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October 13, 1995 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-10-13

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The case, brought by Baruch Litvin and
two other congregants in 1954, challenged
a vote by the board of trustees to remove
the nzechitza, or barrier that separated
men and women worshippers. They ini-
tially won a court order against the syna-
gogue, but the judge who heard their
arguments ultimately dismissed the case
on grounds that the court had no jurisdic-
tion in a religious matter.
Mr. Litvin, a synagogue president, and
the two other plaintiffs appealed to the
Michigan Supreme Court — the Court of
Appeals did not yet exist — which reversed
the trial court. The high court regarded the
case as a property matter rather than a re-
ligious issue, and reversed the lower court
mainly because the congregation failed to
counter the arguments of Mr. Litvin and
the other plaintiffs.
But the court also reasoned that a reli-
gious congregation cannot deprive the mi-
nority of the use of the property. In this
case, the mixed seating prevented Ortho-
dox members from worshipping.
While they had won their legal battle,
many of the Orthodox members already
had flocked to other synagogues, never to
Mr. Litvin, who is deceased, memorial-
ized the case in a book called The Sancti-
ty of the Synagogue.
The wounds left in the wake of the legal
saga are mostly healed, but they surface
now and then among the older and younger
members, like Mr. Robinson, who is 80,
and Ms. Heinfling, who is 37.
"The older guys don't go for it," Mr.
Robinson said of Ms. Heinfling's penchant
for wearing yarmulke and tallit when she
leads services.
"It's part of me," Ms. Heinfling retorted.
"I feel it's part of the religion. It's in vari-
ous parts of the books that it should be
worn. And it doesn't say it should only be
The synagogue is now officially desig-
nated Conservative, but vestiges of its Orthodox origins remain, like the few
pews that separate the sexes. A handful of the congregation's older mem-
bers prefer the arrangement.
And, the synagogue employs a part-time Orthodox rabbi, Mordechai Wald-
man, who leads services twice a month and on the High Holidays. "It is a real
challenge for him to function in this synagogue," said Ms. Heinfling's husband.
Rabbi Waldman could not be reached for comment.
For members of Beth Tephilath Moses, the eclecticism of their congrega-
tion is not at all strange.
"We have Orthodox, Conservative, Reform under one roof," said Sue Vic-
tor, who relocated to Macomb County about one year ago from Southfield. She
wanted to be closer to her job as a computer programmer-analyst.
Claire Hauptman, a member for 66 years, said the congregation's identity
has always been based on a mix of denominations.
"There always was (a diversity of traditions) in Mt. Clemens. There were
the very Orthodox, people who were Conservative. As our children grew old-
er, there were the Reform," she said.
Pam Rieger Bartolone, president of the congregation's sisterhood and, at
35, one of the synagogue's younger members, speculated that the high num-
ber of intermarried couples on the east side gives the synagogue its crazy-quilt
"You've got the older people — some are not intermarried but some are. We
have a lot of conversions, actually," she said.

Ms. Bartolone's husband Matthew
has not converted to Judaism and
Above: Sue Victor joined the
does not attend Shabbat or High Hol-
congregation a year ago.
iday services. But he participates in
Purim or Chanukah programs that
involve their son, Samuel.
Left: Ed Robinson, a congregant
Mr. Heinfling, 36, a member of
for decades.
Beth Tephilath Moses for most of his
life, estimates that interfaith couples
Below: Macomb Circuit Judge Michael
constitute 10 percent of the congre-
Schwartz, synagogue leader.
gation's 60 or so families, while a
quarter of the congregation compris-
es couples where one spouse has con-
The road to the synagogue, a util-
itarian affair set among old homes on
a tree-lined street in downtown Mt.
Clemens, provides some clue to the
county's rich Jewish past. Two
sprawling Jewish cemeteries — Beth
Yehuda and Workmen's Circle — lay
alongside Gratiot Avenue. The faded
Hebrew script on the sign leading to
the graveyards is jarring for its in-
congruity in the wide landscape of
fast-food restaurants, car dealerships
and mammoth home-improvement
There was a time when Jewish im-
migrants settled in the area to serve
the vacationers who flocked to the cu-
rative mineral springs that bubbled
up all over Mt. Clemens at the be-
ginning of the century.
The Schwartzes' father, Samuel, was a kosher butcher and shoichet; Mrs.
Hauptman's father, Max Siegel, made his living as a bathhouse attendant.
University of Michigan Professor Sidney Bolkosky, in his book Harmony &
Dissonance, which examines Jewish life in the metro area from 1914 to 1967,
writes that some of the spas and most of the hotels were owned by Jews. In
fact, he says, it was a sign of status to celebrate Passover at one of the spas.
The history of Beth Tephilath Moses begins with the baths, which num-
bered 13 in their heyday, from the 1920s to the 1940s.
At the time, the 100 or so Jewish families in the area worshipped in homes
scattered throughout town. But the bathers wanted a single place to gather,

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