butzel, members of the Resettlement Commit-
tee and I organized committees in 15 to 20
cities as far away as the Upper Peninsula.
Some communities that come to mind are Mt.
Clemens, Kalamazoo, Ironwood and Marquette.
Everywhere there were more communities that
became part of the Resettlement Service, an
arm of the Jewish Social Service Bureau (now
the Jewish Family Service).
During this era of expansion, Federation de-
veloped budgeting and planning divisions in
1948. Staff and lay leaders matched agency
requests with community needs in a unified
procedure. We began an all-day Pre-Campaign
Budget Conference, where contributors and
beneficiaries could present their views on local,
national and overseas needs.
We also had a capital fund for special building
projects, thus eliminating separate campaigns
and making the Detroit Federation unique in
One agency which experienced tremendous
growth during these years was the Fresh Air
Society. In 1950, the first 587 acres were pur-
chased near Ortonville, adding to the existing
site at Brighton.
Two key figures linked with the growth of
camping experience were Irwin I. Cohn and Ir-
win Shaw, then director of the Fresh Air Society.
Mr. Cohn scouted sites for purchase, and Mr.
Shaw encouraged the steady development of
summer programs and year-round camping
facilities for adults and families. The dream of
quality camping experiences for Jews of all
age groups became a reality.
Another milestone was the opening of the first
Jewish hospital in Michigan, Sinai Hospital of
For several decades, many people were con-
vinced that Detroit needed a hospital under
Jewish auspices. In 1944, Federation under-
Camp Tamarack masquerade party, 1940s
Isidore Sobeloff, David Ben-Gurion, 1950
took a campaign under the guidance of Nate
Shapero and Max Osnos and provided the or-
ganizational direction for the Jewish hospital.
Since its opening in 1953, Sinai has become a
well respected medical center with the highest
quality of care and advanced research.
The United Hebrew Schools also branched out
to bring Jewish education to all members of
the community. Wherever Jewish neighbor-
hoods were established, UHS followed, some-
times using existing buildings—public schools
and synagogues—to bring Jewish education
to our people.
Of special interest to me was the Jewish Corn-
munity Center because my first professional
job was as director of a center in another state.
Thirty-three years after its founding in 1926,
the Jewish Community Center opened a beau-
tiful facility at Meyers and Curtis. It stimulated
Jewish cultural values through art, drama,
music and literature. Health and physical edu-
cation also served the entire community.
My experience in Detroit recalls the growth of
a great community—a community that builds
hospitals, camps, schools and centers for all
Jews, rich or poor; a community that attained
new heights in American Jewish philanthropy.
I believe our community has accomplished all
of this because the quality of Detroit leader-
ship is always of the highest standard. To the
extent that I have had a hand in guiding these
leaders, I hope I am not too unjustly proud.
Isidore Sobeloff was executive director
of the Jewish Welfare Federation from
193 7 to 1964. He is now a resident of