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September 13, 2002 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-09-13

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Clockwise from top:
Birmingham Temple
members Lee Franklin
of Detroit, left; and
Chuck Rose of
Farmington Hills fix
the windows of a new
Habitat house.

Lauren Elkus, 15,
of West Bloomfield
carefully paints a
Habitat for Humanity
house that volunteers
are building from the
ground up.

Allison Jerris of
Farmington Hills
hauls shovels to a

Renee Erve and
Ryanne Shaw, 4, of
Detroit stand outside
of what will be their
new home.

Rabbi Jonathan
Berkun teams with
Damon Taylor, 16, of
Detroit to paint the
downstairs walls of a

Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in
Detroit, was part of the March travel
group. "They [the suburban teens]
weren't talking about themselves all the
time; they talked about the project and
music. By the end of the day" Damen
adds, "I was exhausted, but I felt so good
knowing we had a part in building a
house for someone who really needed it."
Lauren Elkus, 15, of West Bloomfield
was another teen volunteer whose rabbi,
Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of Congregation
Shaarey Zedek, went abroad with the
other clergy. "Not many of us had been
in neighborhoods in downtown Detroit,"
says Elkus, who is president of her United
Synagogue Youth executive board. All five
board members at Shaarey Zedek partici-
pated, as well as Rabbi Berkun.
"It was an interfaith experience,"
Lauren says. "We weren't isolated with
just whites. We mixed with kids from
other communities and learned how sim-
ilar our lives are. We had a great time."
Britainny Holloway, 16, of Hamtram-
ck, also a member of the Rev. Flowers'
church, joined her mother, Evette, to
work on three sites, each at a different
stage of development. Habitat volunteers
built each one from the ground up.



"At first, I was shy," Britainny says.
"Then we all started to talk while we
painted, and we got along very well."
The hands-on experience continued to
develop a sense of accomplishment.
Some of the teenage volunteers met the
woman and daughter who move into the
house the teens were building.
"I was painting and sanding, and I got
to meet the person moving into the
house. She was very thankful and it was
very fulfilling for me. It's something that
you're proud of," Britainny says.
In keeping with the spirit of Habitat,
an interfaith group of more than 50 cler-
gy and lay people chose to gather togeth-
er at a Habitat site on Tuesday, Sept. 10,
in remembrance of the tragedies of 9-11.
Interfaith Partners, a newly formed
group of Christians, Muslims and Jews,
grew out of discussions in the aftermath
of 9-11. A brief service and multi-ethnic
dinner were planned with Habitat volun-
teers, says Brenda Rosenberg of
Bloomfield Hills, the group's co-leader
with Victor Begg, also of Bloomfield
"While 9-11 was about destruction,
Habitat is about rebuilding," says David
Gad-Harf, executive director of the

Jewish Community Council of
Metropolitan Detroit, who served as a
liaison for the group. "It also symbolizes
mutual respect and collaboration among
diverse groups," he adds, unlike the vioL
lence unleashed a year ago.
A project of the JCCouncil, the clergy
trip was designed to restart the relation-
ship between the Jewish and African
American communities, says Rabbi
David Nelson of Congregation Beth
Shalom, one of the participating rabbis.
"For generations, we [African Ameri-
cans and Jews] stood side by side against
discrimination, and then things changed
that put us on opposite sides," he says.
When the clergy returned to Detroit,
they wanted to build on their personal
experience and restore bonds between
their two communities.
"We decided to work with teenagers on
a mitzvah project together, says Rabbi
Nelson, "and Habitat was a perfect choice."
Among those on the trip who also par-
ticipated in this event, not previously
mentioned, was Dr. Ronald Turner of
Peace Baptist Church in Detroit.
The Detroit Jewish Initiative of the
Jewish Community Council, headed by
project coordinator Nitzana York, worked

with the clergy and Habitat Detroit on
the collaboration. Co-chairs of DJI are
Zina Kramer of Bloomfield Hills and
Arnie Mikon of Huntington Woods.
The teens worked on three new houses
in various stages of construction in the
empowerment zone renamed Tricentenial
Village in southwest Detroit.
Of the DJI's role, York says: "We try to
develop meaningful ways for members of
the Jewish community to be engaged in
the revitalization of Detroit."
"It's one of the most powerful
moments, working together — Chris-
tians, Muslims and Jews — on these proj-
ects," adds Diana Light of West Bloom-
field, volunteer director of Habitat for
Humanity Detroit and a Temple Israel
member. "It's a collaboration for rebuild-
ing the city and its communities. And it
reintroduces people to a community they
forgot about."
During almost 16 years in Detroit,
Habitat has built 110 houses, about 15
per year — new houses built by volun-
teers from the ground up, Light says. This
year alone, 6,500 volunteers have partici-
pated, she says.
Some of those volunteers will be living
in their own Habitat home. As Rabbi
Chalom explains, the new homeowners
are pre-selected by Habitat's family servic-
es department. They get an interest-free
loan and are required to volunteer to help
build other people's houses — about 300-
400 hours of 'sweat equity,' he says.
In addition to the satisfaction of build-
ing and owning a new home, Light sees
another side to this process: the change in
the children of the new homeowners.
"Their grades excel and they're less apt
to get in trouble," observes Light. "They
know their mom or dad have something
to lose — their home. Their whole out-
look on life is more positive."
Whether they live or work at a Habitat
site, Rev. Flowers says he sees this project
as most important for the young, as a
way to get them thinking about Change.
"We learned it wasn't about what we
received out of the day, but what we were
giving to that community," says Elkus of
Shaarey Zedek.
Participant Zack Bellow, 15, of West
Bloomfield, whose family attends
Shaarey Zedek, says he enjoyed "meet-
ing people of a different culture — not
only helping people but meeting new
people and getting to know another
race. It was a great experience." ❑

For information on volunteering
for Habitat for Humanity, call
Nitzana York at the Jewish
Community Council, (248) 642-

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