Birmingham Mayor Seth Chafetz at his
"day job"— skating coach at the Detroit
Skating Club in Bloomfield Hilts.
Seth Chafetz is looking to make his mark as
Birmingham's first Jewish mayor.
Special to the Jewish News
eth Chafetz, the first Jewish mayor of
Birmingham, didn't have a bar mitzvah as a
youth because his parents were going through
a rancorous divorce at the time. But he felt
strongly enough about his religion and the importance
of the Jewish rite of manhood that he became a bar
mitzvah at age 24.
In later years, Chafetz felt strongly enough about
some important neighborhood issues affecting many
Birmingham residents that he became involved in poli-
tics. He was elected to the City Commission in 1999,
on his.first try for any elective office. He garnered
2,000 votes to earn one of four open positions on the
seven-member commission, helping to oust two
His fellow commissioners appointed him mayor pro
tem last year, and last month they unanimously named
him city mayor for the usual one-year term.
Birmingham does not elect its mayors.
"As far as we've been able to determine, I'm the first
Jew to be elected to the Birmingham City Commission
and, thus, the first Jew to go forth and become mayor,"
he said. "It's a great honor, a great city and I'm proud
to be a member of the community."
It's also significant because most of Birmingham's
20,000 inhabitants are gentile.
'Anti-Semitism has never been an issue in my
involvement in city politics, nor in my entire 16 years
as a Birmingham resident," Chafetz said.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know Seth is
Jewish," said Assistant City Manager Dan Schulte.
"Religion is just not an issue around here. He's been an
excellent commissioner, and I'm sure he'll be a great
Passionate About Skating
Aside from his mayoral role, Chafetz, 42 and single,
treats Birmingham as a typical bedroom community.
He lives in a home on Eton Road, shmoozes with his
neighbors and drives a short commute to his job as a
full-time professional ice skating coach at the Detroit
Skating Club in Bloomfield Township. Chafetz teaches
figure skating to all ages for 10-12 hours a day, six days
a week. The club boasts well-known alumni, such as
Tara Lipinski, a 1998 Winter Olympics gold medalist.
Chafetz spent the first half of his life in skating corn-
petitions, practicing long hours and doing well, but
not achieving any championships to brag about. He's
devoted all of his time since then to coaching and has
guided medal winners in various national and interna-
Chafetz got involved in skating at age 7 by a quirk,
growing up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father was a
professor at Ohio State University. Chafetz, his two
brothers and parents began taking skating as a family
activity after his mother tried to sign them up for ski-
"The classes were full, so we switched to skating
instead," Chafetz recalled. "We all loved it, and I kept
at the skating competition in earnest by moving to the
Detroit area after high school to advance my career by
joining the Detroit Skating Club."
While attending Michigan State University, where he
received a bachelor's degree in science and psychology,
Chafetz joined a Jewish fraternity and revived his inter-
est in Judaism, which had been overlooked during the
domestic turbulence of his youth.
"I studied in a bar mitzvah program at the MSU
Hillel, learned how to read Torah and became a full-
fledged bar mitzvah at age 24," Chafetz said. He's not
affiliated with any congregation now, but often attends
services with friends at a variety of area synagogues.
The City Commission, which then included
Chafetz, approved a special permit request to erect a 6-