Carrying On Tradition
Reconstructionist Congregation keeps Detroit Jewish history alive in new quarters.
WENDY ROSE BICE
Special to the Jewish News
n the first Saturday of the new year, in a
room no larger than a rabbi's office, the
congregation of the Reconstructionist
Congregation of Detroit (RCD) gathered
for the first time in its new downtown home, the
Sibley House, adjacent to the Christ Church of
In the moments before beginning the Shabbat
service, the eight or nine families examine the new
surroundings — high ceilings, closets with ample
storage for school supplies, a cramped, second-story
landing that can double as an adequate social area
and large windows overlooking Jefferson Avenue.
Most of the discussion, however, centers on the
problem of how and where to hang the 'congrega-
tion's most cherished possession, a grand and glori-
ous stained-glass window rescued from the con-
demned Farnsworth Shul, also known as Mogen
Standing at the bimah, congregant Deborah Rose
of Keego Harbor asks for everyone's attention.
Dressed in a blue jean skirt, sneakers and wearing a
handmade kippah, she smiled and said, "Since this
is our new home, we have a mezuzah to put up."
She chanted the blessing, tapped the mezuzah into
place and turned toward the congregation.
"Welcome home, everybody."
The home is temporary — the church has plans
to eventually use the space — so this band of Jews
will likely wander in another year or two. For now,
though, the oldest wooden structure in Detroit is
the ideal place for the congregation of 22 families.
Although formally established in 1999, the RCD
actually dates back more than 25 years. Founded as
Congregation T'chiyah, the first Reconstructionist
congregation in the city, at the time it was one of
the few Jewish places of worship in Detroit. The
congregation then met in a rented space in the St.
Mary's Community Center in Greektown, a stone's
throw from the old Hastings Street area, site of
Detroit's first Jewish community.
As the congregation grew, both in numbers and
geographically, many felt the time had come for a
suburban location. Finally, in 1999, after much
anguished debate, the T'chiyah membership split.
T'chiyah relocated to Royal Oak and the newly
founded Reconstructionist Congregation of Detroit
to the Wayne County Medical Society Building.
Even before the split, however, the congrega-
tion had a penchant for local history. Its pews are
nearly 100 years old, rescued from Mogen
Abraham. The ark and Torah, both gifts from
Temple Israel, originated in the Upper Peninsula,
their exact history unknown; a school bell,
believed to be from the yeshivah at Mogen
Abraham, - sits in storage.
"The historic aspect of this space (the Sibley
House) fits into what we are trying to do," said
Matthew Schenk of Detroit, RCD,president. "We
are located about two blocks from the location of
the first Jewish service in our community. What
could be more appropriate?"
Carol Weisfild of Detroit
cleans the synagogue's
Although they are in the
infancy of their own histo-
ry, tracing the heritage of
Detroit's Jewish communi-
ty is RCD's binding force.
"It is an explicit part of our mission to preserve
and enliven Jewish history in the city," said Carol
Weisfeld of Detroit, the congregation's secretary,
who also spearheads the congregation's popular his-
toric tours of Jewish Detroit program.
The fourth and youngest branch of organized
American Judaism, Reconstructionism was founded
in the 1920s by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan:According
to the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation,
Reconstructionist Jews have a strong commitment
both to tradition and the search for contemporary •
meaning, an obligation to reclaim Judaism's shared
heritage, safeguard its history and become active