As the Jewish population moves
"The fire is over now Period. No
one dwells upon it," said Joseph from the older suburbs to the north-
Tarica, the synagogue's executive west areas of Bloomfield Hills, Farm-
director who came to Detroit from ington and West Bloomfield, the
New York last summer. "We have to leaders of Beth Abraham Hillel
put all of that past to rest and look Moses maintain they reside in the
forward to 1990 and the 21st Century. ideal location. Tarica said the
synagogue is not threatened by the
We are moving forward.
"It probably just made everyone possible moves westward of congrega-
aware that tragedies really can hap- tions B'nai David and B'nai Moshe.
In 1987, 37 new members joined
pen," Tarica added.
Insurance covered the damage, the congregation. Tarica said an ac-
estimated at over $1 million. For a tive recruitment program for the con-
short while after the fire, minyanim gregation and the Hebrew school will
were held at private homes. Soon help attract more members.
The Hebrew school, he said, is in-
after; however, Rabbi A. Irving
Schnipper found space in the south dependent and allows the congrega-
wing of the building that was not tion to maintain control over its
damaged by the blaze. Hebrew school curriculum.
"We can do our own thing better,"
classes were moved to Ealy Elemen-
tary School. Weddings and other Tarica said.
"We are very positive about our
social events were rescheduled at
other synagogues and halls. It was, of- future," he said. "We are in a growing
neighborhood. People are moving
ficials said, organized chaos.
No one was hurt in the fire, but away from Oak Park and Southfield
congregants banded together to and we are here — right on a main
mourn the loss of five Torah scrolls. drag."
Some people still think of the con-
Nat Fishman, who was congregation
only as the place that had
president at the time, lighted a
some have not buried such
yahrzeit candle in memory of the ho-
"Memories of the fire never go
"It wasn't all peaches and cream,"
member Marilyn Rice said.
Rabbi Schnipper said. "But we are all
a heart loss and it takes a
right now. The building came back a
little different in looks, but it is still lot of regrouping to get back.
"The struggle is over and it is nice
the synagogue grow," Rice
The building now is rebuilt. What
still, something is gone.
once was a reserved, neutral-colored
sanctuary now is pink. The new The Torah is replaced, but the senti-
ment of the old ones is not. We're
back, we're here and we are not going
Rice agrees with synagogue of-
ficials that the fire was a bad learn-
ing experience. She said tragedy
brings people together. But fortunate-
ly, Rabbi Schnipper added, members
of the congregation were patient.
Patience wasn't something new
for the members of Cong. Beth
Abraham Hillel Moses.
Its first settlers prayed in private
homes in the early 1890s. Then the
congregation called itself Beth
Abraham. Its first building housed 50
members on Detroit's west side. As
growth moved toward the northwest,
so did the congregation.
In 1932, it moved to a spot on Lin-
wood. In 1954, services were held at
a building on West Seven Mile Road,
Rabbi A. Irving Schnipper
just east of the University of Detroit
building resembles Sephardic decor. High School. And in 1971, the
Some like it; others don't. But, as 30-year-old Cong. Beth Hillel merged
Tarica said, no one makes too much with Cong. Beth Abraham to form
Cong. Beth Abraham Hillel. It wasn't
of a fuss about it.
Gone are the days of exhausting until 1975 that Rabbi Schnipper and
hard work. But final touches need to Cong. Beth Moses joined the group to
be ironed out. Some windows are not become Cong. Beth Abraham Hillel
covered by stained glass. And loose Moses.
"We are a lot stronger now,"
pieces of paper that detail the fire sit
in a drawer, waiting to be filed as a Fishman said. "Maybe it is attrition.
Maybe it is the timing. All that counts
Recovery has been slow, but hasn't is that we put all the pieces together."
Added the rabbi, "We are all right
stopped members of the congregation
now and that is what counts." ❑
from looking to the future.
Recalling The Fire
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Ketah Hay class at Beth Abraham Hillel
Moses religious school is currently participating in a pilot pro-
gram with The Jewish News that utilizes the newspaper as a
"weekly textbook" for learning about Detroit's Jewish communi-
ty, as well as those throughout the - country and world. Utilizing
a specially developed manual and exercise book, teacher Mark
Sperling is also using The Jewish News as a way to introduce his
students to journalism.
The short stories below were written by students as a classroom
assignment and are meant to provide additional insights into the
fire that caused such tremendous physical — and psychological
— damage for the congregation's members.
Also working on the project were: Amy Jablin, Lisa Stone, Lisa
Grey, Elliot Sperber, Jacob Lublin, Sarah Noversky and Andrea
BY AARON WEITZMAN
BY JULIE FROHLICH
At twenty-three minutes after
twelve on January 18, 1983, the
West Bloomfield Fire Department
got to the synagogue and stayed
until five the next morning
Captain Barnett of the fire
department said most of the
synagogue went down because it
took about 30 minutes to get water
out since it was very cold and ex-
tremely windy. And when the fire
was over, they couldn't rope the
hoses up because they were stiff.
He said it took one ladder truck,
one rescue squad and three
pumpers to put out the fire.
Five years ago, there was a fire
at Beth Abraham Hillel Moses
that burned the whole synagogue
part of the building and left the
religious school unharmed.
Mr. Mermelstein, the sexton
and one of the first to arrive at the
fire, explained that at first he
thought vandals had started it. But
when the synaogue was checked, it
was decided that there were two
possibilities: the fire began in elec-
trical wiring or the people playing
bingo that night left burning
cigarettes in their ashtrays and the
cleanup crew threw them into a
wastebasket with paper in it. A
committee checking the causes of
the fire decided it was the burning
While watching the synagogue
burn down, Mr. Mermelstein said
he felt like he was back in Europe
when the Nazis killed Jews and
burned down synagogues. At the
time, he was sure it was vandalism.
He said the biggest worry while
watching the flames was that the
torahs needed to be rescued and
that "according to Jewish law,
when you see a torah burning, it's
like a congregation is dying. We
made a brachah which is said'
especially for synagogues burning
Since services could not be held
in the synagogue, the congregation
was moved to a nearby church.
They made sure the services were
held in a room that had no crosses.
The synagogue has been
replaced and built with more pro-
tection. We pray nothing like this
will happen again!
BY DEBBIE BLACKMAN
AND MATT LEVINE
On January 18, 1983, Beth
Abraham Hillel Moses had a fire.
Mrs. Weine, the librarian, was very
hurt because a lot of her books
were burned and stained. Mrs.
Weine and a few other women
packed the burned books and sent
them to a company. About 1,000
books were sent there. And when
she got the books back she had to
keep them in her house since the
library wasn't ready yet.
Our Hebrew school classes
were held at Ealy School. Every
day, Mrs. Weine would go to Ealy
to have a library there.
Finally the library was ready
and Mrs. Weine put all the books
on the shelves, which took about
three months. The fire was a very
sad time for Beth Abraham Hillel