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April 07, 1989 - Image 41

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-07

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Rabbi Solomon Gruskin has spent
40 years helping Jews in the
Detroit community.


Special to The Jewish News


he phone rings dis-
cordantly some-
where in Oak
Park, breaking the
mood. Apologetic-
ally, the man in the black coat
rises to answer it.
"The caller's need is greater
than yours," his wife tells the
It somehow dispels the aura
of mystique, the sense of
unreality created by Rabbi
Solomon H. Gruskin sitting
at his dining room table, spin-
ning tales.
The phone call seeking help
is the need Solomon Gruskin,
rabbi of Congregation B'nai
Zion for more than 40 years,
has spoken of so eloquently,
the need he has spent a
_ lifetime trying to fill.
Rabbi Gruskin, born in
New York in 1917 and raised
in Avoca, Pa., moved to
Detroit with his wife, Gitel, in
1946 to become executive
director of Yeshivath Beth
The Gruskins planned to
stay in Detroit two years, but,
somehow, although they've
twice been on the verge of
moving to Israel, they stayed.
"I guess the two years are
not up," Rabbi Gruskin says
Within months of his ar-
rival in the city, Gruskin was
asked to substitute for the
chaplain at the Wayne Coun-
ty Mental Health Center
(known as Eloise).
In January, 1947, he was
named chaplain of the Yp-
silanti State Hospital (now
the Ypsilanti Regional
Psychiatric Hospital) and the
Milan Federal Correctional
Institute. It was the begin-
ning of an era spanning
decades, of ministering to the
physical and spiritual needs
of the mentally ill.
From 1947 to 1955,
Gruskin was paid $10 to con-
duct a weekly service for the
patients in Ypsilanti and $5
to do the same at Milan. Soon


after he started, he discovered
that the body of a Jewish pa-
tient had been donated to the
University of Michigan
medical school for research.
"From that time on, no
matter which hospital I ser-
viced, be it Walter Reuther,
Northville, Lapeer, or
Plymouth, I left the same in-
structions. I was to be called
as soon as a patient went on
And from that time on, it
ceased to be a job. For
Gruskin it became a mission.
"No one else wanted to do
it," he says, leaving him to
travel four or five times a
week to attend to 600 pa-
tients in hospitals around
Michigan. -
"I was their only link to the
outside world," the rabbi says.
He would get a phone call in
the middle of the night from
Lapeer, 50 miles away; and off
he would go.
For years, the Gruskin
home served as a _drop-off
point. "We would have gar-
bage bags filled with
clothing," Gitel Gruskin
recalls. "We'd bring them to
the hospitals and put them in

Many families,
ashamed of the
stigma, would cut
off all ties.

the chaplain's office. The pa-
tients would pick what they
"If you came in before
Pesach, you'd see cases of
matzoh and salamis, fishes
and wines," says Rabbi
Gruskin. "I made it my
business to get to know the
families of the patients."
Many families, ashamed of
the stigma attached to their
disabled relative, would cut
off all ties. "You have no idea
what detective work I had to
go through to find them when
the patient died," the rabbi
It was not uncommon for a
family to deny the connection.
Many times children had

Rabbi Solomon Gruskin at the but of a grandson. At left is his younger son, Efryim Dovid.

been told their parent had
died when, in fact, the parent
was living in a state hospital.
After 8 1/2 years, the state of-
fered Rabbi Gruskin the posi-
tion of chaplain for state
hospitals in the area. His
headquarters were in Yp-
silanti. He held this position
until 1982.
However, in the 1960s, the
state began transferring pa-
tients to foster homes in the
inner city, bringing new pro-
blems for the chaplain.
Patients were scattered all
over the city. A home might
have only one or two Jewish
patients and the rabbi would
have to travel miles to visit
them, while two other pa-
tients might be living on the
other side of town. Nursing
home employees were
sometimes uncaring and un-
willing to help.
When patients were moved,
it often became impossible to
find them.

In 1972, in large part due to
Rabbi Gruskin's motivation, a
pilot home was opened in
Detroit for retarded residents.
Joyce Keller, executive direc-
tor of the Jewish Association
for Retarded Citizens, says,
"Aside from their families,
Rabbi Gruskin was almost
the sole voice for residents of
state institutions. He has a
very sincere interest in seeing
that the developmentally
disabled lead Jewish lives of
quality and dignity."
With the Haverim homes of
JARC "we made a dent into
the retarded population,"
Gruskin says. But he was not
satisfied. He threw himself
into the problems of the men-
tally ill.
Four years ago, the Kadima
Association for Residential
Care Services finally succeed-
ed in opening the Rabbi and
Mrs. Solomon Gruskin home
in Southfield.
"Our rabbi," Bessie Chase

calls him with pride. Chase is
the corresponding secretary
of Kadima and the
Cooperative Council of the
League of Jewish Women.
She says people from all
walks of life come to Rabbi
Gruskin's door for counsel.
In most hospitals in
Michigan, Jewish patients
can expect the cheery voice,
the kind word, the solicitous
hand, which have become
Gruskin's trademark.

"The longer we live in the
Detroit area, the busier he
gets because more and more
people hear about and come
to him with their problems,"
Gitel Gruskin says.
But, she emphasizes,
"whatever he has done,
whatever he has said to help
people, came from a higher
power. His approaches are
sometimes so way out. But
they work because they are



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